All the flooding in Iowa last week brought back memories of a Model T ride long ago.
I’m not sure of the exact year, but I remember I was just a lad, so I’d guess it may have been the late 1940s. Still, I remember it vividly.
Older folks around Stratford may remember it, too.
Both my grandparents lived north of Stratford at the same time, both of them along a narrow, twisting gravel road that passes by the historic Vegors Cemetery. If I remember correctly, we lived at that time with my dad’s parents in a big square white house at the top of the hill, just beyond Vegors Cemetery. My mother’s parents lived even further north on an old farm adjacent to the road after it straightens to head straight north.
So, that road was really the best way to get to both homes. Taking the eastern road out of Stratford would mean a trip almost to Homer, then west a mile, then back south to both homes.
On this particular afternoon, I remember, an uncle had taken my mom and one of her sisters into Stratford to buy groceries. As we traveled north and neared a bridge that crossed the Boone River, just beyond where it flowed into the Des Moines River, we saw the water. A house that once stood near the river had water up to the second story. A row boat was attached there to the second-story window.
As we crossed the bridge we came upon a virtual sea of water. It completely covered the gravel road that would take us west, then around a bend back north and up the hill to our home.
I remember my mother urging my uncle to turn around. But, the old Model T Ford sat a little higher off the ground and my uncle said, “No” that we’d make it alright.
Just about that time, my mom handed me a bag of margarine – at that time the margarine came in one bag attached to another bag of coloring – and told me to squeeze it. I’m not sure why I remember that part of the tale, but I do remember squeezing that bag of margarine for all it was worth as my mother firmly clutched the dash and my aunt, sitting next to me, took firm hold of the backs of the seats in front.
As for my uncle, I’d imagine he held the steering wheel pretty firmly. I can’t imagine him being frightened, however, having just recently returned from seeing action in Europe during World War II.
Slowly, the old Ford crossed the bridge, water rushing underneath. We descended into the water on the other side and began a slow – very slow – journey. I don’t understand how my uncle was able to keep the car on the road, but he did. We rounded the bend, then slowly ascended out of the water and drove up the hill toward home.
Every time I hear a weather announcer on television tell us to “turn around, don’t drown” I think of that afternoon on the road north of Stratford. I was too young to be frightened then. And, now that it’s more than 60 years past, it should be too late to be frightened.
But, somehow and for some reason, every time I see or hear of floods today, it sends a chill up my spine. And, every time I drive down that gravel road, I picture water – lots and lots of water – over the fields and over the gravel road.
I was too young then to be really frightened. Maybe I’m experiencing a delayed sense of fright, but as I recall that day so long ago, it’s easy to think of how tragically the trip that day might have ended.