ARGH!?@*?&@#*!

I just lost the post that I had almost finished writing. About 1300 words. Quotes . . .

Hit save, and was rerouted to sign-in page. Signed in, went back to post, nothing. Nada. May I just pause here to say CRAP!

Karma, man.

“Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead.” ~ Mac McCleary

Snow completely covering a road in Clifton, Virginia during December Blizzard 09

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein. ~ H. Jackson Brown

Vintage Christmas Card

Today is the day I slated to do my Christmas cards . . . finally. Look. I used to be very anal about getting my cards out before the middle of December. In the past few years, I have found myself to be quite pleased if I managed to post them by Christmas day. This year, if they make it to the post office before New Year’s Eve, I will be content.

Anyway, we received so few cards this year that I am truly beginning to think that people just do not take the time to send things via regular post any more, and that, dear readers, is a shame. Opening Christmas cards and holiday greetings from friends and relatives is such a wonderful moment in time, even if the sender does nothing more than sign a name. I mean, at least the presence of the name in ink means that someone took at least a few seconds out of the ever-decreasing free moments in our lives to remember my family and me.

But this is not a discussion on the dearth of letters and cards that arrive in the mail, making all of the accompanying bills and flyers pale in comparison. No, this post is to update everyone on the saga of the December trip to Ohio . . .

The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers.  ~ Dave Barry, Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn

So, how was this latest trip to Ohio?

Oh, not bad. After the first twenty-four hours in the vehicle, your body is so numb that you really don’t care any more.

Twenty-four hours? Are you serious?

Actually, it was twenty-seven. We actually pulled out of our driveway at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 18.  We pulled into their driveway on Saturday, December 19 at 10:40 p.m.

DuPont Circle, Washington, D.C., December Blizzard 2009

No. It’s more like 696 miles, give or take, depending on which route we use.

So why so long?

I don’t know. Maybe it was because we were driving in snow, ice, and blizzard conditions. Or maybe it’s because once we got past Newport News, the traffic began to move at about 30 mph. Or, it could be that for every five miles that we traveled, we saw at least one car in a ditch, or on a tree, or upside down.

We had scanned the radar for the entire area, and the usual route through the western part of Virginia was out of the question. They were expecting 12-18 inches of snow, and there were warnings that some roads might be closed. That left going north around DC, into Maryland, and across to Ohio. Little did we know that there was no good route.

Then there was the little problem with the windshield wipers.

What happened to the wipers?

Well, at first, we thought that we needed new ones because one entire area of the driver’s side wasn’t clearing with the swipes back and forth. So when we finally made it to Fredericksburg, a trip that normally takes about two hours but took about eight (I mean, we didn’t make it to Richmond until after midnight, and that’s a 90-minute drive), we stopped at that bastion of American consumerism, Wal Mart, and bought wipers and Rain-X spray to keep the windshield from freezing because by then we realized that the wipers themselves were freezing.

That worked better, for a while, but then there was that whole Pennsylvania turnpike thing after we stopped for breakfast in Maryland. Of course, we only stopped because I threatened Corey with bodily harm if I didn’t get the chance to get out of the van and use a real bathroom. But trust me, I was only thinking of him . . .

I mean, Corey hadn’t had a break since the Wal Mart and he was getting grouchy (wonder why), so I suggested that we stop for a real meal and rest for a bit. We pulled into a Cracker Barrel somewhere in Maryland and ate. I drank about four cups of coffee and tried to convince Corey to let me drive for a while. No go. That whole male driving thing. Don’t ask me because it makes no sense whatsoever to me.

Doesn't even begin to depict the conditions

Why did you go on the Pennsylvania Turnpike?

More coffee and a bathroom. Actually, I thought that since it was such a heavily-traveled road that surely the snowplows and salters would be out (because they certainly weren’t out on the other interstates) and that we would be able to travel faster than the snow. Wrong. It was worse than I95, which was virtually a parking lot.  But by the time we stopped at one of the driver’s centers on the Turnpike, Corey was clutching the steering wheel so hard that I thought he might break it, so I decided to drive. He relented, but only from exhaustion. (More of that it’s not safe for you to drive in this, ya da ya da ya da. I lived in Blacksburg for God’s sakes. Snow is a way of life there.  Bah.)

