It had been a lovely Christmas with the extended families. We lived 500 miles away and rarely saw the parents, our grown siblings, and their kids. We had three kids of our own. Life was moving fast.
This holiday was intended to be a chance to catch up with the extended family. The five of us stayed in my brother’s basement. It was nicely finished, had its own bathroom, shower, and doubled as a game room. The only obstacles to sleeping in late were the sound of footsteps in the kitchen above, followed by my brother riding the stationary bike next to our folded out futon.
It was a bit disconcerting to be sleeping next to my wife, the three kids laid out on other reclined chairs and hear my brother’s knees pumping in rhythm just a few inches from my head. I opened one eye and saw the sweat building on his forehead. He grinned and checked his watch. Only 22 more minutes to go.
Christmas presents were overwhelming that year. Quantity was the word of the day. Each of my kids received enough to fill a large laundry basket. Where would we put all of this for the drive home?
We were driving a four-door sedan with a modest trunk. The five of us had filled that with our bags of clothes for the trip up. The three kids spanned the back seat and had pillows and blankets taking up space inside the car. There was no way to cram three more baskets worth of stuff into the non-existent nooks and crannies.
My dad rescued us by giving us the gift of shipping. He worked at the U.S. Post Office and handled the packaging and delivery of our items back to our house. When the boxes arrived later in the week, it was like having Christmas repeated in a lesser way.
After spending a full week rushing around the region visiting as much family as we could, we were drained. We needed to return to our own home for some quiet and rest. The drive normally took about 10 hours including stops for gas, food, and restrooms.
We started back at 7 a.m. Hugs, smiles, tears, and much waving sent us on our way. The kids were unimpressed. They wanted to get home and were not going to enjoy the day sitting in the back seat being bored. The boys had their handheld game systems and the girl had coloring books, but they could only sit still for so long.
We hit the Saw Mill Parkway by 8:30 a.m. Right on schedule. The Saw Mill was a fun road. It has two lanes with many twists and turns. The hilly terrain adds additional joy for me. The narrow parkway has several low stone bridges preventing taller vehicles from using it. It is like driving a grown-up go-kart track.
Two minutes into the track, my youngest son started moaning. My wife looked back and reported his green color to me in an urgent whisper. She began asking him several questions to assess his condition and he grunted responses until she had her diagnosis. He had skipped breakfast and was now experiencing motion sickness on an empty stomach. She handed him something to nibble in an attempt to settle his stomach as I resolutely drove on in grim denial. I did not know she had given him a giant chocolate chip cookie.
On schedule a few moments later, he began to vomit. My wife had dumped the contents from a wax-lined gift bag and given it to him in preparation. Good thinking, bad execution. The bag was not liquid tight and the meager contents of his stomach began leaking immediately. He stopped puking and my wife grabbed the bag to get it away from him so the odor would not trigger a repeat event. She lifted the bag to the car’s ceiling (drip, drip, drip) and ferried it over my shoulder (drip, drip, drip) on the way to the front floorboard where she placed it under the heater vent. I now had vomit drippings on the seat back, headrest, in my hair, on my shoulder, in the center console holding the toll booth change, on the emergency brake handle, and for good measure, my right pant leg. The car was full of the pungent smell and we lowered all four windows as I searched for an exit off the parkway.
We spent 20 extra minutes at a roadside gas station changing our clothes and cleaning the car. We scrubbed every surface with baby wipes which mingled for a truly unique scent for the remaining 9 hours of the trip.