We left early (at 6 AM) for the airport. Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 11:10AM, and it’s only a ninety minute drive into Boston from our house, but-what with it being Christmas eve, and with the inevitable Massachusetts holiday weather, and with the general holiday shuffle, we wanted to play it safe. After all, we’ve not seen Gramma and Gramps since they left Boston two years ago.
I should have known right away that the day wasn’t going to go as planned. As soon as the garage door went up, I knew that our ninety minute drive was going to take twice as long. The snow was coming down in white flurries of thick cotton, piling up on the grass, in the driveway, on the street. Dad hollered at me as soon as he saw the snow (he gets a little too stressed out sometimes): “Eric! Where’s the snow shovel!”
I scrambled out of the car, and ran out back; the shovel was in the backyard-right where I’d left it. I dug around in the slush on the ground and found it (right against the fence). “It’s right here Dad,” I yelled, as I slipped my way back to the garage.
I helped him shovel a path to the street, and we finally got the car out onto the street. Just as he put it into drive, Andrew (my little brother; he’s six) hollered: “Wait!”
Dad slammed on the brakes; my iPod fell to the floor, and Mom screamed (she’s a little paranoid about Dad’s driving).
“What?” dad yelled. “Why’d you yell like that? We’re all right here!”
“I left Grammas angel in the house!” Andrew said. “I told her I had a special gift for her! Can I please go back and get it?” Andrew loves Gramma. She collects angels, and so for Christmas this year, Andrew made her an angel. He found a decorating magazine that someone had left outside of the grocery store. He shuffled through it, and found cutout pattern of an angel. He spent hours tracing the thing on a piece of paper. Then he colored it and cut it out. He finished it a week ago, and keeps it in a shoebox up on the top shelf of the closet.
Dad grudgingly let him go. “I’ll be right back,” Andy said as he jumped out of the car; and slipped in the slush in the gutter, and fell down-right there in the street, making a mess of his clothes.
Needless to say, we were a half-hour later leaving than we’d planned. Andy, or course, had to change his clothes, but all of his good underwear were packed, so Dad had to unload his suitcase. He finally got dressed, then set out to find the special angel. It was nowhere to be found, and Andy was in tears; Dad was yelling about it probably being right where Andy had left it-which was obvious, and probably didn’t need to be pointed out at the moment. Mom, in her motherly way, finally shooed Dad back out to the car (“go warm the car up honey; we’ll be out in a minute”), then shushed Andy, and dug through his bag. It was right there between the pile of Archie comics and the Darth Vader light saber; Andy had forgotten that he’d packed it. We finally loaded up-late-but the way I figured it, we’d be right on time for the flight.
Of course, I’d forgotten we were driving into Boston. It was slow going all the way in, but traffic moved at a steady clip for most of the way; I-85 was surprisingly uncluttered for the day before Christmas (probably because of the horrible weather; who in their right mind would stray out into a snowstorm unless they had to?).
But just as we got into Boston, traffic came to a screeching halt. Dad’s spirits plummeted immediately. He started grumbling about stupid people, and traffic, and dumb women rubber-neckers. “It’s Christmastime for God’s sake,” he grumbled. “We’re supposed to be spending quality time with family; instead were stuck out here on the freeway, right smack-dab in the middle of a traffic jam…” He trailed off; I think he realized that he WAS with family, and that the only reason it wasn’t quality time was because he wasn’t allowing it to be.
It turns out that the traffic was stalled for six miles. Earlier in the morning, a delivery van had overturned on the slippery freeway. It turns out, the van had been carrying a load of animals for delivery to a medical research lab up in northern Mass. About 200 animals had escaped in the accident (mice, rabbits and 4 monkeys). The folks from PETA found out about it, and scrambled up as many whacked out animal lovers as the could, and they went down and had a “die-out” in the middle of the Mass Pike. These nut-jobs laid down, right there in the middle of the freeway, all up and down the pike, and acted dead, to protest the use of animals in medical testing. Of course, they gave no thought whatsoever to the 200 animals that were left to freeze to death out in the blizzard. The TV crews loved it. I think every media outlet within fifty miles must have scrambled up a crew to head out to the Mass Pike to report on the “left-wing nut jobs” as my Dad likes to say.
At any rate, we sat there in the snowstorm, stopped on the freeway, listening to the radio announcer interview “dead” PETA supporters lying in the snowy freeway. Some guy in a big rig next to us saw my dad gesticulating, and left his truck to come over to our van. His heater wasn’t working; he wanted to know if he could sit in our van with us, where it was warm, and listen to the news. We said sure.