As I was pulling out of the driver’s center, the driver’s side wiper broke, as in the arm just limped, kind of like a drunk slug. Of course that was before the flat tire.

What flat tire?

Well, we got directions from the first toll collector to an auto parts store so that we could try to fix the wiper. We found that store fairly easily, but when I was pulling into the parking lot, I ran over something, probably the curb that was buried under three feet of snow. One of the employees in the store came out and looked at the wiper and tightened it, and it seemed to be working again. 

Another stop for coffee, and then I drove off, feeling somewhat relieved until the wiper flailed and then died again as soon as I got back on the main road.

So we got off on the next exit as I was trying to see the road through a space of about 12 inches square and got directions from another toll collector for an auto store that was supposed to be eight miles down some state road. (Exactly why are there toll collectors on interstates that are paid for with tax dollars? Another story.) This particular store was not quite so easy to find, and we found a NAPA auto parts store first. We pulled in, and the guy next to us said, “Do you know you have a flat tire?” Lovely. Just lovely.

NAPA didn’t have a part of any kind, so Corey bought a can of Fix-a-Flat (another miracle product), and we tried to find the other store, but when we got there, it was closed. We pulled into the lot of a dollar store and Corey came out with the universal fix-it: duct tape. Apparently, the bolt was stripped, so Corey wrapped the tape around it, and we made a make-shift coupling.

Duct tape is a wonderful thing, just like Windex, but again, I digress . . .

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” ~ Douglas Adams

Beautiful but Treacherous

Corey went back to sleep, and I drove with the window partially down, sticking my hand out in the snow and then rubbing my face with my cold, wet hand. It was refreshing, and I knew that in spite of two gallons of coffee, I was not going to be able to drive that much longer. I just don’t have that y-chromosone-related driving non-stop thing going on. I made it to Washington, West Virginia (there’s a Washington in every state, by the way), which is right on the border of Ohio. By this time, it was about four on Saturday afternoon, and I had told Corey’s parents in the last update not to expect us before four.

Obviously that anticipated arrival time had come and gone.

Then what happened?

The duct tape held for the most part. We had wipers. The Fix-a-Flat seemed to be holding, and the snow finally lessened almost to a stopping point. There was the one incident around Columbus, though.

What happened in Columbus?

Corey missed the bypass, so we went through Columbus, and then we missed our turn. Consensus was to take one of the state roads the rest of the way in. I think that was when I started to see things.

It was probably due to a combination of the coffee, need to go to the bathroom, exhaustion, and the fact that my teeth felt as if cotton balls were glued to them. Of course by this time, we were all punchy from exhaustion. Everything was funny, even when it wasn’t.

But did you get there safely?

Safely is a relative term. No, we didn’t go off the road, although we did spin once. Our bodies were in one piece, but the van had all kinds of sensor lights flashing at us by the time we pulled into the driveway. And I believe that I aged at least two years in two days. Other than that and the fact that when I finally got into bed I had the spins (now that hasn’t happened in a long time), everything was fine.

“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” ~ Don Williams, Jr.

Plowed Roads on the Way Home

So ends the saga of our trip to Ohio. Our journey home to Virginia was the complete opposite. We left at 10:30 in the morning with the stated goal being 10 a.m., rather a record for us. We drove to Marion to get the wiper part, and then we headed down to Cincinnatti to go to a branch of Joseph Beth Booksellers, my favorite bookstore in the world, well, at least in this country. The best one is the original JB, though, in Lexington Kentucky.

We ambled through the store for about an hour, and then we had a nice relaxing dinner at Don Pablo’s, a chain Mexican restaurant that actually has quite good food. Apparently, Tuesday is all-you-can-eat tacos. Corey and Brett each had their fill. I abstained from coffee, and we got back on the road by our goal time. We took our preferred route, which is down Route 35 to I64 through part of West Virginia and into Virginia. No storms, no ice, no car problems (well, other than the sensor lights still going off in the van), no major drama—just the way I like it.

I have to say that I do enjoy visiting Corey’s family, and the time that we spend there is always full, but I really, really hate actually making the trip. Corey and I thought about it, and I don’t think that we have ever had an uneventful trip to Ohio, whether it’s the weather, car trouble, more car trouble, getting lost, not having enough money for gas, whatever. So with that in mind, we have decided that next time, flying is the way to go.

More later. Peace.

