I remember the year when my sister and I decided to take our families and our 82-year-old mother to the beach for a non-traditional Thanksgiving celebration. We added Wednesday, thinking arriving early would allow extra time to relax and enjoy ourselves. It was a great plan.
Early in November, Mom came down with the flu, but everyone said, “She’ll be fine, getting away will do her good.” Unfortunately, her body didn’t agree, and the Monday before Thanksgiving, she was admitted to the hospital. We discussed our plans with her doctor and decided if she hadn’t recovered by Wednesday, she would stay in the hospital until Friday. Mom was in good hands and we needn’t worry. The plan was moving forward.
My husband, son and I started out Tuesday evening, three hours behind schedule. It was a dark and an unfamiliar route, “the quickest way” according to my sister, who didn’t know about ongoing construction or detours. It took five hours to drive 150 miles to the hotel.
We woke Wednesday to torrential rain. Still needing to shop, we drove 40 miles north along the coast with waves crashing over the seawall to purchase clam chowder and fresh seafood. Salmon, clams and crabs accompanied us back to the hotel. We would eat well.
The rain was coming down too hard for a walk on the beach, so we decided to check out the pool. Soaking in the hot tub and enjoying each other’s company while watching the storm rage around us became the highlight of the trip.
When we returned to the room, my cellphone was ringing. Hospital staff were calling to say they had released my mother. Her doctor was gone for the holiday, and the replacement doctor didn’t want anyone to be away from family on Thanksgiving. And since, “We really aren’t doing anything,” she was released. I hung up and waited for my sister to arrive, to figure out next steps.
Sis had taken the “shortest route,” arriving late Wednesday. We considered cutting our trip short, but it was too stormy to drive home. Our aunts, who had conspired with Mom for her release, called to ask where we were. I explained the situation, and they agreed to stay with Mom until we could get there. While a trip to the hot tub soothed everyone’s nerves, things were not going as planned.
Thanksgiving morning dawned stormier still. We could neither see nor hear the ocean. Attempting to brave the storm for a walk on the beach, we made it a hundred feet before being driven back. It took three hours in front of the wood stove to dry out.
Preparing Thanksgiving dinner in the hotel brought challenges. We had kitchenettes but no tables or chairs. Hotplates and coolers allowed us to provide a buffet with half the food in one room and half in the other. Surprisingly, everything was great! Our feast was a success, something we really needed by then.
The storm outside was raging when it was time for us to leave. We decided to take the longer, familiar route. We started up the coastline, and water came at us from all directions. We hoped that once we turned inland conditions would improve. They didn’t. Heading east toward Portland, traffic was crawling with a foot of water across the road in spots. We hoped that when we started to climb, conditions would improve. They didn’t. We now faced blinding rain, floodwaters and falling limbs.
Then, as we crested a pass, the ground fell out from under us. Both driver’s-side tires blew. We pulled to the shoulder and tried my cellphone — no signal. What now?
Fortunately, the car following us avoided the pothole and stopped. I accepted a ride to the nearest civilization, a casino down the road where I called a tow truck. The driver would collect our car and my family, then come for me. With nothing left to do, I retreated to the lobby to wait. I tried to call my husband — no answer. I was able to reach my aunts and learned that Mom was doing better.
My name was paged over the casino intercom. My husband had rented a car and was coming for me. But then my name was paged again. My husband told me that the road was closed. “Rent a room, we’ll come for you tomorrow.”
The hotel was fully booked, and the thought of spending the night in that lobby brought me to tears. I heard my name paged a third time. “We’re still at the roadblock,” my husband said. “Cars are coming through from your direction. See if you can get a ride.”
A couple was willing to take the chance, so we headed out into the night. Miraculously, their minivan breached the floodwaters. They dropped me at their turn-off, but there was no sign of the roadblock. I started walking east, then running when I saw flashing lights in the distance.
I finally reached the roadblock where my son engulfed me in a huge hug. As we climbed into the rental, a state trooper called out to congratulate us: “You folks are my only success story tonight. Now get out of here.”
I felt it was more stubbornness than success, but didn’t argue. I was too busy giving thanks that we were finally headed home.
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