Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Stranded in Ethel! (or, What I Did on My Holiday Vacation)

At 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, I was lying on the floor of a second-story room in an old schoolhouse-turned-inn in Ethel, Missouri, trying to sleep. I was still fully clothed in the outfit I'd put on at 3:45 the previous morning. All that stood between me and the ancient hardwood floorboards was a single layer of sleeping bag that smelled exactly like a campfire, a ruffled plaid comforter and a pillow that was not mine.

I was wearing JB's coat, zipped up to my chin, a thin blanket, a 3-foot-square quilt over my midsection, and my wool pea coat over my feet. JB snoozed on the floor beside me, also resting on the campfire bag and the comforter, partially covered by a mattress pad. In the bed above our feet, his parents snored. His sister snoozed in a sleeping bag a few feet away and his brother in another one behind his parents' bed. In the room's other bed was JB's mom's cousin and her husband. Also snoring.

I couldn't sleep. I was majorly uncomfortable, the snoring was crazy loud. I hadn't showered in over 24 hours, and was lucky I'd gotten to brush my teeth with my finger before we went to bed.

Suddenly, I hear shrieks from JB's younger cousins and second-cousins (who are still awake) in the hallway:

"Is that a SPIDER??"
"Kill it!"
"Don't kill it, take it outside!"
"If we take it outside, that'll kill it beacuse it's freezing out there."

Oh, crap. There's a spider, and they're scaring it, and it's going to run into our room and skitter across my face and crawl under the blanket with me. This was not how I had envisioned spending the night when we checked into a perfectly nice Best Western in nearby Brookfield the afternoon before.

JB's extended family celebrates Christmas in Missouri on the weekend after Christmas every year. JB and I have started flying up from Nashville (a two-hour drive from our house) because otherwise we'd have to make an 11-hour car trip crammed in the minivan with his family (who are wonderful people) and go crazy.

So we caught a 7 a.m. flight to Kansas City from Nashville on Saturday morning. We rented a car and drove to Brookfield, Missouri, which is near Linneas, JB's grandmother's town where we'd be having Christmas all day Sunday.

This year JB's great-aunt and uncle were having a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for a few hours on Saturday night in Ethel, Missouri, pop. 100. JB and I checked in to the Best Western in Brookfield where we planned to stay Saturday night, dropped off our stuff, and headed out to Ethel. Silly me, I figured we'd be gone for a few hours, and so didn't bring a thing with me--not even my purse or cell phone.

It took a while to get to Ethel. After you leave the highway you have to travel about 10 miles on county roads (some not paved) to get there. Ethel's city hall resembled nothing so much as a double-wide trailer. If I'd had a camera, I'd have taken a picture for you to see.

The celebration was in the gym of Ethel's old high school, which has been renovated into a tiny inn. JB's really-extended family (his great aunt and uncle and their kids and grandkids) had been staying there since Christmas, and we (JB's closer-extended family, which is his grandmother, her 6 kids [his mom is the oldest], their kids and grandkids) came for the celebration since we'd be having the traditional Christmas celebration the next day in Linneas.

Little did I know that the drizzle that had been falling all day would settle on those hilly, northern central Missouri backroads and turn into great sheets of ice.

The celebration started to break up around 6:30 p.m. We nearly killed ourselves slipping and sliding down the icy drive to our cars. JB's dad said we couldn't go, that the roads would be too bad. JB and I refused to take no for an answer. We had no luggage! I was desperate for a shower! And this Southern girl wondered: how bad could ice be, really?

So we got in the car, spent 10 minutes defrosting it, and finally drove about 100 yards down the road. And stopped. The first turn you make heads down a treacherous-looking hill. We got out of the car to see if it looked really icy--it did. Two guys in a pickup drove by, told us they worked for the Missouri Department of Transportation, and advised us not to try leaving Ethel tonight.

After more debate, we finally turned back to the inn. I felt like crying. Or screaming. Our room at the glorious Best Western would stay empty tonight.

A few minutes after we got back, one of JB's uncles, his wife and their three boys returned. They'd left the party an hour ago and had made it about a half-mile down the road before getting stuck and eventually rescued by the MO-DOT guys.

So all 53 of us piled back into the inn to settle down for the night. Most of the close-extended families (the ones who weren't already staying at the inn) hadn't checked into the Best Western yet, so they had their luggage with them. JB and I were the only ones who didn't. I was kind of freaking out. All I had, literally, were the clothes on my back. Not a single thing more. JB had his phone and, oddly, his backpack with his PSP and phone charger. No help.

Some people may not have a problem with not showering every day. Or they don't wear makeup every day. Or whatever. But let me illustrate for you my obsession with being clean:

One of JB's favorite stories my mom tells about when I was little is that I used to put a towel down in the sandbox so I could sit on it and not get dirty while playing. If a towel wasn't handy, I'd sit on the edge of the sandbox, stick my feet in and play that way.

So now there were 53 people crammed into a house that previously held about 20 people. No internet. No TVs. No landlines. The inn was nice enough, but I think the decorating had been completed in 1982. Oh yes, there were fuzzy toilet seat covers. You know it.

To make an incredibly long story a bit shorter, we spent the night there. JB has the nicest relatives ever. Many of them gave up their beds so that some of the adults (like JB's parents) could sleep in a bed. They shared food. They found blankets and sleeping bags to accommodate the rest of us, and shared pillows. And luckily JB's sister had facewash so I could at least take off my makeup. I brushed my teeth with her toothpaste and my finger. I used JB's phone to call my own sister and vent to her for about 20 minutes.

JB and I were the first ones to leave the next morning, around 9:30 a.m. We were hailed as "trailblazers." We wanted to get to the Best Western before checkout at noon so we could take showers before going to the family Christmas gathering. The weather was sunny, but there was concern that the roads were still bad. Basically, we had to make it about 10 miles through hilly country roads before reaching the highway, which would be salted and clear. We went a different way, the roads were still slick, but eventually made it to the highway, triumphant, in our rented Toyota hatchback. It was 10:45, Brookfield was still far away, but I was NOT going to miss my chance at a shower.

JB understands my need for cleanliness, so naturally he was...driving quickly...down the highway. We barely noticed when we flew past a state trooper. Unfortunately the state trooper noticed.

JB related our sorry tale to the very nice, very young trooper, and he let us go with a warning. We got to the hotel shortly after 11 a.m. and I got my shower. A shower never felt so wonderful.

The rest of Christmas with JB's extended family was great. And my Christmas with JB and my own family (and his family) on Christmas day was great, too. I'll post pictures soon. I'm sure you're probably already tired of reading.

Hope your holidays were merry and bright. I'm just glad to be getting back to a normal routine.


Crimogenic said...

What a Christmas adventure... maybe not an pleasant adventure, but one no less. Sounds like you handled yourself well. I would have been pissin' a fit, um, well at least crying. :)

BBJD said...

I'm sorry, AC, but it sounds like you had a wonderful time! You're not going to forget this, and remembering is what makes life precious.

It reminds me of Plains, Trains and Automobiles.

All the same, glad I wasn't there.

Welcome back.


writtenwyrdd said...

You now have a great story to share on future holidays with family. Glad everyone stayed safe! One thing I have learned about ice from living in New England is that ice is the most dangerous thing to have on the roads!