The Alabama Blizzard of 1939

The Alabama Blizzard of 1939


By Elton Camp 


(A true story from the USA South)


            North Alabama roads in the late 1930s were generally far inferior to today.  Many of them were gravel.  The road down Grant Mountain where my mother had been stranded at the start of the Christmas vacation was particularly treacherous with many sharp turns as it descended rapidly into the valley below the mountain. Along with another teacher, she unwisely undertook the dangerous drive to her home. 


The two teachers were bundled in multiple layers of skirts, shirts, socks, and sweaters, topped off with heavy woolen coats.  Each placed a toboggan on her head and wrapped a scarf around her neck.  They could walk only awkwardly as they crunched through the snow to the car.  The accumulation came almost to their knees.  The cold battery groaned lazily, but managed to start the motor on the third attempt.  It spit and sputtered and blew out black exhaust until it warmed up.  After much tire spinning and a push from the other teachers, they managed to reach the main road.   Of necessity, they drove right past the stop sign, but it didn’t matter.  No other vehicles were in operation for miles around. 


            “Watch out, Eloise,” Mary Beth, Mother’s friend, cried with alarm each time the small car skidded. 


            On one side was a ditch that skirted massive boulders and on the other a sheer drop toward the valley.  The steering wheel occasionally spun uselessly, but each time

she regained control just in time to avoid a collision or a dive over the precipice. 


            “We were crazy to try this,” Mary Beth repeated frantically each time.  She looked accusingly at Eloise, as if to suggest that she’d forced her to come along. With no way to turn back, on they went. 


            Their warm breath soon fogged the frigid windows.  It was only with constant wiping that they managed to keep a blurry view of the road ahead.  The heater gave a trickle of heat, but it was no match for the bitter cold.  Fallen limbs had plunged to the roadway, but they managed to steer around them with only an occasional loud scrape as one caught the side of the car.  After numerous narrow escapes, they reached the foot of the mountain.  The road began to level.  A black Ford highway patrol car, with a flashing red light on top stood out against the white snow.  It was parked in the middle of the intersection.  The car slowly skidded to a stop and ended up sideways only a few feet from the vehicle.  The officer threw open his door and stomped over to their car. 


            “You nearly hit me.  What are you doing out on a day like this?  All the roads are closed,” he shouted. The white mist of his breath came out in puffs.  His fat jowls shook as he talked.  The stench of cigarettes emanating from his blue uniform fouled the clean, crisp winter air.   “Go back home if you can get there.”


            “We just came down Grant Mountain,” Eloise responded and added with determination, “Don’t tell me that I can’t drive on into Guntersville.”


            “You came all the way from the top?” he said with astonishment as he glanced at the roadway with two deep ruts in the snow.  “If you have that little sense, then go on. Good luck to you.  You’re gonna need it.”  He waved them ahead as they managed to straighten up and turn left toward town.  He shook his head in dismay at their lack of judgment.


            This trek resulted in her being at home for an extended period with little to do.  Those days were long before the introduction of television and the snow-covered roads made travel impractical.  The 1939 snowstorm was the indirect cause of my birth.  Hospitals reported a spike in the birth rate nine months later in that part of the state.

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A true short story from the South.