The bus dropped us off at the Summit County police station, a single-cell facility five miles from Keystone. We didn't know where else to go after learning from the HR department that all summer jobs at Keystone were filled. Perhaps we should have called ahead.
Scraggly and tired after a 12-hour train ride and a treacherous bus ride up the mountain, we stared speechless at one other.
"I don't even have enough money for a ticket home," I told my travel-mates.
Surrounded by suitcases, we sat on the lobby bench, dejected and searching for our next move.
"What about that piece of paper your mom stuck in your pocket?" Alicia asked.
"Oh yeah," I said, remembering Mom’s last gesture before we departed Union Station.
"If you run into any trouble, call this number," she told us, as she hugged me goodbye.
I pulled the number out my pocket and headed to the pay phone.
Forty minutes later, Father John, a young dark-haired priest dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, pulled up to the station, his black Jeep churning dust from the unpaved road.
"Hop in girls," he said, in a matter-of fact voice. "You'll be staying at St. Mary's rectory tonight."
Elated by this happy turn of events and the kindness of this stranger, we hoisted our luggage in the back trunk and crowded in for a bumpy ride down the mountain.
# # #
At first, they look like two red dots on a white cloud, but soon I can see the stretcher sled that connects them. Relieved by the sight of my saviors, I sit up and slip on my gloves.
Before long, with an expert hockey stop, the athletic blonde sprays snow in front of me.
"You must be Mary Ann?"
I nod sheepishly. "Boy, am I glad to see you."
"Sorry, for the delay. My name is Jennifer, and this is my partner Sean. The dispatcher told us you were under Gondola 18. We had a hard time finding you. Are you hurt?"
"No, I'm fine."
"How did you end up here?"
Shading my eyes from the sun, I look up at Jennifer.
"Do you mind if I tell you that later?"
"Not at all. Let's focus on getting you down."
She surveys the scene with her partner and confers on our options.
"Are you able to stand and walk?"
"I can stand, but walk where?"
She points down the steep drop off in front of us.
"No way! I'm sure I would tumble straight down."
She nods and confers again with Sean.
"Okay, we're going to have to ski it then,” she says. “Let's get you on the stretcher."
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
"Let me get this straight. You are going to ski off this cliff down that steep drop with me on a stretcher?"
"Don’t worry,” Sean says. “This is what we train for. It’s going to be fun. You've made our day!"
This is not the kind of “fun” I had in mind when I booked this vacation last year. But I have no choice.
“Okay. Let’s do it.”
# # #
It was later afternoon, when Father John showed us to the rectory’s guest room, a tidy, somewhat sterile room with three bunk beds, a desk and a lone crucifix hanging on a white wall.
“You three look awfully tired. You’ll find some snacks in the kitchen. Feel free to eat or sleep. We’ll get to work tomorrow.”
I immediately took a top bunk and was soon in a deep and heavy sleep.
We stayed with Father John for three days, earning our keep by cleaning the rectory and helping prepare meals. As the de facto Catholic priest for the resort — Father John offered Sunday Mass at Keystone's quaint chapel — our host was able to secure jobs for us on campus: two dishwashers and a janitor. As thanks, we promised to attend his Mass during our stay and visit him often.
I found a box of stick matches in the kitchen cabinet, pulled out three, broke one in half and handed them to Father John.