Her Reason to Smile
"Wonderful well written story…. Go on a drive
and adventure with Susan."
--Amazon 5-star review
Tuesday, November 25, 1958
The two-lane U.S. highway 441 across The Great Smoky Mountains slithered like a snake, turning right, then left, then right again. Susan Lockwood had planned to get over the mountains before nightfall, but the weather hadn’t cooperated. The cold rain started soon after she left work, causing her to drive below the posted speed limit on Chapman Highway as she left the eastern city limits of Knoxville. She expected increased traffic two days before Thanksgiving, and the inclement weather added to her driving woes.
Her appointment for tomorrow morning’s job interview was at ten o’clock. She wouldn’t get a full night’s rest since her trip would take longer than expected. She had hoped to be settled into the hotel before dark, but instead, she now drove the most hazardous miles of her trip. Even at age thirty-two, Susan promised her parents she’d let them know when she arrived in Asheville. They’d be anxious by now, awaiting her call. But she had to conquer these mountains and check into the hotel before she could telephone them.
As she neared the top of the mountains, her car’s headlights illuminated fog crouched among the tree branches lining the highway. If the fog didn’t creep any lower, she’d be okay. Driving through Newfound Gap, indicated on her map as the highest elevation along U.S. 441, she wished she could visit the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina. That would have to wait for another time.
Just beyond Newfound Gap, a roadside sign marked the seven-mile turnoff for Clingdoms Dome, the Smokies’ highest peak. She’d soon descend the other side of the mountains and escape the reach of the fog’s outstretched fingers.
All the way up the mountains she’d driven a short distance of highway but then had to slow down when she approached another bend in the road. And the tractor-trailer truck following her didn’t help matters. When the road began its climb up the mountains, Susan pulled her car onto the intermittent paved pads provided for slower vehicles, hoping the big truck would go on ahead and get off her bumper.
The truck driver didn’t take advantage of her courtesy but continued to drive close behind her. At least he had his headlights on dim, and she didn’t have to fight the glare of bright lights in her rearview mirror. As her mother always said, everything could be worse.
Finally reaching the mountains’ crest, she began her descent. A similar highway pattern swung her white 1958 Chevrolet Impala hardtop from side-to-side as she drove. The road seemed to throw its loops at her windshield quicker as she descended the mountains. Susan hardly mastered one set of twisting road and relaxed on a straight stretch before she reached the next curve, requiring her to reduce her speed. She had her foot on the brake pedal more than on the accelerator. And still, the tractor-trailer followed her, although at a more considerate distance than before.
Susan gripped the steering wheel tighter and cringed at the possibility of the truck driver overtaking her car as one would step on an ant. Traveling down the mountains, she’d have no escape, no possibility of getting out of his way. She hoped his brakes held—his truck had more weight to stop than her car. God, please help me get safely off this mountain without that truck hitting me.
Copyright 2018 Jo Huddleston