Recalling A Drive Home

Originally posted December 24, 2008

I was living in Columbia, Missouri, in late December 1990, teaching at a women’s college. Finals were over, I’d turned in the grades for my three courses, and I was preparing a drive the next day back to Minnesota, to spend the holidays with my family.

I was slowly pulling things together for that Wednesday drive: a box of gifts, a suitcase or two, a box of supplies for the trip. At noon on that Tuesday, I turned the radio on at lunchtime. As I ate a sandwich, I heard a report from Kansas City – one hundred and twenty miles west of Columbia – that the temperature had fallen into the mid-twenties and a freezing rain was coating the streets and highways. The system, said the weatherman, was moving east at a good clip.

I glanced outside: sunshine and an unseasonably warm temperature in the mid-sixties.

A little concerned, I pulled out the phone book and looked up the number for the Missouri State Patrol’s travel information line.

“Hi,” I said to the man who answered. “I’m leaving Columbia for Minnesota tomorrow morning –”

“No, you’re not,” he said.


“You won’t be leaving Columbia for anywhere tomorrow morning,” he said. “There’s a nasty patch of freezing rain coming through in about three to four hours. You can leave this afternoon, or you can maybe get out of town Thursday, but I can guarantee you that if you don’t leave Columbia very soon today, you’re not going anywhere tomorrow.”

Startled, I asked what he recommended.

“If you can, leave town in the next couple of hours, and – lemme look at the map – yeah, drive north of Des Moines, Iowa. North of there, the precipitation should be snow, and you can drive in it. South of there, it’s freezing rain, and you don’t wanna be on the road in that.”

I thanked him and hung up. And I accelerated my rate of preparations. Luckily, I’d made lists of what I needed to take (an act of organization quite out of character for me). I pulled those things together, called the fellow who lived in an upstairs apartment to tell him he’d need to begin caring for my cats a day earlier than planned, and I loaded the car. I headed north out of Columbia about an hour after my conversation with the state patrol.

The rain coming in from the west met me about three hours later, while I was still a ways south of Des Moines. I carefully drove on for another two hours, until I was well north of the snow line, then stopped for the night at a small-town motel. In the morning, I cleared five or so inches of snow from the car and headed on, making my way further north. Between the falling snow, the snow already packed down on the freeway and the clog of Twin Cities traffic, it was a long and tense day of driving until I got into St. Cloud late that afternoon. But I was home.

Now, eighteen years since I headed out of town early, the Texas Gal and I are home, too, where we belong, and we’ll share a quiet evening tonight and a happy day together tomorrow. I hope that – wherever it might be – that’s where you all are this Christmas Eve: Home.

An original and a cover version
I wrote earlier in the week that there are only two holiday songs I continue to enjoy. I posted “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” last Saturday. Today, I’ll post two versions of the other holiday song I still enjoy: a 2006 cover by Sarah McLachlan of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and the original version from 1970, credited to John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir.

Sarah McLachlan – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” [2006, from Wintersong]

John & Yoko et. al – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” [Apple 1842, 1971]

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