After the Teton Dam broke and water flooded the valley, we all worked long, hard hours to rebuild our lives, homes, and businesses. While my brothers often went out to help in the flood area, I was left home to take care of the chores there. My father also had me help the mechanics who worked at his farm equipment business.
On one particular day, I was helping to repair tractors damaged by the flood. While I was taking a short break, I heard my father’s voice filled with excitement.
“John, I’m so glad to see you! I heard you were on the list of people still missing after the flood.” My father called me over. “Daris, you remember John, don’t you?”
John reached out his hand to shake mine. I reached mine out, but then I saw my hand was black with oil, and I laughed. “I don’t think you want to shake my hand.”
John grabbed my hand and shook it anyway. “I don’t really care. Life is so good.”
“You seem unusually happy,” my father said.
“You remember how you heard I was on the missing list?” John asked. “Well, I truly was missing for a few days.” He then went on to tell us his story.
He said on the day of the flood he was traveling from St. Anthony to Rexburg. On the old highway between the towns there was an overpass that went over some railroad tracks. As he came right to the flat part at the peak, his car died. He thought maybe the angle coming up the overpass had drained the gas away from the intake hose in the tank, but in looking at his gas gauge, he knew the tank was too full for that.
He thought if he could just coast to the downhill slope he might be able to get it going again, but the car came to a complete stop some distance from where the slope turned downward. He thought there couldn’t be a more inopportune place to be stopped, since he would be blocking traffic. He was sure someone would soon come and help him push his car.
But no one came. The road seemed quieter than he had ever seen it. He knew a thing or two about cars, so he tried to restart it, but had no luck. He was growing increasingly frustrated, when the thought came to him that something strange was going on. Everything was deathly still. From his elevated view on the overpass he couldn’t see any vehicle moving anywhere.
The whole area was deserted. He was dumbfounded as to an explanation. Then, suddenly, he heard a roar. He looked to the east and saw a wall of water twenty feet high billowing toward him. As the water hit the overpass supports, the overpass vibrated underneath him, but it stood. He realized that if his car hadn’t stopped where it did, he would have been killed.
He was trapped there for a couple of days. He had lots of time to think about how lucky he was. When he was finally rescued, he was hungry, thirsty, and tired, but he was okay.
Later, when things dried out enough so that he could go back to the overpass, he walked up to his car, started it right up, and drove it off. As he finished his story, John spoke quietly. “It had never stalled before that day, and it has never stalled since.”
He continued, speaking solemnly. “I’ve thought a lot about it since then. I hadn’t really thought that there was much purpose or reason to life. Every day was just another day of work. But, suddenly, all of that changed. As I sat on that overpass waiting for rescue, I thought about how I spent lots of time working but spent little time with my family. When my ordeal was over, I felt like I had been given another chance to reconsider what was most important to me, and I determined I would change.”
After John left, my father turned to me and said, “John has always been a good man who loved his family, but perhaps we can take his lesson to heart and not get caught up in the thick of thin things.”
And now, when I find myself busy with unimportant things, I remember John’s story and it helps me put my life back into perspective.