Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Drive

Twenty-six years ago, Christmas Eve was on Saturday. I finished preparing the Christmas sermon for the congregation. Lois did last minute packing. Vaughn enjoyed the world as only a six month old baby can. It was unusually cold for Pennsylvania, a real white Christmas.

Our VW Beetle was giving trouble starting. So that night I parked it at the top of the hill leading down to a our house. There were a good hundred yards of fairly steep hill coming down to our driveway, so I thought for sure I could start the car by rolling, if the battery was dead.

Christmas morning was about minus 25 Celsius. The engine did not respond at all to the key: not even a click. Fine. I turned the key to on, pushed in the clutch, and let the car roll down the hill, popping the clutch several time3s as I gained speed. At the bottom of the hill I rolled into our neighbour's driveway, no closer to starting the car. Not a cough; not a hiccup; not a sign of turbo charged life in the frigid morning air.

Our neighbour Jay came out and helped me with jumper cables. It took a good 10 minutes of charging to get the car going. We did not turn it off again!

I love Christmas on a Sunday. We went to Speedwell for the Christmas morning service. Then piled into the VW, which started, mercifully, and drove off to Wilmer and Velma/s for Christmas dinner. They have been friends with my folks and Lois' family for many years, and their children are among our best friends (and cousins); so we had a wonderful dinner and time together, visiting, singing, celebrating.

About 4 pm we started on the next and final part of our day -- driving from Lancaster County to New Madison, Ohio, about an eight hour drive. As we neared Pittsburgh, daylight was fading fast, and the temperature started to drop. By the time we reached Zanesville in eastern Ohio, where I filled up the car with gas, it was minus 30 Celsius.

The car very nearly did not start again after I filled it up: the cold was too much for a dying battery. We started off through the Ohio night, with the old VW forced air heater doing its best. we had no fan to push the air in faster, just the speed of the car. A thin layer of frost formed all around the windows so that we could see only out of the windshield through a small arc kept clear by the defroster. Vaughn slept happily in his car seat, surrounded by enough luggage to keep him safe even if he wasn't seat belted in! His parents were less happy. I have never been so aware of how thin the car body is: a few inches of metal between us and the coldest weather we had ever experienced.

The last stretch from Zanesville to Mom and Dad's (Lois' parents) was about four hours; but we were not stopping for anything. Now I would have to stop for some sort of break, but we were young enough to keep going and foolish enough to have started without replacing the old battery! So we kept going. We got into New Madison about midnight. Mom and Dad were waiting for us and helped take everything inside, including their grandson snug in his car seat.

The next day (Boxing Day) we tried starting the car. Nothing. That battery was dead and needed to be buried. Dad took me to the store and bought me a new battery. He didn't say so, but I think he may have been worried that I might take his daughter back into the Winter's cold and get her stranded this time! Not to mention his new grandson. Now that I have sons close to the age I was then I understand him better, I think!

We have minus 30 temperatures regularly here in Manitoba, and it no longer seems so cold. Cold enough, but you learn to deal with it. We have a blanket in the car in case of emergency, and keep batteries and tires well checked, and make sure that we're safe when we go outside. In any case, I love Christmas. And I love family. And I'm grateful that God kept us safe 26 years ago so that I can remember that drive through the bitter Ohio night.


Faithe said...

Amazing...the things we did when we were young and....well, inexperienced! Life has taught us some great lessons, hasn't it? What a great story for your grandchildren sometime. Ours love to hear such stories, and beg Grandpa for "just one more."

Denise said...

Love the story and memories. I, too, am glad that all was well even if a bit crazy. Gail and I have a similar story coming into PA from here - actually, I think it was the Christmas that you and Lois came back from Africa. Our drive from here to PA was quite dangerous and we were foolish enough not to stop. However, it is now a memory with a smile.

KGMom said...

It is amazing how foolish we are when we are young. We don't know any better, and we build wonderful memories.
When we get older--we look back and think--WERE WE CRAZY OR WHAT?