The weather, as usual, was not cooperating. Roads were reported to be slippery. Travelling was not advised. However, my favourite cousin had come all the way from Saskatchewan just for this occasion. We had a tradition to keep and we decided to make the journey despite the weather and despite our parents urging us to stay put. So there we were in our regular teen attire, jackets and shoes, heading over the wintry Prairie roads with the howling wind behind us.
It was tradition to enjoy Christmas lunch at Grandma’s house. We loved the laughter, festive foods and jokes. Uncles teased us about secret boyfriends who didn’t exist, and aunts inquired about school and hobbies. Afternoon activities included building forts, challenging Grandma in a game of Scrabble and scanning countless family albums. However, the highlight was Christmas evening when our cousins would meet at an aunt’s house to participate in a competitive round of Pictionary and other group games.
Although freezing rain had been forecast for the evening, it was mild outdoors and we agreed to drive cautiously. The roads were polished glass and to be in motion at all was to be moving too fast. After each mile, our windshield was a pebbled maze and using the wipers just made matters worse. We would leap from the car to scratch peek holes and continue for another mile. If we had been wiser, we would have immediately turned around and been content to spend the evening with our parents. However, we were young and had no intentions of staying home.
We had mastered our routine when our car began to turn uncontrollably and skid. Our vehicle began to slip sideways, and I could feel the tires grabbing gravel as we lurched towards the ditch. Cassette tapes stacked on the dash flew around. Our car came to rest with its trunk in the ditch and front tires facing the opposite direction on the shoulder of the road.
In our hurry to get going, our snow shovel had been forgotten at home. We shivered as we attempted to dig using a Frisbee and our hands. After scooping snow for a few minutes, we jumped inside to warm our numb bodies. Remaining optimistic, we dug until we reached dirt by each tire. As my cousin worked the gas pedal, I pushed and the tires spun at incredible speeds. We were not making any progress, and the farm shelter belts seemed so far away. Walking was treacherous due to the ice, and we were not dressed for the weather. Eventually, we just sat in our car and waited for help to arrive.
To pass the time, we reminisced about previous Christmas experiences. It seemed as though Christmas Day weather in the past was usually nippy and blustery. I recalled numerous treks to my grandparents inching along one hydro pole at a time. As a child, I always thought Mary and Joseph would have passed us on their donkey had they been travelling our road. There was also the trip when our family spiralled down an overpass glittering with black ice. With each loop, I caught a glimpse of the semi on our tail and I prayed we would not connect. We eventually ended in the ditch with minimal damage to one wheel.
As we swapped mishap stories, we almost missed spotting a half-ton truck in the distance. His path did not lead to us but we hoped he would see our diagonally positioned vehicle in the ditch from a mile away. Indeed, he recognized us and we noted the smirk on his face as he neared our vehicle. With a small tug from his large farm truck, we were back on the road and continuing our journey.
Christmas is my favourite holiday but I still dread winter travels to and from Christmas events and gatherings. I have spent many Christmases braving blizzards and meditating in ditches. This year, I am not taking any chances. I am staying home.
– Sheila Braun writes from Landmark, Manitoba