Cold rain fogged the windshield as we pulled into a rest stop on I95. I said to Judy, “Well, at least there won’t be any bugs.” (Every time we journeyed through the Peach State, insects swarmed and attacked when we left an enclosed shelter.) The rain eased. Sleet-resistant midges surrounded us when we stepped out of the car. One tried to fly up my nose. I shrugged: Georgia had struck again.
We stopped for the night in North Carolina. We reached the outskirts of Washington, D.C. in late afternoon just as traffic on the beltway began to clot into snarled knots. Judy and I decided to take a route west over the mountains. We’d approach eastern Pennsylvania via northwestern Maryland.
We climbed up slope after slope as the sun set. We neared the top of a long incline cutting its way through dark woods. Judy gasped, “There are icicles on the tree branches!” I saw a winter fairy land forming all around us: crystalline beauty; dangerous roads.
Judy white-knuckled our descent into Hagerstown, Maryland. We decided to find a motel before the roads turned into ice rinks. We noticed vacancies at a motel situated along a strip of restaurants.
After unpacking, we held our son’s and daughter’s hands to lead them across an icy parking lot between the motel and the nearest restaurant. Annie and Alan kept slipping, falling, landing on their bottoms. Judy picked up Alan. I picked up Annie. We carried them into the restaurant.
Snow fell that night. Slush slowed traffic on Pennsylvanian roads the next morning. I discovered that our rental car had been stocked with water instead of windshield wiper fluid. Every time I tried to clean after a passing truck sprayed icy muck, additional layers of ice obscured my vision. Cars and trucks speeding ahead and next to us began to look like ghostly shapes and blurs. I pulled off onto a country road to scrape the windshield clean, parked in a deserted lot. The wheels spun when I tried to rock the car out of a drift. I had visions of hiking through three feet of snow with a six and four-year-old over my shoulders while Judy dragged suitcases. We finally got traction, fish-tailed out of the lot, and headed east.
Judy’s parents and brother welcomed us when we arrived 12 hours late. We gladly shrugged off our coats, stepped out of boots. The house smelled like cookies. Dry heat steamed the windows. A hot lunch waited for us on the dining room table.
Christmas had finally started.