Over the River and Through The Woods, To Grandmother's House We Go
Car serviced, gassed up and packed, Christmas presents tidily stacked in rear, Christmas bow on the front grill of car, hamster and aquarium fish overfed?
Well, that's the way the annual exodus to SC from NC for Christmas should start, but not for our gang. Most of the time we would pile into the car groggily after waiting for either Don or myself to finish a weird double shift at work. The overworked parent usually slept the whole way while the other drove. Five hours of bundled Christmas energy sat behind that driver. Frequent kicks into the back of the seat or screeches of "She's touching me" made the driving parent envy the overworked parent. Touching wasn't hard to do when you have a Toyota Corolla and 2-4 kids in the back seat. Don was the sleeping parent on one particular trip and I was making good time. I remember thinking how jovial and spirited the other holiday drivers and passengers were this particular holiday season. As I weaved in and out of traffic they smiled, grinned and... laughed? Hmmm... I checked the rear view mirror to see if the kids were making faces at them while passing. They weren't. The driver's and passengers seemed happier the further along we got. Then, I passed a lady who started beating the wheel and laughing hysterically. I glanced over at Don while checking my side mirror to change lanes and and figured out why everyone was so entertained. Don slept, mouth agape, his face plastered to the window glass in drool. Geez..
The poor hamster and fish? We usually remembered about 100 miles down the road. The neatly wrapped presents in hatchback? Nope, never happened. We usually bought the Christmas presents at a truck stop off of I-77 when we stopped to get our boiled peanuts after crossing the SC state line. Toy Hess trucks, Pecan Logs and Budweiser Christmas mugs filled our Santa sack.
I always tried to save the license tag game for the last leg of the trip. It usually ended minutes later with an argument. ex. "You already said North Hampshire!"
Let's sing a song. "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go" sounds nice, but our crew was all about "Grandma getting run over by a reindeer."
There were always so many people that we wanted to see but couldn't squeeze everyone in. But we did try to alternate homes and this particular year, we would stay at my brother's house. He had recently moved to a home we had not visited. I called him the night before we left and scribbled down the directions. Take a left on Main, right and third home on left...got it. He told us before we left that he wouldn't be home but to come on in and he would see us when he got off work.
Whew, we were so ready to get out of that car. The kids were fighting over who was first to use the bathroom. All of them made it to the door at the same time. It was locked, my brother must have forgotten to leave the key. Don and I looked for a key in all of the obvious hiding places. Don found another way in, maybe not the right way, but nothing broke. Kids shoot off in all directions to find bathrooms. I sink into the couch, Don goes straight to frig and gets a beer out. He plops on the couch with me, grabs the remote and flicks on the television. While twisting the cap off of the beer he notes "Tim has got the place looking really nice." I concur, nodding and looking about the room. Both of us noticed the framed pics on the entertainment center at the same time. Hmm...a balding policeman in uniform with a young boy. Next pic. Policeman with family. Oh Fuuuuuudddge! Only I used the F-dash-dash-dash word. Yes, the mother of all potty words. The kids come running. Go..go...go...get out! We are herding everyone as we fly down the steps. That little Corolla peeled up some asphalt that day as we left. This was time before cell phones. I get to a pay phone and called my brother at work. He lives 3 houses further down. We parked the Corolla in the back of his place and anticipated a police cruiser pulling up the rest of the day to get us for B&E.
There always seemed to be a trip malady. We knew it was going to happen, just didn't know what it would be. Leaving the gas cap on the hood while driving off, heater quits working, car overheats,windshield wiper goes out. I was driving back on one trip when the windshield wiper motor went out in the pouring rain. We were still over 100 miles from home. Again, time before cell phones. I pulled the car over, got out and determined the motor was gone, the blade would return to it's down position every time I pushed it up. I got back into the car soaking wet and sat for a few minutes thinking about what to do. I pulled off my pantyhose, got out of the car and tied one leg to the top of the driver's side blade and threaded the pantyhose back through car window. I drove with one hand for the rest of the trip while yanking the blade up and letting it fall back so that I could see to get home.
No, our memories may not be Hallmark card picturesque. But, they will always bring smiles. The grill of our car was more likely to have a McDonald's cheeseburger wrapper on it than a Christmas wreath or bow. We learned alot from those road trips though. Hamsters are hardier without food than guppies. And those Budweiser mugs we bought at the truck stops are actually worth something today.