Christmas… it’s approximately 8 o’clock in the evening and I’m driving with the family to Sharon Woods in southwest Ohio. We’re going to see the Holiday in Lights outdoor light display. We pull into the park entrance, listening to Ozzie Osbourne’s Bark at the Moon.
“Put on some Christmas music,” Kristine says.
Gabby responds with “But this is so much better.”
I agree with Gabby, but don’t respond. Ozzie wraps the song with maniacal laughter. We continue driving thru the park, admiring the lights while Metallica’s Creeping Death begins. I think about the absurdity of it all, and chuckle quietly.
“What’s so funny?” Gabby asks.
“Nothing,” I say.
We’re a thousand miles from home, driving thru a holiday light display, just the four of us, listening to heavy metal music. Oh, and it is 13°F outside.
We had decided to visit some of my family in Ohio for Christmas, leaving sunny Florida on December 20 (Sunday), to return on December 28 (Monday). This, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and constant admonitions for Americans to stay home, limit social gathering sizes, practice social distancing, wear face coverings in the company of others outside members of your household, etc., etc.
Obviously, we decided to take our chances, staying in a hotel one night, one person’s residence another night, and a rental home for five days. We traveled over 2,000 miles, eating at several restaurants across multiple states, and stopping at a half dozen or more gas stations along the way. During our stay in Ohio we came into close contact with family and friends outside of our household, seventeen in total. While we weren’t fastidious with regards to all COVID-19 safety protocols, we observed them to the extent possible. It is now New Year’s Eve, and none of us are ill yet, so I take that as a good sign.
We planned to spend the first evening of our trip in Beckley, West Virginia. I know it’s not the fastest route from Melbourne, Florida to southwest Ohio, but my mother insisted we go up Interstates 95, 26, and 77. She claims it’s a better, worthwhile route, but I think it’s only because she wants to pass thru her old hometown. I had no overriding urge to object, and accustomed myself to the idea of driving I-77 at night thru the Blue Ridge Mountains.
After being on the road for more than twelve hours, the latter part of it driving up and down Appalachian peaks, valleys, and switchbacks, we arrive at our hotel in Beckley. White-knuckle driving, if you want my opinion. Especially when doing it at night, and worse when fog starts to roll in (hence, the name the Great Smokies; the Blue Ridge and Great Smokies are all part of the Appalachian Mountains). I recall a cousin’s stories about extricating vehicles from West Virginia homes downslope from roads where driver’s lost control. Imagine, sitting at home watching television, and an automobile crashes thru the roof of your home.
We pile out of our van and I say to my mother, “We do this again, we are not coming this way. Ever.”
After checking into our rooms, Mom, Dad, and Gabby to one room, Kristine, Gracie, and myself to another, I crash onto a bed and fall fast asleep. I’m jolted awake at 2:30 in the morning, because Gracie has bounced off of my bed, onto the other in our room. I see Kristine forcibly putting Gracie into bed. Kristine has an angry face and is saying something to me. I don’t know what she’s saying, and I’m too tired to care. I close my eyes and go back to sleep.
After waking I learn that Gracie carried on for two and half hours before finally settling down to sleep, and only because Kristine had to basically lay on top of Gracie to get her to stay in bed. Before crashing into my bed, I did manage to block the door to our room with a chair and our cooler. Otherwise Gracie could escape our room. This trip isn’t sounding like too much of a good idea.
We finally arrive at my 89 year-old grandmother’s house after being on the road for eighteen hours, not including our overnight stay in Beckley. Gracie’s in a mood, pacing all over my grandmother’s house, squeezing her hands, and angrily biting down on her chewy, all at the same time. Gracie has squeezed her hands together so hard and so much that she’s already caused her skin to blister. I caution my grandmother not to let Gracie grab her hands.
“Grandma, do not let Gracie grab your fingers. She gets ahold of them, she may break them. I’m not kidding.”
Later that day, during the course of our conversations my grandmother asked me how many different medications the doctors have Gracie on.
“A lot,” Kristine says.
We spend the day and evening at my grandmother’s. Gracie, throughout the evening, throws herself onto a couch, facedown, and proceeds to press on her private area for all she’s worth.
“I don’t know how much more I can take of this,” Kristine says.
I don’t know how much I can take either. Thank God we’re headed to stay in a rental home the following day. Which is why we choose to spend Christmas by ourselves. Queue the Ozzie laughter…