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Snowbound in the House of God by John RC Potter

Updated: May 14, 2023


I was born and raised in an area of southwestern Ontario that is known during winters as the ‘snow belt’, when inclement and wintry weather can play havoc with the lives of the locals. Winter in Canada, and particularly in that pastoral landscape that has Lake Huron to the west and Lake Erie to the south which creates these snowy conditions, can be dangerous and sometimes deadly. Nevertheless, the foolish and fearless sometimes, if not often, throw caution to the wind and venture out into a snow storm. As the saying goes, ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ and I was one such fool who regretted the decision to try to outwit and overcome Mother Nature.


It was in the early 80s when this cautionary tale took place. A few years previously I had dropped out of the University of Western Ontario after my first year of studies due to financial considerations. I later returned to university and completed my degree. I had considered myself fortunate to have found a job quite easily, working in a well-known and long-established men’s and women’s clothing store named Vaisler’s in the East End of London, one of the larger cities in that part of Ontario. The hours were long (12 hours a day from 9 AM to 9 PM), but due to the cast of characters with whom I worked, as well as quite an interesting and diverse clientel, the workday was never boring!


It was the day of Christmas Eve and I was working. I had been watching out the big back window in the men’s department of the clothing store to view the ever increasing snowfall, as well as listening to the weather report on the radio that sat on a ledge near the sales counter. My roommate and best friend, Rob, was coming to pick me up because we were both from the same area if not the same town: my parents lived outside Clinton, his family’s home was near Hensall, a short drive apart. It was a one-hour drive north of the city, and one that we could almost make blindfolded. I had called Rob on the store telephone (this was of course before mobile phones), to get his input about the worsening winter weather and the radio reports urging people to drive carefully or better yet, stay at home. However, this was Christmas and in order to celebrate it with families, many people decided it was worth the risk to venture out. Rob and I certainly felt that way and did not want to miss out on festive family gatherings – eating, drinking, laughing, reminiscing, pontificating, and even bickering!

I recall clambering excitedly into the passenger seat of Rob’s car (an older Monte Carlo that he had refurbished and fussed over, that was his pride and joy). We were going to beat the weather and get to our destination, come hell or high water; oh, the faith and foolishness of the young and dumb! Rob was an excellent driver, and thus I was not concerned in that regard. As well, although the snow was coming down heavily in the city, and the streets were slushy, for Canadians driving during wintry weather is an accepted reality. I put my faith in Rob’s ability to drive carefully and safely, and hoped for the best and that in approximately one hour we would be at our destination.


As soon as we departed the edge of the city heading north, the heavy snowfall became a blustery blizzard. Fortunately that afternoon there were hardly any vehicles on the road, which reduced the risk of an accident. As Rob inched the car ever forward, the visibility was reduced from visually poor to virtually nil. I had to put my head outside the opened car window, craning my head and peering forward, in order to tell Rob where the highway was or should be. The whiteout conditions were disorienting and unsettling. No doubt like me, Rob was wondering why the hell we ever left the city, and if we would end up not only in an accident but perhaps become in short order one of those winter traffic fatalities that are all too common during snow storms in that part of the world. The saying, ‘the land God gave to Cain’ crossed my mind as I futilely struggled to peer ahead of the car with my noggin outside the passenger’s window, clearing the moisture from my snow-blinded eyes. Then a thud was heard as the barely-moving car went off the highway and into a slight ditch.


Rob and I sat and looked at each other, and then out through the ice-and-snow covered windows of the car. We were just discussing if we should open the car doors and assess the situation when out of the blinding snowstorm appeared two dark figures and a tap at the window. Rob rolled down his car window and a man peered in and said, “Are you two okay?” We assured him that was the case. This man and his friend were checking on stranded cars on this stretch of the highway, and assisting those inside their vehicles. The highway was impassable by now. We were informed by the men that they had been assisting people stranded by the snowstorm in their cars and taking them to nearby shelter. Like two lost lambs, Rob and I were being rescued! We inquired as to the nature of this nearby shelter, assuming it was a house. As we abandoned the car, one of our rescuers with a slight smile gave us details as regards our destination: we were being taken to the Brucefield Church, a short distance down the highway.


