We four had to sneak into town. We’d left Maine on a Friday in mid-March in my oversized gray Chevy van with its twin beds in the back. We arrived in western Pennsylvania at my aunt’s in the wee hours of the morning.

The next day was the surprise celebration of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. A gathering of 50 relatives and friends would wait in the restored Marshall house, a historic site. The whole town was in on the secret.

What a party it was! But on Sunday afternoon, we four drivers headed north on the winding Pennsylvania roads built like cow paths along rivers. It was night on 80 East as we joined the truckers getting a head start on their week’s journeys  I was driving with Lorelle in the shotgun seat; her twin, Louise, and her older sister were on the twin beds.

At 10 p.m., I asked Lorelle if she wanted to take a turn driving and pulled off to switch. I gave instructions: Just stay with the truckers and keep the wipers on. The cloudy mist threatened rain. I lay down to rest my back. Memories of conversations at the party swirled through my brain as I relaxed.

Suddenly I could feel the van speed up and start to pass. I jumped up and ran to the driver’s seat.

“What are you doing?” I asked.


“All these truckers are slowing down,” Lorelle said.

“No, no,” I said. “Do not pass them. Carefully lift your foot off the accelerator but do not hit the brakes. They know something.”

Lorelle gripped the wheel and eased backed behind the semi.

I stood tensely behind her seat. “Do not pull off; do not touch the brakes; gear down.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I don’t know … police, an accident or ice.” I sent Louise to my cot and sat shotgun for the next hour. My mind was busy imagining what could go wrong: We could fishtail, we could be crushed between two semis, we might have to steer right and could topple off the soft shoulder or we could spin out of control for no reason at all. It was a harrowing 50 miles of black ice. Time and caravans moved slowly.


Gratefully the threat passed. My mind relaxed, as did Lorelle’s body. Deep breathing returned.

“Good job, daughter! You must be exhausted.” She nodded; when it was safe, I relieved her as driver and eldest Lynn took the front passenger seat. We made it to school and college classes on time that Monday morning.

From home, I phoned my parents and explained our travail. They had not heard of black ice before then.

I received a letter March 28, 1988, from Mom: “Your guardian angel watches over you!” Mom knew I don’t just believe in guardian angels – I count on them. How differently the grand celebration could have ended.

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