They faced the same vexing decision countless other motorists faced Tuesday in the midst of the epic Snow Jam. Stay in the car, or leave it behind?
Four tedious hours and only three-quarters of a mile into the four-mile drive to Sandy Springs, Mike Russo and his mother Barbara Tabin decided to hoof it. Their journey, after all, carried the weight of life and love.
Tabin’s husband of 29 years, Lenny, had died on Sunday. His funeral was Monday under a brilliant blue sky. On Tuesday, as a snowstorm seized metro Atlanta, relatives and friends were supposed to meet at her youngest son Adam’s home in Sandy Springs to sit Shiva, to mourn Lenny’s death and celebrate his life.
Thank God, we decided to hold the funeral on Monday, Tabin said she thought, or everyone would have been stranded at the cemetery.
The winter storm that trapped workers in their vehicles, kids in their schools and buses, and locked down one of the critical logistics hubs of the Earth, also ensnared the everyday rituals and happenings of joy and grief.
A baby was born Tuesday night in a car on the Perimeter. Some of the region’s most vulnerable citizens hunkered down at home hoping their food and medicine would hold out. Birthday parties were canceled. And, like the Shiva gathering for Lenny Tabin, goodbyes were delayed.
Russo, a hockey writer for The Minneapolis Star Tribune, pulled their car into a parking lot near Perimeter Mall. Tabin, 67, slipped her six-pound poodle, Oliver, into a grocery bag. She wrapped a scarf around her head and looped it around Oliver’s neck, lifting the sack to her shoulder.
Barbara and Lenny Tabin lived in Boca Raton, Fla., for nearly three decades, and only moved to Dunwoody in August to be close to her youngest son after Lenny got sick. The weather in Atlanta seemed a better fit for a couple of Floridians than the treacherous winters of Minnesota.
Then a cascade of weather, panic and poor decisions left Atlanta in a straitjacket.
The Tabins had their first date 34 years to the day of the Snow Jam at a diner in Plainview, N.Y. But the last time Tabin walked in the snow, she said, was 27 years ago. Ronald Reagan was president.
“I could feel my husband watching, laughing, and saying ‘Only my wife would do this,’” Tabin said. As she got out of the car, the air was sharp, but invigorating, she said.
On any normal day, Russo and Tabin’s drive to Sandy Springs would have taken about 10 minutes. Now they were looking at a couple of hours of walking through bitter cold.
Things started out orderly, but as nerves frayed, temperatures dropped and the limitations of human bladders set in, some snowbound car travelers became unglued.
“People were hungry, thirsty and had to go to the bathroom. They were cold,” Tabin said. “They couldn’t move but inches and they were using up the gas in their cars.”
Aggressive drivers tried to force their way around other cars, Russo said. One man got out of his vehicle and started punching the driver’s side window of a car that was blocking traffic. Other drivers ditched their vehicles along the side of the road.
They encountered one man wrapped up in a blanket who was walking back toward the office buildings near the mall, Russo said. The man said he was going to sleep in his office.
“He had just given up,” Russo said.
They crossed over Ga. 400 where cars and trucks were frozen in place. They slowly walked up one icy hill and down the next.
“I kept thinking of the Little Engine That Could,” said Tabin, a retired speech pathologist at a school in Florida, referring to the children’s tale.
“That’s how I felt, you can do it, you can do it, keep going, keep going,” she said.
As they walked, others poured out into the streets. A treacherous walk was better than being stopped.
A little before 7 p.m., Tabin and Russo caught sight of her youngest son’s home. The Shiva had been canceled, but at least everyone was safe.
Lenny Tabin, 72, retired several years ago as a banker. But he loved kids, and his wife convinced him to become a substitute teacher. Their Boca Raton school sent a care package of food for the Shiva.
Their trek started as a simple drive to pay tribute to her husband and to say goodbye. But Lenny never really left, Barbara Tabin said.
“It was the dichotomy of life and death,” she said. “My husband had died, but he was there encouraging me. He hadn’t left me.”
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