89: Driving Home to Canada

89: Driving Home to Canada

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Driving Home to Canada

By hook or by crook this peril too shall be something that we remember.

~Homer, The Odyssey

On my daughter’s first Christmas, I drove fourteen hours through the night, arriving at daybreak on Christmas Day for my father’s first look at his granddaughter. After lunch I headed out to drive again for another nine hours to the other grandparents’ house. By the time my second daughter was born, driving home for Christmas had become my way of keeping the family together.

After my divorce, I stopped driving home for Christmas. The girls were never there to wake up in my house on Christmas Day, so I slept until noon. There was no early morning scuffle of feet, no opening presents at dawn, and once the girls became teenagers, I stopped putting up a Christmas tree.

Eight years later I was sitting at work during the second week of December planning another holiday alone when I received an invitation to spend Christmas with someone. I had recently started dating again and the thought of spending Christmas with her was appealing. There was only one thing: this was a long distance relationship, as she lived in Toronto and I lived in Australia. Throwing caution to the wind, I booked my ticket for an eighteen-hour flight to Baltimore, with a connecting flight to Toronto.

Late in the evening of December 23rd, I took off from Brisbane. A winter snowstorm delayed my arrival in Baltimore for an additional two hours, and while my baggage made the connecting flight to Toronto, I was caught in the Christmas Eve backlog. By the time I cleared U.S. Customs, the storm had moved in and all remaining flights to Canada were cancelled.

A rental car was my only choice, and I exited the Baltimore airport just in time to join rush hour traffic. No one was moving, the snow was already axle deep, and the crawl to the interstate took hours. As I started putting miles behind me, traffic thinned out, and by 8 p.m. I saw my last car of the night. It was Christmas Eve; everyone was where they were supposed to be… except me.

I turned on the radio and listened to the football games being broadcast. Between quarters, local stations gave the ominous weather reports. Bridges and highways were being closed behind me, record snowfalls were being recorded in towns as I passed through, and the rental car was struggling to keep ahead of the storm.

Shortly after midnight, I finally arrived at the Canadian border.

“Purpose of visit?” the agent asked me.

“Home for Christmas,” I answered with my thick Australian accent.

The agent looked at me twice perplexed, before finally stamping the passport. I drove onwards, and in the rear view mirror, watched the “Bridge Closed” barricades go up as I entered Canada. It was a downhill run from there, across the Queen Elizabeth Way into Toronto and then north to the 401. After twelve hours driving and a twenty-hour flight, I arrived at my girlfriend’s home at 3:00 Christmas morning, and parked on the street.

The snow was falling heavily and the house was unlit. Sliding over to the passenger seat I curled up for some long overdue sleep. About twenty minutes later I was still awake and I saw the porch light go on and a silhouette step into the darkness.

I got out of the car and slogged my way across the street, knee deep in snow.

“Merry Christmas, babe,” I said, hugging her tightly. Her flannelette pyjamas felt warm against my still cold skin, and I could feel her heart against mine, racing.

“Welcome home for Christmas,” she whispered, while kissing me on the cheek. She took my hand and led me inside where I saw my luggage, which she had already collected from the airport, sitting under the Christmas tree, now adorned with a gift tag and a red bow.

I picked up the phone and called my father back in Australia.

“I heard about the snowstorm; how were the roads?” he inquired.

I looked across the room at the woman who had waited up all night for me to cross the globe. She was making me a hot beverage.

I told my father that I was glad to be driving home for Christmas again.

~Grant Madden

El Cajon, California

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