behind the wheel

A memory of Christmas cookies on a long ride through the snow

Friday, December 11, 2009

Anyone who has lived in this area a few years knows that snow and evening rush hour make an epic combination.

More than 40 years ago, I lived in Falls Church and went to school in Alexandria -- a drive that took 20 to 30 minutes on an average day. One mid-December day, it started snowing about an hour before school got out at 4:20.

When the bell rang, the five of us in our carpool played in the snow while we waited for my mom to arrive, but 5 o'clock came and went without any sign of her. "Let's go visit the boarding students," someone suggested. So we headed over to the boarders' house, or BD (short for Boarding Department) as we called it. There we could at least be warm and be with friends while we waited. We tried calling home, but there was no answer, so no doubt she was on the way. In those days before cellphones, there was nothing to do but wait.

We sat in the front room at the BD, keeping watch, with various friends. We waited, and 5:30 came and went. "Mom hates driving in the snow -- she must be a nervous wreck," my sister said. In between gossiping about homework, teachers and friends, we alternated worrying about Mom and wondering whether we would get home that night.

"I hope Mom brings a snack," I said. "I'm starved!" There was a chorus of "Me, too!"

Finally, shortly before 6, we saw the car come slowly around the driveway. We ran out to meet her. "You should have left early because of the snow!" my sister scolded, with all the wisdom of a 15-year-old.

"For your information, I did leave early!" Mom replied, a little testily. "I left at 3:30 and have been creeping along the whole time. It took me 45 minutes to get down that last hill! So get in, and let's get started. I brought some Christmas cookies for a snack."

"Oh, cookies! Thank you!" we said in unison as the five of us climbed in with all our stuff. Mom, who had been on the road for 2 1/2 hours, turned around and started home. We each took a couple of cookies from the fully loaded tin of decorated almond butter cookies, shaped like Christmas trees, wreaths and candy canes.

The trip home went only marginally faster. That first hill was still slow, but this time it took just half an hour. We made it up that hill and headed out to Route 7. The snow was really coming down now, and the inside of the car steamed up while the outside covered over with snow. Several times my sister or I jumped out to clear off the back window. We were the lucky ones: We got to stand up and stretch.

"I bet my parents are really worried," said one of the girls as the radio news came on at 7.

"I'm sure they are," Mom sighed. "We'll get there eventually."

"Do you think they'll cancel school tomorrow?" asked another.

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