What? Me Worry?


This column originally appeared in the Jan. 8, 1996 Citizen.
Any other time, we’d watch news accounts of horrific weather like that in the Pacific Northwest last week, and shake our heads. “Why would people want to live in that kind of climate?” we’d ask each other, reveling in balmy Georgia.
Any other time, we’d see pictures of cars stalled along a far-off Interstate and wonder why these fools had got themselves into a situation where they had to abandon their most expensive possession to struggle on foot to shelter.
Any other time, we’d feel a brief pang of concern for livestock buffeted by snow-laden gale winds, and throw another scoop of sunflower seeds out for birds that rarely have to cope with overnight lows below freezing.
Any other time.

Not this time.
This time we knew right personally of one lone woman with her most precious belongings packed in a little VW Fox wagon, pressing northward up the Oregon coast in the teeth of relentless winter storms.
Her planned route would take her by a scenic state road and ferry to Port Townsend and Bellingham, Wash., where two days after Christmas she was due to board a ferry to Alaska. The sea-voyage alone would take three days.

In perfect weather, this would be a long and arduous journey, albeit an incredibly scenic one. But during the last week of December, 1996, the weather was making the evening news, and not for being perfect. Serious-looking meteorologists were using terms like “extreme,” “record-breaking,” “deadly.”
Jean applied for and, after a year of delays, received a new assignment in Juneau. Her career with the U.S. Forest Service began in the ancient low mountains of Tennessee and Virginia, then took her to the ruggedly beautiful high country of California.

Where could she go from there without a letdown? Alaska, of course. And when her orders said she’d begin work the first week of January, we consulted almanacs and comforted ourselves with the conviction that she might run into rain and fog on the trip, but probably not severe weather so early in winter.
She called Christmas Day, and we told her not to worry about calling again once she boarded the ferry, since rates would be high. Just let us know when you get there, we chirped.
Now we have to believe that no news is good news. The sea-ferry goes only once a week, and we’re assuming that if she was unable to make the connection, so was everyone else, and they’d delay departure. Or they’d put everyone up in some cozy hotel waiting for the weather to break. Or something.

Any scenario was better than picturing her car under a snowdrift, or that ship being pounded by ice and wind for three days on open water.
Friends pick up on our angst and promised to be praying and thinking good thoughts for our child’s well-being. Jean is a remarkably well-organized young woman and always has a back-up plan. Honestly, I was not awfully worried about her safety.
But would our friends think me tacky if I asked them to pray for her cats? Chica and Gim were her whole family, her beloved companions for the past six or seven years. She traveled with them in the past — all the way from Virginia to California, in fact — and they did well in the car and in consenting motels.
On the ferry, however, they had to be left on the car-deck. Owners are allowed down several times a day to check on animals, but the rules were clear: no animals on the upper decks. The car-deck, although enclosed, is not heated.

Jean’s plan was to fill hot water bottles every time she goes below, to keep in the cats’ crate, and the crate wrapped loosely in a blanket.
I awoke at 6:45 next morning, and my first thoughts were of her. If all has gone well, it should be her last night on the ferry, 3:45 a.m. Pacific Time, actually 2:45 if they’ve crossed into Alaska Time.
Suddenly I wonder if she can go below during the night to check on Gim and Chica? Is the storm raging that far north? Are they actually underway in this kind of weather? At night, do temperatures drop even lower on that car-deck?

I picture my determined daughter making her way through tight lines of vehicles to make sure her “children” are well, the ferry rolling and pitching in the black icy waters. And my stomach knots up with fear. They mean so much to her — what if….?
Please, Lord, is it OK to pray for a couple of cats?
* * * * *
Late Friday evening, she called. All was well. The ferry steamed into clear weather the second night, and familiar stars appeared in unfamiliar places. Humpback whales breached nearby, eagles flew over, and moderate temperatures prevailed on the car-deck.

As the ship approached Juneau at sunrise — 9 a.m. — the peaks behind the city glowed pink and orange. A woman from the office met the ferry and introduced Jean to her new hometown by way of a quick excursion to Mendenhall Glacier.
Thank you, God.
But I really wasn’t worried. Not me.
Not for a minute.

[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]