Looking back at the 15-plus years I knew my friend Rilda, there are hundreds of stories I could tell involving her. She had a wonderful sense of humor and said the most unexpected things. Just when you thought she was a quiet, polite person she’d hit you with a zinger that you never saw coming.
She was also a planner and a bit of a mother hen. She wanted everyone to be happy and safe. She was soooo worried when I went on that paranormal investigation last year. I told her she watched too many cable television ghost-hunting shows. She gave me The Look and told me to be careful. She meant it. She cared.
She used to send e-mail memos to our group of agility friends before agility trial opening dates so we could all mail our entries for opening day arrival. I damn near missed entering a local trial earlier this fall because she was in hospice care when it opened and she couldn’t remind everyone.
But my favorite Rilda story happened in late February 2007. That was when Michele and I flew to Portland, Ore., to pick up baby Phoenix. Michele’s husband, The Pharmacist, and my husband, The Farmer (hereafter known collectively as The Jeffs), stayed home.
We flew out on a Thursday. The plan was to meet Phoenix’s breeder and spend some time with her, do a little sightseeing and fly home to Iowa on Sunday. Michele had to be back to work on Monday. I remember checking the weather forecast before we left and they were predicting some kind of winter weather event for the weekend, but that was two or three days away and I was too excited about a new puppy to pay much attention.
We got to Portland just fine. Met Catherine. Met Phoenix and his littermates and his mama. Went out to dinner with Catherine and friends. Played with puppies. Catherine generously put us up at her house. We got up the next morning, full of plans for the day.
Shortly after breakfast, Oregon time, Rilda called me.
“There’s a huge storm coming in,” she said. “They’re predicting freezing rain with a half to one inch ice accumulation and 45 mile per hour winds. It’s going to hit Saturday after midnight,” she said. Then she added in her quiet, understated fashion, “You might want to think about changing your travel plans.”
We were flying back on Sunday morning.
Midwesterners and folks in ice storm-prone regions know that freezing rain plus wind spells disaster. Even minimal ice accumulation can cause tree limbs to snap and rip down power lines as they fall. A half-inch or more of ice, combined with 45 mph wind spelled a large scale, long term train wreck. Power outages would be massive. Highways and interstates would turn into skating rinks. Businesses and schools would shut down. Airports would close.
Airports. Um. Yeah. We had flown from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Minneapolis, Minn., to Portland, Ore. We would be taking the same route back, which at the time of our return would be in the bulls-eye of the ice storm.
The Jeffs had not called us. Our husbands, our life-partners who should be concerned for the welfare of the women they loved who were on the other side of the country and would be flying back into a potentially dangerous situation had pretty much hung us out to dry. They made no attempt to contact us even though we both had cell phones and I’d left Catherine’s contact info with The Farmer. Michele and I figured they were following one of several trains of thought:
1) They were oblivious. (Take this at face value.)
2) They figured we were big girls and could take care of ourselves. (Or possibly that we wouldn’t listen to anything they told us anyway.)
3) They were having so much fun while we were gone they did not care if/when we got back. (I think I have left The Farmer for dog-related travel so many times in our 20-plus years of marriage that he just goes into a different space/time continuum when I am gone. Wife here. Wife not here. She’ll come home eventually. Whatever. No big.)
But Rilda cared enough to call and let us know what was going on. That’s just the kind of person she was, always thinking of others. Michele and I were over a thousand miles from home and she was still concerned about us. Apparently more so than our husbands.
So much for our relaxing trip to Oregon. Michele called the airline and got our tickets changed. Catherine called her vet and we scrambled to get Phoenix’s health certificate. (There’s $50 I’ll never get back. No one at the airport even looked at it. I’m still bitter. )
We got a flight back to Minneapolis that afternoon with no trouble and spent several entertaining hours in the airport with a baby malinois. Our 9 p.m. flight to Cedar Rapids was delayed three times before we finally boarded some time between 11 pm. and midnight.
When we landed in Cedar Rapids, freezing drizzle was falling. We had to be one of the last flights to land before they closed the airport because things got real dicey real fast after that. Michele’s Jeff came to the airport to pick her up. He’d been out driving around, scouting the roads, and told me the highway I would normally take home was a very bad idea, as he’d done a complete 360 spin in his pickup. Okay, that meant the long way home for me on the interstates, adding time but hopefully safer driving conditions as the DOT had been out with the brine trucks all day long.
Phoenix and I skated into our farm lane around 2 in the morning. Ice was already glazing the fences and trees. Our power went out within a matter of hours and stayed out for the next six days. I can still hear the rifle shot sounds of ice-weighted limbs crashing down out of trees.
If Rilda hadn’t called to tell us about the storm, who knows when we would have gotten home. If we’d stuck to our original travel plan, I’m not sure if we would have been able to fly into Minneapolis on Sunday, let alone back to Cedar Rapids.
If we’d made it to Minneapolis, there was no way we could have even rented a car and driven home - it’s a five-hour drive when the weather is NICE. Now the roads were basically impassable.
We could have ended up being stuck indefinitely at Catherine’s in Oregon or stuck indefinitely at the airport in Minneapolis. Either way would have ranged from inconvenient to unpleasant.
Granted, thanks to Rilda’s heads-up call, I got home just in time to start a six-day siege in a house with no heat or running water in February, but at least I was home with The Farmer and all the dogs.
Whenever I think about that crazy whirlwind trip to Oregon and back in slightly over 24 hours, I always think of Rilda.
Friends look out for each other.