Finally-after almost two hours of no movement, the highway patrol showed up, and started arresting the protesters. They hollered and screamed (the radio reported it all); one of them, reportedly, even took his clothes all off, screaming about “poor helpless rats…freezing to death”. The highway patrol arrested him naked-left his clothes right there on the interstate!
Suddenly, though, traffic was moving! The driver of the big-rig scrambled out of our van, and jumped back into his truck. Dad took off, left the big rig in the dust. He left the interstate at the next off-ramp; a mistake. At the bottom of the ramp was a detour sign, with an arrow pointing right (away from the airport, and our flight, which was scheduled to leave in a mere 67 minutes now). Dad started flipping out again, yelling about stupid roadwork, and the department of transportation. Mom pulled out a map, consulted it for a few minutes, and said, “Clyde,” (that’s Dad’s name) “go left here, make a left two blocks up, then take the curve to the right and it’ll put you on RT 40.”
Dad grudgingly followed her directions. He’s learned that, as difficult as it is to listen, she’s usually right when it comes to directions.
Forty minutes later we saw the airport off ramp; planes were taking off and landing, one after another, off to the right of the highway. Andrew watched, fascinated; he’s never been on an airplane, and he’s been talking about the trip for months.
We screeched to a stop right in front of the domestic departures entrance. A guy in a security guard uniform came running up (I think he thought that Mom might pose a serious risk to our national security), but as soon as he saw Dad’s face, he froze. We started to scramble out of the van; Dad threw open the drivers door-and a Holiday Inn shuttle van drove right into it! We stood stunned as the door went scraping down the street.
Dad stood and stared at our van-absent a drivers door; mom cried silently. Andrew said, “that was so cool” under his breath; I shushed him. The security guard helped Dad pick up the door. Strangely enough, if you stuck it on just right, it would latch. They put the door on, and, we pulled the luggage frantically out of the rear of the van. We checked the luggage curbside and Dad screeched off in the van (he climbed in through the passenger door) to find a parking spot.
We got all the luggage checked (to the right flight-we double-checked considering our day thus far), and about that time, Dad came huffing in. The clock showed that it was 10:57; our plane left in 13 minutes, and we had to make it down the concourse.
I could almost hear the tick-tock, tick-tock of the clock as we raced past the bookstore, past the barbershop, and past the little café (it had a cool name: “Runway 38-Right”). Dad almost screamed when we got stuck behind a group of about 50 old folks. They shuffled along slowly in their green vests and hats decorated lavishly with souvenir pins. One old lady was carrying a binder that said “Laramie Wyoming Chapter AARP-Annual Singles Trip: New England.” An old man in brown wool argyle pants and strange black shoes (the left one had a really thick sole) kept trying to hold her hand. She swatted him with the binder.
We made a left turn around a corner-and came screeching to a stop. The line at the x-ray machine snaked left-and-right, left-and-right, and left again, for almost as far as the eye could see. Dad slumped against the wall, gasping for breath. “It’s hopeless,” he panted.
The PA system came on: “Last call for passengers Clyde, Gayle, Eric and Andrew Peterson for United flight 308, with service to Phoenix Arizona. Please come IMMEDIATELY to gate 87A; your flight is preparing to leave.”
Andrew yelped when he heard his name. “That’s us Mom!” he exclaimed. “They’re gonna leave without us!”
I looked over at him; a tear dripped from the corner of his right eye.
“It’s OK Andy,” I said. “They‘ll wait for us; they have to.”
Mom found some agent who let us cut to the front of the line. Then a guy in a red hat pulled up in a little cart. “Right this way, folks,” he said. “I’ll get you there!”
We raced down the long stretch of gates, swerving to the right to miss clusters of people. And as he swung a hard right into waiting area for gate 87A, we watched the huge jet taxi away from the gate.
My dad jumped off of the cart. “Ma’am!” he called to the gate attendant. “That’s our flight! Can we PLEASE get on?”
“I’m sorry sir,” the lady said. “The flight has already left. Once it’s gone, there’s no way we can call it back.”
Dad said some unkind things under his breath. The gate agent ushered us back to her desk, and booked us on another flight for 4 that afternoon.
“Now, we’ve got you all booked. Why don’t you just have a seat right here,” she said, “and rest while you’re waiting.”
We slumped down in the waiting area-five hours into the worst Christmas Vacation ever. Dad grumbled under his breath; Mom held her head in her hands; Andrew wept silently; I looked across at the couple sitting across from us.
