In mid-March, at the close of a sales convention in Cleveland, four of us made hasty preparations to return home to Pittsburgh by auto. The weather report predicted a heavy snowfall, and as we looked out the hotel window, we could see the storm beginning.
As we left the city, it became evident that we were in for a rough trip. The road was covered with a sheet of ice. The wind was strong enough to blow cars and trucks off the road, and we had to stop and get out several times to pull and haul our car back into the tracks.
By dusk we had made a few more miles, but were now faced with an impossible situation. A tractor-trailer had jackknifed across the road ahead of us, and a Greyhound bus and some other cars were stalled there.
The storm had increased in intensity, and it was obvious we would be there for the night. We were stopped, fortuitously, in front of a small farmhouse. I struggled through knee-deep snow to see if the owner could take us in. The bus driver had already brought in his 27 passengers, and there were several other carloads.
But we were graciously welcomed by a lovely little lady of senior years. We brought in our luggage and settled down gratefully. Others came in from time to time. Later we organized a search party to wade through the waist-deep snow to bring in three or four other people who were thinking of staying in their cars.
At last there were 54 refugees in that house. Among them were a Cleveland banker, a honeymooning couple, a woman who ran a boarding house, and a professional wrestler.
There were two bedrooms upstairs and a large living room and kitchen downstairs. To relieve the density in the living room, some of us retreated to the basement and swapped stories until bedtime.
Sleeping accommodations were arranged so that women with children had the bedroom. Others found space on the sofa or in the lounge chairs. The rest of us lay down on the floor in an interlocking jigsaw formation. I crept under the kitchen table to avoid being stepped on by night wanderers, opened my suitcase to use the clothes as a kind of pillow, and went to sleep with the roar of the continuing storm.
In the middle of the night our indomitable hostess struggled out alone to the nearby barn to assist her cow in the birth of a calf. What an unconquerable spirit of on-going life!
When morning came, there was a great need to feed the multitude. The boarding-house lady took on that responsibility, using an unbelievably generous larder as her source. In the basement there was a whole wall of shelves filled with home-canned vegetables, fruits, and meat. There was a barrel of flour, a bin full of potatoes, and cured hams and bacon slabs hanging from the floor joists.
In the refrigerator there were fresh eggs and whole milk for the children. What a sense of productivity and preservation had motivated this daughter of the pioneers! Now she could share it all with the weary travelers who knocked on her door in the middle of a storm.
An almost continuous stream of hot biscuits came tumbling out of the oven. Mealtimes were blurred. We ate in shifts so that the end of one meal and the beginning of the next was marked only by the change in menus. Dish-washing went on without interruption, thanks to the wrestler, who took on the onerous duty of appointing us to that task. Bearing the earmarks of his trade, he looked as if he would not take a refusal kindly.
The banker passed the hat, putting in a generous nest egg to suggest to donors what he considered to be appropriate. The honeymooners, quietly embracing each other, gave us all a romantic lift. A fortunate combination of talents.
Outside, the storm had ceased after covering the passenger cars completely. On the radio we heard that a crew of workers was clearing the road, but they were making slow progress. We would be snowbound for another night and day.
We stopped to visit our generous hostess a number of times afterward. She loved to relive that event in her life. For me, it had been a kind of return to a boyhood of summer vacations spent with farming relatives.
What it meant to her is best expressed in her own words, ''I never had so much company.''