As a military dependent for 34 years, I know something about sacrifices that go unnoticed. I also know something about the people who keep watch while the rest of us go about our daily lives. Often, however, I forget that this duty is shared by hundreds of other public servants, maybe not in a typical war setting, but shared nonetheless. Last week, I was reminded of this oversight while driving behind a snowplow, in the middle of a snowstorm, on my way home from work.
I didn’t know what a snowplow looked like until we moved from Florida to Maine two years ago. Actually, there was a lot that I didn’t know until then. After the first significant snowstorm, Dustin and I ventured outside for an education. First: shoveling.
Lesson No. 1: If you don’t lace your snow boots, you will lose one of them when you step out the door and into a foot of snow. Then you will stand on one foot like a flamingo until you find a safe, dry place (problem: After a snowstorm, there is no such place) to rest your socked foot.
Dustin and I quickly became adept at shoveling. We even enjoyed the exercise. We were struck by the friendliness of Mainers when they are outside for the post-storm cleanup. It reminded me of the days after a hurricane in Florida.
Then, while we were standing by the curb, clearing a walkway on the sidewalk, an oversize orange truck with two long, intimidating scoops on the front crept around the corner. We heard the noise — scraping on the pavement — first. Then we saw the orange blinking lights. After the truck turned and headed toward us, we noticed that the driver was waving his hands.
“Look, he’s waving at us,” Dustin said.
We both stood on what would have been the curb if it weren’t covered in snow. We smiled and waved back at the driver.
The driver waved more frantically. As he came closer, pushing a wall of snow on the curb in front of us as he went, Dustin and I realized that the driver wasn’t waving at all. He was telling us to move. I did a back dive of sorts into a snowbank. Snow rained down on my hat as the truck passed. After I got myself back up and dusted off my snow pants, I noticed the plow had pushed all the snow back onto our driveway.
Lesson No. 2: Shovel snow “downstream” from your driveway.
(Closely related lesson No. 3: Rake your roof and THEN shovel the walkway.)
Over the next few months, I grew to appreciate the sound of plows scraping past the house in the middle of the night. It was as comforting to me as the sound of jets and helicopters passing over our house in Florida or Virginia. While we slept, someone else was keeping watch.
Of course, it isn’t completely fair to compare battling snow with soldiers fighting our enemies. In Maine, after all, most people love the snow and see the seasonal confrontation of man vs. nature as more convivial than adversarial. With our flimsy plastic shovels, we take a stab at snow removal. Knowing that we will never fully win is part of the fun. Still, snowplows are there for us when winter snow would otherwise disrupt daily life.
That was the case last Wednesday. I was driving home on I-95 at the height of a storm. Everything — the road, the trees, the roadside signs — was covered in white. As my wheels slipped and spun, unexpectedly sending me this way and that, I gripped the steering wheel until my knuckles were white and my fingers were numb. My speed was 15 mph. I scanned the road for melting tracks of previous cars, but there were none. I considered pulling off the side of the road.
Then, up ahead in the distance, through a fog of white, I saw orange flashing lights. A snowplow was pulling onto the interstate. The driver waited until I was closer before he slowly, cautiously pulled out in front of me.
For the next several miles, the plow cleared a path in front of me. We were like two jets flying in formation, only moving much slower. Giant waves of snow flew from the side of the truck, and ahead of me now on the road was that reassuring vision: brown, salt-laden, crumbly slush. The orange warning light on my dashboard, the one that so kindly alerts me to the fact that I’m sliding, finally went away.
When I merged right for my exit, I managed to pull up alongside the snowplow. The massive truck rose high above my van. I peered up to see out my side window, and although I was afraid to take my hands of the wheel, I nodded my head and smiled. The driver gave me a small salute. I knew what he meant: “Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.”
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.