“What’s your name, Son?” the old man asked kindly. He was missing a finger on his left hand.
“Eric Peterson,” I said. “We’re trying to get to our Gramma and Grandpa’s house in Duluth Minnesota, but our flight just left without us.”
The old man chuckled. “Join the club,” he said. “Ours left without us too! We overslept this morning, and were late for the flight. We’re going to see out grandkids for the first time ever! My name is Albert Right. This is my wife Edith. Good to meet you son.”
Mom introduced herself and Andy. Dad even calmed down enough to reach over and shake their hands.
Mr. and Mrs. Right began to tell us about their grandkids (1 and 2 years old; one boy, one girl). They we’re really nice people, and Andy and I almost forgot about our terrible morning.
Until the lights went out.
They flickered twice, then suddenly we were left completely in the dark. Andy (he’s a little afraid of the dark) scrambled out of his seat and fell. We couldn’t see him, but we heard the thud, then heard him crying. The emergency lights flickered on-and we saw Mrs. Right holding Andrew, patting his back as he sniffled and snorted.
We sat for a moment in the dim waiting area, not sure what to do. A few moments later, we heard a mechanical voice off to the left: “The snowstorm has turned into a blizzard, and has knocked out power to the greater Boston area. Our emergency backup generators will be up shortly, but we regret to inform you that all traffic-by road or by air-has been restricted until 6 AM tomorrow morning. We will go from gate to gate handing out blankets and pillows, and the restaurants will be open all night so that food is available, but we’re going to be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning together.”
For the first time in my life, I saw my Dad cry. Mom slumped down in her seat. We were supposed to be in Duluth Minnesota, with Gramma and Grandpa in just a few hours. Instead, we were stuck here in the Boston airport-on Christmas eve, with an old guy with only four fingers on his left hand, and his wife.
Mr. and Mrs. Right laughed. “This is going to be so much fun!” Mrs. Right said. Andrew looked up at her, unsure. Mom stared at her as though she’d been left here by an alien spaceship that had left a little too quickly.
“C’mon boys!” Mr. Right said. “You ladies, go over to that little café down on the left, and get some hot chocolate and whatever food you can; we’re gonna have ourselves a Christmas dinner right here!” he said. “Edith, let me have those gloves.”
We guys headed off-to search for decorations. It took us an hour or so, but we finally found what we were looking for. Dad found an abandoned ladies left boot in the men’s restroom (I’m not sure what a lady was changing her shoes for in the men’s restroom). Andrew and Mr. Right dug up an Austrailian Tea Tree from a planter down the concourse. I scavenged some frosted mini wheats from some lady. And we borrowed a few ornaments from a garland in front of the barbershop.
We carried our booty down to where Mom and Mrs. Right were sitting. They’d found Christmas dinner: two Styrofoam containers of chicken nachos, a tuna salad sandwich (on toasted wheat bread), and some sliced turkey and cranberry sauce that they’d had left over at the restaurant from their Christmas party earlier that day.
“Before we eat dinner, let’s decorate the tree,” Mrs. Right said.
Dad and Mr. Right were laughing about some hunting story that Mr. Right was telling him. Andrew was helping Mrs. Right and Mom set out the food. I borrowed Mr. Right’s gloves (with one finger missing), and planted the prickly tea tree in the boot that Dad found. Mrs. Right and Andrew strung the mini wheats on a piece of string that Mom had in her purse, and wrapped it around the tree. Dad hung the two ornaments that we’d found on it.
“Looks kinda bare, don’t it?” Dad asked.
“Ah. Hang those gloves on it too,” Mr. Right said. I did.
We sat back, strangely content, and looked at our Christmas tree, and the makings of our Christmas dinner. Mr. Right chuckled quietly; Dad joined in.
“It’s missing something,” Andrew said quietly. He rummaged around in his carry-on bag, and pulled out Gramma’s angel. He reached over and pinned it to the top of our Christmas tree-the best Christmas tree we’ve ever had.
And right then I knew that THIS is what Christmas is all about. Not the mad scramble to buy all the right gifts for everyone on your list. Not the rush of travel to try to see all the people you feel obligated to visit. Not the stress of cooking and decorating, double checking your list to make sure nobody was left out, buying and wrapping, and griping and yelling when all doesn’t go exactly as planned.
No. It’s about making the best of what you’ve got; spending time with your friends and family-with those you love-no matter the circumstances.
And that’s the story of my best Christmas ever-Christmas with The Rights.