Saving Christmas, 1983 version

tundra
The weather in OKC was a frightful 5 degrees as I stepped out to take this photo.

As I looked out over the frozen tundra that was northwest OKC at 5 degrees this morning, I thought of another holiday season that was disrupted by bitter weather.

Back in 1983, I had just moved to Oklahoma City to work at The Daily Oklahoman newspaper. My folks lived in Fort Smith, Ark., roughly 200 miles to the east.

Anyway, as the newbie on the Sports staff at the paper, I would only get Christmas off if the holiday fell on my normal day off.

It did not, which meant that I had to drive over to Fort Smith a few days before the holiday to celebrate with my family, then drive back to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

As I was preparing to leave town on roughly Dec. 18 or Dec. 19 (the dates are hazy now), a massive outbreak of Polar air settled over Oklahoma and brought sleet and snow with it.

The Polar air covered much of the continental U.S., and I recall stories about frozen underground water mains bursting as far south as Houston. Here’s a good read from the Farmers’ Almanac about the Christmas storm of 1983. 

It was apparent the roads were going to be awful, so I even checked the bus schedule to Fort Smith. I called the bus station and they told me that all bus departures were canceled.

OKC temps 1983So, I called my dad and asked him what he thought.

“Come on over,” he said. “It can’t be that bad.”

It was.

I managed to make it with no trouble to Henryetta, OK.  But about 5 miles east of there, as I was climbing a fairly steep hill, my car began to fishtail and swung around 90 degrees. It went off I-40 backwards and into a snow-filled ditch.

Oh, great. These were days before we could even conceive of having a phone in our cars. How was I going to contact anyone?

As I walked up the steep shoulder to the road, a young man in a Camaro pulled over and asked if he could help. I asked him if he would call a wrecker in the next town.

He looked down at my car in the ditch and said, “I think you can drive out of this. The ditch flattens out at the bottom of the hill and you should be able to drive onto the highway. I’ll wait until I see if you can get out.”

I got back in my car, eased down the hill, made it to the flat part, and, like magic, drove right back onto the highway.

I never got to thank the Good Samaritan.

But the road was so ice covered that I drove no faster than 30 mph the remaining 85 miles to Fort Smith.

So, my trip took hours longer than expected. My parents were greatly relieved when I finally pulled up, but I was angry at my dad because he urged me to make the challenging drive.

A better mood took over, and we celebrated the holidays as a family.

There was still plenty of ice and snow to negotiate on the trip back to OKC, but I made sure I kept it on the road this time. I arrived safely back into town and made it to work my holiday shifts on time.

So, thank you, Mr. Good Samaritan, for saving Christmas in 1983.

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jimstafford

I'm an Oklahoma City-based freelance writer with interests in Oklahoma startup community, Apple Inc, OKC Thunder & Texas Rangers.

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