Have you ever read the sort of story where someone experiences an event, a single thing, major or minor, that causes them to miss an airplane flight, and that specific flight has a horrific crash that no one survives? Yesterday, we had a similar experience, only it was a huge highway pileup we missed by mere minutes.
On Saturday, August 23, 2014, 6:30PM, we were saying our goodbyes to my mother and brother, in that lingering, chatty, “we have to go but will miss you” sort of way that only loving families do. Eventually, my wife Bonnie, daughter Annika, her godfather’s Chris and Mark (two of the nicest men you will ever meet), and I, slowly got into our car.
Mark was buckling his seatbelt when my oldest brother Andre approached the driver’s side window, and said to Mark “One of your rear tires seems to be getting flat. You should check that out before you head back to Montreal”.
Then Andre continued “Hey Frank, to drive out of Sherbrooke, you should go down this street, turn left, get to the highway and….”
As this point, I cut him off, getting tired of his “older brother giving advice” shtick. “Yeah, yeah, I lived here too, I think I know how to get us back to Montreal, thank you very much.” And then added, “Love you Andre.” Because, I do so love my brother Andre, despite the friction that can too often develop between oldest and youngest siblings.
By 6:45PM we pulled up to a gas station. Chris and Mark got out of the car, checked all the tires, and pumped some air in the one that looked flat. By 7:00PM, pit stop completed, we were back on the highway and heading into the setting sun.
The mood on board was jovial enough, despite the fact our daughter had been misbehaving all day, and was doing her best to drive us, particularly my poor wife who was stuck with her in the back seat, into early parent-retirement, or at least, making us want to go on a vacation to some other country that did not accept Annika visas. Around 7:35PM, something happened that would make the day both longer and more difficult than we could have ever imagined, while putting a whole new perspective on life.
Gradually, the traffic began to slow, and then, come to a complete halt. Ten minutes go by, and then, an ambulance passes us in the breakdown lane. Of course, one assumes car accident, and we were more right than we could possibly have expected. Then, another ambulance, followed by police cars, fire trucks, large flatbed trucks and more, all with sirens blaring. Meanwhile, in front of our eyes, was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in a very long time. What an eerie and strange juxtaposition that was.
After about an hour, Chris gets out of the car, to walk ahead and see what is happening. He came back about twenty minutes later, and described a scene best left to the professionals. (CLICK HERE FOR THE NEWS COVERAGE OF THIS ACCIDENT).
Considering how far back we were from the accident, we quickly realized that our five minute delay of checking the tires might very well be what allowed us to miss being the car that was crushed by a Mack truck. Thanking the lucky stars that were now appearing in the darkening skies above, and with a five year old in the back seat of our car, we tried to keep the mood as light as possible.
Still, by 10:00PM, I lost it, and let loose a diatribe about how I would handle the situation, if I were the cops. “With the number of cop cars we’ve seen go by, why can’t they bleeping tell us what’s going on? If I were them, I would block the highway, and starting with the last row, get these cars turned around two at a time, and onto a detour that will send us back on our way home.”
In a moment of “Wow, are they really doing exactly what I just suggested? That NEVER happens!” that’s exactly what the police did. By 10:30PM they notified us to turn the care around, and follow the detour signs they had set up. We were moving once again after a three hour delay. But we were not out of the woods yet.
What followed next was a never ending bumper to bumper, stop and start, snail-like journey through the heavily forested back roads of Granby and environs. All the while, our daughter was doing her best imitation of the Tasmanian devil, crossed with Woody Woodpecker: Gabbling, elbowing and kicking her mother, and making herself a total nuisance in the back seat. And I, her not so proud father, was barking at her like a grumpy drill sergeant. Not my best moment, to be sure, losing my composure like that.
In total, it took us another ninety minutes just to travel ten or so kilometers. By 12:00 Midnight, Annika thankfully fell asleep, and even more importantly, we were at long last back on a fast moving highway. Of course, by 12:15AM, we had to get off the highway, or else a few bladders would have understandably popped. We finally arrived at our home by 1:00AM, had Annika tucked in by 1:10AM, and were ourselves in bed by 1:30AM.
Throughout it all, I could not have asked to spend those difficult hours with three better people than my wife Bonnie, and our dear friends Chris and Mark. They set the bar so high for being calm, and maintaining just the right amount of good humor in much less than perfect conditions. Even my daughter, despite her bad behaviour, managed to make us crack up laughing a few times, maybe even when we needed it most. I apologize to them for losing it once or twice.
And to my dear brother Andre, I say: “Thank you for spotting that low tire, you quite possibly saved our lives. And keep right on giving me that brotherly advice!”