The irony of it all! As a child I sometimes hid in the barn or the cornfield to avoid going to church or Sunday School. As a teenager and young adult I liked to say that I was an agnostic, or if I really wanted to get a reaction from family and friends, I sometimes proclaimed that I was an atheist. I had heard that eventually many people, due to chronic illness or advancing age, turn to God and return to the church, physically or figuratively. As I plodded along behind our rescuers I thought of divine retribution, and how I had turned my back on religion; and as the winds changed direction and for a moment died down, in the immediate distance I saw the Brucefield Church appear like a beacon of light in an endless night, a veritable white halo in an arc around its roof. I was finally returning to a place of worship: I would be snowbound in the House of God!


Getting out of the snow and cold and into the church, I must admit I was counting my blessings. Rob and I could have ended up in an serious accident, injured or dead, or stranded in a car for hours and ended up two frozen popsicles. We were indeed fortunate to have taken refuge in the church, and as it turned out, there were literally dozens of other stranded travellers in the church. All of us were to have an unplanned and unexpected Christmas together in church: disparate and desperate souls who had ended up together at this fortuitous time and place due to a desire to celebrate our Noel with family; instead, we would share it with strangers.


Kind housewives in the village of Brucefield had cooked meals and donated blankets and pillows for the increasingly larger band of pilgrims who had ended up at the church. Rob and I walked around the church and were astounded at how many people had ended up a storm-stranded community due to the blizzard. After everyone had been provided with a buffet-style evening meal, thanks to the gracious locals, it was time for the wayward travellers to spend the evening and bed down for the night. Rob and I decided to go upstairs to an area that had a gallery and balconies from which one could see the main part of the church below. It was not crowded on the upper floor but still quite a few people had decided to settle down there. Rob went downstairs to answer the call of nature. As I tried to get comfortable against a wall I looked across the aisle and saw a kindly, older woman sitting on a bench and literally knitting up a storm. She was staring at me with a slight smile on her face, seemingly pleased that I noticed her knitting prowess. Then she gave me a suggestive look and, with a start, I realised that the old gal was flirting with me! I quickly looked away, then pulled my winter coat over me and curled up to keep warm, somewhat shocked at the forwardness of the old woman. I was not looking at her any longer, but I could hear the relentless needles clacking away like a demented machine.


When Rob returned and plopped down beside me under the stained glass window that I had been glancing up at from my cocoon-like place, I told him about the old woman who had flirted shamelessly with me whilst knitting. He looked over at the old woman and then back at me, then he turned his back on her and pressed his hands to his mouth to stop from laughing out loud. “I am glad you think it is so funny that some old lady was flirting with me.” I whispered, suppressing the desire to look at the old dear again. Rob stopped laughing, but with a grin said in my ear, “That is not an old woman,” he hissed, glee in his tone and on his face, “That is a man.” I turned my head and stared at Madame Professional Knitter, not caring if the dear old soul saw me or not. The old woman – I mean, man – was staring back at me across the room, a delighted smile on his face; and then he winked at me, pursed his lips, curled a tendril of his longish hair in the crook of a finger, and then went back to knitting.

“Are you sure?” I asked Rob, “Certainly looks like an old woman, what with the hair, the apparent cleavage, and that knitting!”

“Yes, I am sure,” he responded. “In fact, I am surprised you don’t recognise him because he lives in your home town.”

“In Clinton? How could I not have seen him before?” Clinton was a small town and although I certainly did not know everyone, this was one character I would not have forgotten!

“Well, actually he doesn’t live in Clinton,” Rob explained, “He lives and works in London but comes up to Clinton at least one weekend a month to spend time with his wife.”

