I’m thinking of holiday travelers on this Sunday before Christmas. Tomorrow will be Christmas Eve and I hope every one of them has made it safely to their destination by then. If you have moved far away from your family, traveling home for the holidays can be a joy and a pain. Chris and I used to travel to his parents’ home in Duluth, Minnesota for Thanksgiving, but Christmas was often spent with my side of the family in the Twin Cities. . . . except for a few times, such as the remarkable, magical Christmas of 1983.
I’m not good at heeding the subtle signals that sometimes come from within, or the Universe, or God. If anything, I find interference with my plans a great annoyance. Once we made the decision to travel north, nothing was going to stop us; not the weather (minus 16 degrees in the blazing sun), not the broken spark plug wire the day we were leaving (which meant Chris had to make a hasty repair in an unheated garage), not the anxiety over our 1976 Buick LeSabre being able to make the 250-mile trip. We were going, dammit.
When we pulled into Gary-New Duluth, where Grandpa and Grandma P. lived, the wind chill was minus 65 degrees. Our Buick had performed beautifully on the trip (probably in part from a new spark plug wire and the good used tires we had recently bought). On Christmas Eve, it became the family transport, since most of the other cars wouldn’t start. We kept saying “who’d believe the oldest car in the family would be the only one that runs?”
Our son, Jason, was nine at the time, full of all the feisty energy of his age and his position (our only child). It was a great trip for him, with all those cousins he adored close at hand. He had been in charge of packing for the trip, and naturally, he had remembered his latest games and music and forgotten his pajamas. Grandpa P let him borrow a warm set of long underwear, which he modeled for us before bedtime. Jason and Grandpa P discussed household chores at length, when Grandpa P suggested Jason take out the garbage for him. “Well, it’s your garbage,” Jason told him. “Don’t you think that should be your job?” The discussion went on for days (although the garbage mysteriously went out each day). Grandpa P began calling Jason “the G-Man”, which Jason loved, because it sounded like a rapper’s name. The head-butting was affectionate, and the laughter genuine. Grandpa P was the only grandfather Jason would know, and it was great to see them enjoying the experience.
Christmas Eve was fun and chaotic, with family crowded into the tiny living room, paper and ribbon strewn everywhere, the oohs and ahhs over presents, and much, much laughter. Grandma P was in her glory, surrounded by family, opening gifts she had already peeked at, pressing her guests to try this or that treat she had made (she spent weeks baking, dipping, frying, and decorating Christmas goodies). Grandpa P joked with his grandkids, grinning over at his wife from time to time, delighting in how happy all the crazy hubbub made her. It was idyllic. It stays in my memory as one of the best Christmases ever.
Like I said, I’m not good at heeding the little signs we sometimes get, but I think that year, we followed what might have been a pre-ordained path. What I do know is that when Grandpa P died that March, we all agreed that we had been wise to get to Duluth for that last Christmas with him.
I realize that weather, flight schedules, car troubles, work schedules, and other obstacles may make it impossible for people to travel to their families over the holidays, but if you can, take the trouble, make the trip, overcome the obstacles. It is so much better to remember your loved ones with “glad I did” than “I wish I would have.”