Winter House Arrest

By Joe Rector

Summer wound down much too quickly for me. If I were in charge, the hot days of the season would bleed into those colder ones of winter. I just don’t much care for cold weather and never have, nor do I like being under house arrest when it hits.

Others can have all the snow they can handle. I only wanted a couple of inches of the stuff during my teaching career. That way the schools would close, and I could enjoy an unexpected day off. Even if the snow fell overnight, my preference was for it to disappear by 10 a.m. Then I could go outside and complete any projects and feel safe in running errands.

Nothing drove me straight up the wall more than being trapped in the house after a heavy blanket of snow had made travel hazardous. I recall on one evening during my high school years that Jim and I set out on foot to visit Jim’s girlfriend who lived in Karns. We trudged to her house and arrived with nearly frozen feet, hands, and noses. Still, that condition was preferable to being stuck in the house.

I entered graduate school to earn a Master’s degree and become a principal. I attended summer sessions and took night classes at UT. On one winter evening snow and sleet began. Students looked at each other and wondered if Dr. Harris would release us early to begin our trips home. He did end class, but by then, the conditions were too bad. An ice storm hit Knoxville with vengeance; it crippled the entire area. We students found it impossible to move our cars on the icy surfaces, and walking also proved tricky and dangerous to our health.

I shuffled my feet down the sidewalk and arrived at a nearby motel. It seemed as if everyone had the same idea. The bar stayed open to serve food and drinks. At some point, pillows and blankets were passed out to folks, but the stockpile ran out before I reached the front of the line. The rest of the night, I traveled from the motel to Henson Hall to Krystal. On one trip in the early morning, I watched a UT student ski down the hill on 17th Street. He made a sharp turn west on to Cumberland Avenue and continued the entire length of the street with no fear that he would encounter a single car. At 3:30 that next afternoon, I finally maneuvered my car out of the parking lot and headed home.

In the early 1980’s, I left teaching and took a job as a school fundraiser. My territory stretched from Cookeville to six counties in North Carolina and from Chattanooga to the Tri-Cities. Kirby was the regional manager, and during the winter of 1983, he decided that every representative should meet. We drove to Eden, North Carolina, and spent time eating, playing golf, and plotting strategies. On the final day of the get-together, snow was predicted, and all of us begged him to leave early and get ahead of the storm.

By the time I started home, fine granules of snow pelted the windshield. Worsening conditions moved in, and sleet fell. I drove down the Interstate in Winston-Salem and glanced up in my rearview mirror in time to see two cars spinning in synchronized circles. I exited and found a room at the Holiday Inn. That night, an inch or more of ice covered everything outside. For two days I was held captive. Even after the roads cleared enough to travel west, traffic stopped for 4 hours as a wrecked semi that crashed into a bridge was cleared. I held my breath across the mountains and finally breathed easy when I reached the Newport exit on I-40.

The blizzard of 1993 caused plenty of headaches for folks, but my old ‘87 Pathfinder and I braved roads as we rescued my brother and his family from their home that had lost power. The deep snow made driving nearly impossible, but that old reliable 4-wheel drive vehicle allowed me to get out of the house. By the time the snow melted, parents were begging for school to open, and kids were, for a change, also ready to get back in the routine.

Predictions for the coming winter include colder, wetter weather. That sounds as if Knoxville is in for plenty of snow and blustery conditions. I hope the prognosticators are wrong. I know this much: summer weather rarely keeps me stuck inside the house. Folks can take all the cold weather they want; I’ll always take hot temperatures and sunny days.

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