The topic for the December 11th installment of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by Thomas MacEntee is: "Holiday Travel. Did you travel anywhere for Christmas? How did you travel and who traveled with you? Do you remember any special trips?"
My family never traveled far at Christmas when I was a kid. Perhaps to Fort Wayne or maybe Auburn, both only about 25 miles. Almost all my close relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) lived within a 25-30 mile drive. No holiday vacations away from home for my family.
My first Christmas away from home was spent at Boot Camp after I joined the Navy in 1969. It wouldn't be the last time that I wasn't home for Christmas though. Out of the nearly 10 years I was in the Navy, I think I made it home four times.
In 1970, I was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia and was determined to get home. One of my roommates lived in Pennsylvania and she too wanted to get home for the holidays. Another girl lived in Ohio. And another roommate lived in California. She couldn't afford to go home but didn't want to stay in the barracks so I said she could go home with me. I had just purchased a car that fall, so we all pooled our resources, managed to get leave and took off. It was my first long-distance driving trip.
It had started snowing just south of Washington, D. C. and was still snowing, quite heavily, when we got onto I-70 at Frederick, Maryland. It was dark too, as the day had turned to night. By the time we got into Pennsylvania and onto the turnpike, the snow had turned into a blizzard. Virtually no visibility. There was a vehicle in front of us and we were following it in an attempt to stay on the road. We traveled like that for quite a while, following the vehicle in front, the blind leading the blind. Well, we followed that car, unknowingly, off the turnpike! When we tried to get back onto the turnpike the State Police were blocking the entry. No one was allowed on the turnpike heading west unless they had chains. Did we have chains? No. Well, sorry, but you can't go any further.
We probably should have just turned around at that point. But being determined young fools, we found a garage that sold us the necessary chains, and they even put them on the tires for us. Besides, we weren't far from Somerset, which is near where the one roommate lived in Pennsylvania. We still couldn't see very well, but we finally made it to Somerset. Her folks graciously put us up for the night. We decided that sleeping on the floor was a better alternative to getting stuck in the snow and freezing and who knew what else.
The next morning it was still snowing, but it was daylight, and we could see the road. The snow plows had been through but we were advised to leave the chains on until the roads were completely cleared. However, it wasn't long before we heard clank, clank, clank. The chains on one tire had come loose and were banging the underside of the wheel well as the tire turned. We managed to get that chain all the way off, but couldn't figure out how to remove the others. Luckily, a good Samaritan came along and removed the other chains for us. Then we merrily went on our way. The highway was relatively clear, the sun was trying to peek through the snow, and we were moving at a pretty good pace. The rest of the trip proved to be quite uneventful. Thank goodness! We all made it home before Christmas day and safely back to Norfolk. And on time.