Traditional German Christmas Carol (no, not ready to stop posting them, yet): “Still, Still, Still”

 

“We shall find peace. We shall hear angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Marine White Gloves, Sand from Iwo Jima and a Red Rose Atop the Casket of Lt. James Cathy, image by Todd Heisler, Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer 

“Give me love, give me peace on earth, give me light, give me life, keep me free from birth, give me hope, help me cope, with this heavy load, trying to, touch and reach you with, heart and soul” ~ George Harrison

Well, it’s been over a week since I last blogged, except for my brief Christmas message. In that time so much has happened. I’ll get to the saga of our most recent trip to Ohio in a different post, but today, I wanted to share something with you that happened this morning: 

I was on my way to the bank, and Eamonn was in the car with me. Normally, I cut through a small neighborhood to get to the bank; it’s an old neighborhood, full of smaller houses. I was driving slower as I do on neighborhood streets when I noticed a marine in full dress uniform knocking on a door. Two other marines were sitting in a car parked in front of the house. 

When I saw that young marine, my heart completely sank. I knew what was about to happen. I have seen this scene in countless movies, but never in person. I explained to Eamonn what was about to happen: The day after Christmas a family was going to be notified that someone they loved had been killed. I explained to Eamonn that notifications are always done by someone official. 

The marine on the porch paused to watch us drive past; he was young, and his face was momentarily filled with anguish, and then the façade reappeared just as quickly as it had faded. 

“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs.  The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.” ~ William J. Clinton

I cannot tell you that I know how the family that received that notification feels because I cannot. Yes, I have known death, have watched it come, have held it, but I have never faced the death of a loved one in the military, of someone who has been killed in conflict by whatever means. Someone who was close to me has faced the horror of the knock on the door, and the pain that I felt for her was miniscule in comparison to what she felt, still feels to this day. 

But after this morning’s moment of great sadness I felt great anger, incredible indignation at what had brought this man to this family’s door. I am not naive enough to believe that we will ever truly have peace on earth. As long as human beings inhabit this planet, there will be war, conflict, evil. There is something within our species that is never content, something that always wants more—whether it be more land, more oil, more power. No matter how much millions of us clamor for it, rally for it, cry for it, there will never be lasting peace. Humanity is not capable of it. 

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that human beings are inherently evil or bad or malicious. I choose to believe the opposite. But I know that to erase intolerance of other religions, other races, other tribes, other beliefs, to do this is an impossibility because people with intolerance and hatred in their hearts will always exist. People with evil in their souls will always stake claims over the lives of others. This is life. This is the life that we have created over thousands of years, the life that we have accepted, will continue to accept. 

Kindness and generosity should rule, but they do not. Empathy and tolerance should be the way of the world, but it is not. And so, in spite of my great desire—a desire that is shared all over the world—not to send sons and daughters, mother and fathers, brothers and sisters to war, we will continue to do so, and families will continue to receive heart-wrenching news from someone whose unenviable duty it is to carry this message to their doorsteps. 

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” ~ Black Elk

Pulitzer Prize-winning Image of CACO Major Steve Beck, 2005, by Todd Heisler of Rocky Mountain News

I must pause here to acknowledge the marine CACO (Casualty Assistance Call Officer). Notifying a military family of the death of a family member must take immeasurable strength and courage of a different kind. I know that these men and women undergo rigorous training for their jobs, which includes notification, family support and assistance, as well as escort. Being a CACO becomes the primary duty of the service man or woman, and it must be a job fraught with emotional turmoil. 

I don’t think that the memory of the marine’s face will ever completely fade from my memory. If I am to retain my humanity, I pray that it does not 

However, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit that something deep within me was incredibly thankful that Eamonn was with me; perhaps he, too, will remember that moment and understand it for what all that it was: the fragility of life, the real consequences of war, the need for compassion, the ineffable sadness of loss. 

Witness creates impression in a way that all of the words spoken cannot. A hard lesson for the holidays. 

“Namaste. I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides . . . a place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honour the place in you where when you are in that place and I am in that place there is only one of us.” ~ Mohandas K. Ghandi

 More later. Peace. 

“Happy Xmas (War is Over),” by John Lennon with incredible images. 

  

 

  

For more information about CACOs and their relationships with military families, see the excellent book Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives, by Jim Sheeler. Click here for The New York Times book review.