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An Inconvenient Snow Storm and a Twelve Inch Trowel: How They Saved My Life

Sharing Stories

Patricia Gustavson | Jun 9, 2014, 6 a.m.
Patricia Gustavson and her lucky trowel.

"An Inconvenient Snow Storm and a Twelve-Inch Trowel:

How They Saved My Life"

Christmas morning 2008

My Destination that day: my daughter’s home, thirty miles north. In the back seat of my car lay colorful wrapped Christmas packages for my family and I just couldn’t postpone the celebration. My husband had died only ten months earlier, so the first holiday without him was lonely, grief my constant companion. I needed the youthful spirit of my grandchildren to spark some inner happiness.

However, unusually gigantic snowflakes had relentlessly pummeled the Seattle area for over a week. We had six inches of snow, and I had fruitlessly phoned all the local hardware stores—no snow shovels. Their shelves were bare. Alas, my only tool was a twelve-inch trowel for flower pot gardening.

I started the car and scraped its windows. For many years, I’d lived in the country, so I was prepared to drive on ice. To my dismay, all four car wheels spun on the ice in my parking spot. With my trowel, I started to dig around the tires. After the first few plunges into ice, I could feel a sharp pain in my stomach muscles and body, but nothing was going to deter me from my grandchildren on Christmas. Once more I started the car—and, once more, my wheels spun on the ice.

A brilliant idea crossed my mind; I needed some dirt or gravel. Of course my sheltered huge clay flower pots were filled with dirt. Once more the small trowel and I dug into the pots for dirt. I filled a small bucket and returned to the car, carefully sprinkling the precious dirt around the tires and ice ruts.

After many attempts, the wheels hit the dirt, and I burst out of my parking stall with my car motor racing. Again, stomach pain was persistent. It would be my secret through the holiday.

I drove on ice until I reached Snohomish where a friend waited in a parking lot. She drove a four-wheeler to my daughter’s. Ice-coated tree limbs drooped with a lacy effect on each side of the road. Finally, we arrived at the front door and my grandchildren hugged me. The welcoming Christmas tree’s miniature white lights blinked a welcome. I didn’t mention my physical problem to my daughter, but my appetite was dwindling even with the delicious dinner she had prepared.

After the holiday I scheduled a doctor’s appointment and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Two weeks later, I had surgery, and after six months of chemotherapy, I’ve been cancer free for four and half years.

I often wonder if I hadn’t been so determined to spend Christmas with my family, when the tumor would have been discovered.

On a spring day, I noticed a gigantic snow shovel displayed in a hardware store window. I purchased it. It’s about my height. Only in an emergency or another snow storm will I use it. The small trusted trowel lays close by on a patio chair.

We have a history.

Patricia Gustavson is a retired Washingtonian whose historical novel, set in Issaquah, Abigail’s Valley, is about a young nurse.

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