The first few holidays following our move to Northern California were challenging at best. Since all of the extended family still lives in Los Angeles, we would travel to L.A. every Christmas to participate in the various family traditions. However, there is one Christmas in L.A. that is especially memorable.
It was the third year since we moved, but due to the day of the week in which Christmas fell (in conjunction with our work schedule and various family commitments) it was destined to be a hyper-stressful holiday. The days in L.A. were limited to two, but the family commitments remained at five. As a result of the time limitation and the required travel between various family members’ homes, gifts were exchanged but not all gifts were opened. It was rightfully decided that Christmas would be focused on the kids.
Therefore, the children and grandchildren would open the majority of their gifts in front of the family members but the remainder of the gifts would be opened the following days as time permitted. It was a maddening marathon. There was little to no enjoyment this Christmas………….and that was even before the trip home.
As mentioned, the majority of gifts remained unopened with the expectation of opening the gifts upon returning home. As a result of the wrapped gifts and boxes (as well as the excessive amount of gifts the boys received), it was difficult to consolidate space in the car. Quite frankly, there was just more stuff than we had space in the vehicle. As I worked desperately to figure out a way to get everything home, my father-in-law said that he had the perfect solution.
He walked me to his garage where inside he had a vehicle rooftop storage. Although I knew that it would cure available space issue, it appeared somewhat old. As my father-in-law stated that it would be perfect and easily attach to my roof rack, my mother-in-law came out of the house saying how he has been trying to get rid of that old thing for years. Since there appeared to be no other alternative, my father-in-law and I mounted the rooftop storage onto the vehicle.
As he stated, it secured nicely to the roof rack. We then systematically began loading the presents into the storage unit. Although there was increasing discomfort with every gift added to the storage unit, I knew that the top of the unit had latched on every side to secure the gifts inside. The SUV was fully loaded with a significant portion of the gifts secured on the roof. Even though both my father-in-law and I checked all four latches, for added safety, I double strapped the lid of the rooftop storage unit. It was time for the six-hour drive home.
It took the usual 90 minutes for the boys and my wife to fall asleep. It was an incredibly hectic and stressful Christmas. For the first time in a few days, there was a sense of peace. As they all slept like angels, I had the jazz music softly playing and I was having a Zen moment.
I was enjoying the view of residual snow on the hillside as we drove over the Grapevine. It was nice to see that there was still a sense of holiday spirit remaining in the air. As several cars would pass me they would wave and/or honk. Although I could not understand what they were saying, I would wave back often mouthing them “Happy New Year” followed by a smile. It wasn’t until maybe the 15th car (that was very persistent in keeping my attention) that got me to roll down my window. As I rolled down my window, something quickly brushed against the side of my face as if fell behind my car. It was a ribbon……..a ribbon which wrapped a present………a ribbon which wrapped a present which appeared to fall from above. As I looked at the car driving next to me, all four people in the car were pointing up. I immediately looked in my rearview mirror to see a trail of crushed ran-over gifts as far as the eye could see.
What to do? Everyone was still sleeping. Do I pretend not to have noticed? Do I pull over to see if I can possibly retrieve any of the gifts from the roadside? Do I pull over to see if there are any gifts remaining on the roof? Can I do so without anyone waking up? And…..why do I only have to be 90 minutes into a 6-hour trip?
I pulled off the highway as gifts continued to fly off the roof. Unfortunately, everyone quickly woke up as they felt the vehicle pulling to the side of the highway. The first thought of everyone was that there must be something wrong with the car. As I responded that the car was fine; then why are you pulling over? I looked up to the rearview mirror. They immediately looked out the back window and screamed in horror.
I told everyone to stay in the car and I was going to take a look. As I walked around the front of the vehicle, I noticed that a huge piece of the rooftop storage unit had broken apart as a result of the age of the unit. My wife rolled down her window as I noticed an apparent undamaged gift sitting in the middle of the highway about 200 yards back. I told her that I was going to run back to try and get it. I made it within about 20 feet of the gift before a truck coming over the ridge crushed it clean. Due to the amount of glass and Styrofoam peanuts that exploded on impact, I believe that it may have been the punch bowl that my wife was asking for.
As I returned to the vehicle (dusty and out of breath), my wife had climbed up on the vehicle to see what remained. Unfortunately, there was not much left – three gifts to be exact. The family was devastated. She said, “I can’t believe that the boy’s whole Christmas is ruined. Almost all of the gifts are gone.” I then paused and sheepishly replied; well…….not exactly. All of the boy’s gifts are inside the vehicle. Somewhat relieved that the boys were okay, she then said, “So it was of OUR gifts that were lost.” Again, I sheepishly responded; well…….not exactly.
The gifts were grouped. Therefore, the only gifts that were actually on the roof were those belonging to my wife. The boys and mine were safe inside the vehicle. I truly love my wife. Thankfully, my wife was not furious with me upon hearing this news. Therefore, I truly love my wife deeply.
However, that last 4 ½ hour drive home was the longest drive of my life. It was highlighted with the reading of the receipts. Since we did not have the opportunity to open our gifts, the majority of people provided gift receipts. I am not sure if the leather coat she had been wanted for 2 years or the $300 in gift cards was more painful to hear??, but there were far more to choose from. Nonetheless, I did everything in my power to make every day of the next month Christmas in my household.
(photo from google images)
Husband, father, coffee connoisseur and lover of all things hockey. At 51 I sometimes wonder have I done enough. I have been married to my best friend for 30 years. She knows all my faults and loves me anyway, As a father of “almost always” perfect boys, I am always surprised at what life has to offer. It is messy, scary, thrilling, and always fun.