When Saw We Thee a Stranger

The year I was 13, going on 14, my family had moved from Twin Falls to Orem and we were going back to Twin Falls for Easter Vacation. Yes, back in the day we didn't have "Spring Break" we had "Easter Vacation". It was the week before Easter. Our grandparents still lived there and we were going to visit. It was a harrowing trip up there because our ancient station wagon with the faux wood-paneling (which was just peeling, faded paint in a wood-like pattern)--was smoking in the area around the exhaust pipe. Car problems were the norm for us but this was worse than usual. When we got to Twin, my Dad took the car into a shop for repairs for the week we were there.

It was a fun week, I spent time with friends I had left behind when we moved. Also, my birthday was coming up and my parents and grandparents had given me some money to add to my babysitting money-- I was hoping to use it to buy a new dress. A recent growth spurt had morphed me out of my two Sunday dresses and they had been handed down to little sisters. I found a pretty pale pink "Gunne-Sax" maxi-length dress with zippers on the sleeves (you had to have been a teen-aged girl in the seventies to know just what a big deal it was). The best part: It was on sale! I had money left over to buy some cute sandals. I tried it on and did a twirl for my family and they pronounced it lovely and a good buy. A pretty Easter/Birthday dress.

We started back for Orem on Saturday so we would be home to go to church on Easter. We got the car from the shop and loaded it up. My Grandpa tied a box of potatoes to the top. He was always looking out for us and getting good deals on local commodities. As we traveled, my sister who was in the very back seat said that she could see smoke back there. She was a bit of a worrier so we told her it was probably dust and shrugged it off. We had all kicked off our shoes and the younger kids were climbing back and forth between the seats. The usual chaos of a big family in a station wagon in the days before carseats and mandatory seat belts. We crossed the border into Utah and were headed toward Salt Lake, when she became more insistent: "It's really smokey back here and it smells like something's burning." Just then my Dad looked in the side-view mirror and saw flames shooting out around the exhaust pipe. So she was right. You should listen to a worrier.

He pulled the car over to the side of the freeway and called for everyone to "Get out and get away from the car! Hurry!" We had to run barefoot across sharp, thorny weeds. After everyone was out, we realized the baby was not there. My big brother dove in the car, reached over all the seats and grabbed him out by the back of his overalls. He had been sleeping in the very back of the car.

We ran for the fence to get as far away as we could. I was carrying a little sister on each hip and herding the others. I sat on the ground and had them sit on my outstretched legs. I held onto my baby brother to keep him from crawling away. As we watched, the flames made their way up the back of the car. A trucker pulled over to help, he had a CB radio (no cell phones back in the old days, kids) and soon a fire truck pulled up. By then the flames had engulfed most of the car. There was concern about a possible explosion so everyone stayed back.

As the flames worked their way from the back to the front of our car, we soon noticed the delicious smell of baked potatoes. Mmmmm, Idaho potatoes. That box of spuds my Grandpa had tied to the top of the car were getting baked by the flames.

So, there we were, refugees on the side of the road. For a family like ours with so many children, a week away from home meant packing pretty much all of our clothes and shoes--because 'all' wasn't that much. We had gone to church in Idaho the Sunday before, so that meant everyone's only pair of church shoes, my brothers' only suits. It was a big loss for us.

And for a 13 going on 14 teen-age girl, it was tough to realize a pretty new dress and sandals had burned before I ever got to wear them. And that I had no clothes except the ones on my back. I remember feeling happy that I had worn a favorite shirt rather than packing it as I had planned.

Well, a car had pulled over and the driver got out and was talking to my parents. Soon all three adults walked over to our huddled mass and my Mom said, "These people are heading to their parents' house for a family Easter get-together. They have offered to take you with them. JoAnna, you look out for the little ones and we'll go with the tow-truck and then come and pick you up later."

Soooo...we're going to get in the car with complete strangers and my parents are going to come and get us later...with no car.
All six of us (my older brother stayed with my parents) piled in their sedan with their two children as well and off we went. We showed up at Grandpa and Grandma stranger's and
Here we are, the vagabonds that your family picked up on the side of the road.
And they welcomed us with open arms. They were the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. They were all ready for a big family gathering with kids and grandkids. Immediately upon our arrival they took a head count and a shoeless foot count and a couple of uncles went to the store. They came back with extra Easter goodies for my younger siblings so they could be included in the planned festivities. They also brought footie socks for all of us. I was overwhelmed by their kindness.
They made room for us at their table and shared a wonderful feast with us.
The rest of the day was kind of a blur, I took care of my little brothers and sisters--changed diapers and helped with potty needs etc. I kept thinking, as I went over the events of the fire, that the truck driver had pulled a suitcase or something out of the car as he went up to try and put out the fire. I saw it lying beside the car through the whole ordeal. I held out a little bit of hope that maybe it was the bag with my dress in it.
All of the children had fun playing together and finally, late that night, my parents came for us. My uncle from Provo had met them at the wrecking yard and given them a ride. We gathered around to find out what had happened and I had to know--what was in the bag that had been thrown out. Did my dress make it? No. It was a pillow and blanket. Everything was gone.
In my self-centered teen-ageness, I started to cry. It had been a long day. The nice people who had taken us in were so sweet and sympathetic: "Oh, she's been a rock all day. That's too bad. It was for her Birthday too? Oh dear." etc.
As we were squeezing into my uncle's car, one of the women and her daughter from our host family came out. The daughter was carrying a box wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. They told my Mom it was some leftover cookies and goodies for us to have later.
My uncle dropped us off in our driveway and we straggled into our house. My younger brother remembered the package and they all tore it open to enjoy the goodies.
They were disappointed--the box was full of pink lace and fluff.
The girl had given me her Easter dress.


Scott said…
That is such a cute story! What a nice family!
Scott said…
this is nicole by the way! i don't know if scott would have used the word cute in such a way! i'm glad you got a dress too!
Melanie said…
I love this story JoAnna, and I love reading your blog in general. You have a great gift for the written word. I hope you get in the house and settled soon! We miss you!

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