“His wife!” I blurted out so loud that I could hear the knitting needles stop their clicking and clacking behind me.

Rob stood up and motioned for me to follow him. “Let’s get a coffee,” he said. I followed Rob along the edge of the gallery and to the stairs that lead to the main part of the church below. I had willed myself to not look back at the old man and had almost accomplished that goal; however, at the top of the stairs I gazed back and saw the knitting queen was staring after me with an expectant look on his face. Rob saw the look of lust the old dear was bestowing on me and as we walked downstairs he joked, “If you play your cards right, maybe you’ll get lucky tonight, buddy!” I responded with a sour look, but had to laugh at Rob’s wit.

Downstairs in a reception area of the church Rob and I sat on a wooden bench - was there no padded place to sit in this House of God, I wondered? – and we sipped our steaming coffee. “What’s that flirtatious old fart’s name?” I asked.

“Stetson Booter,” Rob stated “Apparently, he is loaded.”

“I know that name,” I exclaimed. “I always thought it was such a distinctive name, but never met him.” I started to chuckle. “What a butch name for that old guy, and to think he’s married!” Then a memory came to me. “Then his wife must be Carrie Booter, who works in the town library,” I stated.

“That’s his wife,” Rob said, “and I hear that although they live modestly, she in Clinton and he in London, they have some money.” He smiled, “people call them Cash and Carrie!”

I gave a short laugh, then said, “What a strange marriage and what an odd couple.”

“Well, it seems to work for them,” he said.

Later we went back upstairs and noticed that Mr. Booter, the mad hatter/knitter, was entwined in a patchwork quilt that one of the local ladies must have donated for the overnight church guests, a winter toque perched jauntily on his head. He was asleep, no doubt on this Christmas Eve dreaming of sugar plums, fairies, and of possibly receiving a new knitting bag from Santa Claus! Rob and I did our best to fall asleep despite the chill in the air and the nagging reminder that we were not with family that night. I finally fell asleep, but not before wondering how long we would be snowbound in the House of God.

Having finally fallen into an exhausted and chilly sleep, the next morning we awoke rather late to the discovery that the snowstorm had stopped, and the snowfall was light and Christmasy. Some of the storm-stayed people had already awoken and been able to get to their vehicles and on their way to Christmas destinations. The snowplows had cleared the main highways and concession roads. To my surprise – perhaps even my chagrin! – my adoring fan was already feathered and flown. Stetson Booter was on the way home to his wife, perhaps thinking of Yours Truly – the one that got away!


The story of my sudden return to the church on that Christmas Eve was immediately a favourite anecdote that family and friends loved to hear and to share. It was considered humorous that someone who was not religious at all, and flirted with agnosticism and atheism as a youth and young man, had ended up needing to find solace and safety in a church. The anecdote, with the passage of time, changed from an anecdote into a story, and perhaps somewhat of a myth. For those reading this testament who are religious, take faith in the knowledge that over the years I have become more spiritual. I am not a church-goer even now. However, I take comfort in the fact that a church is more than a building, and that one Christmas many years ago a church and its congregation gave me comfort and shelter, as well as the fodder for a story, when I was snowbound in the House of God.


 

www.memoirist.org
John RC Potter

John RC Potter is an international educator originally from Canada, but who is living in Istanbul. When in high school John had the opportunity to interview the Nobel Prize winning author, Alice Munro, who resided in his hometown. It inspired John to begin creative writing. His poems and stories have been published in the following: Literary Yard, Down in the Dirt, Bosphorus Review of Books, The National Library of Poetry, Jabberwocky. His most recent publication is ‘Blood from a Stone’, an excerpt from a novel-in-progress (Bosphorus Review of Books, January 2023). Upcoming stories will be published in The Write Launch (February 2023) and Fiction on the Web (March 2023). He is currently a quarterfinalist in the ScreenCraft Short Story Competition with his entry, ‘She Got What She Deserved’. 2023 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Competition Quarterfinalists - ScreenCraft



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