Middle-of-the-night phone calls at my childhood home meant one thing. My dad, roused from his bed, dressed hastily and went to work.
The calls nearly always came from the Albia Police Department or the Monroe County Sheriff's Department, and that meant somebody was in trouble. Dad owned a one-man auto body shop and a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week tow truck service.
Another guy in town with a bigger wrecker emblazoned its name, "Hoss," - a tribute to Dan Blocker's "Bonanza" TV character - across the hood. Dad also painted his truck's name on its hood, with a wink to his favorite "Bonanza" character.
On many a brutally cold night, Dad and "Lil' Joe" raced into the dark to help someone in need.
Often, it was someone whose car slid off the road or into a ditch. Sometimes, it was more gruesome. He spent his share of time waiting for rescuers armed with the Jaws of Life to cut people or bodies out of mangled vehicles.
I sometimes rode along on calls and watched Dad as he crawled through snowdrifts or into muddy ditches to maneuver until he could hook onto the vehicle's frame and attach the cable that slowly pulled the car toward "Lil' Joe."
Bumps, bruises and bloody knuckles were a regular part of Dad's job. He kept current on tetanus shots because he never knew when a piece of rusty metal would gash his arm or leg.
I grew up with an appreciation for people who risk their comfort and their lives to take care of the rest of us.
There are a lot of those unsung heroes.
Law enforcement officials warn us, scold us, beg us not to travel unnecessarily when road conditions are extreme. When we don't listen, they still rescue us. Maybe not as quickly as we would like. But that's likely because there are more of us than there are of them.
That also goes for tow truck drivers who are trying to move wrecks off roadways to prevent more chaos. Ditto for businesses that send people into arctic conditions to get our cars started when we can't.
We would all like our streets and roads to be the first ones plowed. Guess what? Your mom was right. We can't all be first. Road crew drivers likely don't want to be up all night running snowplows. It's their job, and I'm guessing they try to do it as safely, as quickly and as efficiently as they possibly can.
Firefighters not only have to contend with hellish flames, they have to hope their trucks will be able to pump water when the mercury is in double-negative digits and the wind chill is unimaginable.
Emergency medical providers can't take a snow day. MidAmerican doesn't shut down for bad weather.
Essential services are at our fingertips because someone else makes a sacrifice to provide them.
It wouldn't hurt any of us to say thank you.
Barbara Wallace Hughes is managing editor of The Messenger.