Welcome to MyNeChimKi’s Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories! Thanks to Geneabloggers for developing these fantastic prompts for some holiday spirited blogging. Over the next month we’ll be blogging about some of our fondest Christmas memories.
Today’s topic: Holiday Travel: Perryville, otherwise known as the first (and only) time I ever hitch-hiked
This morning you read my mother’s thrilling rendition of our holiday snafu travel that resulted in our plane being nearly indefinitely delayed in Peoria, Illinois. In it, she mentioned that our family and “P” towns don’t get along so well. Well, it all started back in the 1980s…
As mom said, come rain, come snow, come ice we were going to Arkansas for Christmas. This year was no different, except that this particular year we were still living in St. Louis. Rather than flying we drove. Usually we drove at night, my parents hoping that their little daughter would be tired and sleep the whole way. I hardly ever obliged. On this particular evening of travel we were met with some of the nastiest winter weather you could imagine. Not snow, but ice. Driving in that mess was bad enough without any other complications. Unfortunately, there would be massive complications on this trip.
It was already dark, I haven’t the slightest clue how late it was, and we were driving along when my mother realized that it was near to impossible to see out the windshield.
“Gary… turn up the windshield wipers!” my mother exclaimed
“They’re ON high, Jeanie!!” he replied
That is when things really started to go down hill. We couldn’t have driven more than another 100 yards before the car just quit. We all looked at each other; I was on the verge of panicking (yes, even at the age of 8 I could panic pretty good), my mother looked shocked, and my dad did what dads do… he got out of the car to flag someone down for a jump. Luckily someone did pull over and offer us a jump. They jumped us and went merrily along their way, as did we. For approximately another 300 yards, maybe when the car just up and quit again. Great. Out pops dad again and flags down another car… jumped… and then maybe another 200 yards before it quit again. It was now obvious that there was something terribly wrong with the car. It was a little harder this time to flag down help, the storm was picking up and there were less cars on the road now. We got one more jump that barely got us anywhere before the car quit a final time.
This time dad got out and took with him his trusty spotlight. It was huge. He was using it like a beacon to signal for help. I clearly remember him getting frustrated and eventually just using it in a blinding manner for those that refused to stop and help some poor stranded people. Before he was consigning to giving up and hoofing it to the next exit he started flashing SOS with the spotlight.
Before too long a big 18-wheeler came pulling to a halt in front of our car. My dad ran up, talked to the driver briefly and came back to the car.
“OK, he’s gonna give us a ride to the next town, come on!” he announced.
“WHAT? We’re going to hitchhike?” my mother exclaimed
I don’t remember getting to the truck, but I remember my father shoving me up into the cab first. And I clearly remember thinking that there were going to be headlines in the news paper reading:
YOUNG GIRL MISSING, LAST SEEN HITCHHIKING. PRESUMED MURDERED
My mother followed me, and then my father. I was horrified that we were leaving our car behind, loaded down with Christmas presents. I thought that it was possible we might never see it again (or be seen again, ourselves). I had watched Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead… I knew that truckers were scary one-armed lunatics. We all began talking and the trucker said that he knew something was wrong when he saw someone flashing S-O-S, he knew because he had been a boy scout. The boy scout thing kind of made everyone feel a little less tense. But when the driver offered up the fact that you have to be careful cause you never know who you might pick up, and that’s why he keeps a gun in the cab, we all got a little more nervous again. Luckily, our trucker was a nice upstanding ex-boy scout and we arrived rather uneventfully at Perryville, MO. [I just read through Whitney's rendition. It is definitely from the view point of a nine-year-old. I have to give you the grown-up version! When Gary tossed Whitney up into the cab, my heart stopped. I also thought we were going to be the headlines in the newspaper...especially when I saw that gun laying on the front seat of the cab. I knew we were going to be the headlines when I saw all the men in the back of the truck! (Whitney had forgotten about that) I looked in panic at my husband, who was acting as if all were normal. Well, it turned out that they were all trying to get home for Christmas, too. They shared their stories with us and, as hokey as it sounds, we all sang carols in the back of that truck!]
Perryville, Missouri was a tiny little town that barely had a restaurant or a motel to stay in. We had intended that we would simply get a tow truck to go back out to the highway, tow the car in, have someone look at it and we’d be on our way again. No such luck. Because of the horrible ice storm there had been a huge five car pile up down the highway and every wrecker was out helping to clear the highway of the massive amounts of wreckage. So it appeared that we would be stuck there till morning. By sheer Christmas magic there was room at the inn, and we were able to get a room. I don’t remember much other than that I had my favorite ballet flats on and they had no traction on the ice, super fun.
The next day Dad went to go try to find someone to fix the car. He had to leave his wallet as collateral with the mechanic’s shop for them to “rent” him tools to fix it. One alternator later and we were finally back on our way, leaving Perryville behind in the dust (or ice). [The hotel we stayed in was full of travelers who were stranded by that ice storm. Instead of everyone being grumpy, there was a sense of camaraderie. Everyone shared his or her tools (for scraping, jumping, etc.)... helping each other to chip out their cars to get back on the road. It truly was the personification of the spirit of Christmas.]