Lauren and Hilary grew up together. Their mothers are sisters in a loud, proud family centered around doting grandparents. They were family first but became roommates when they both landed jobs in St. Louis.
To the girls—to all of us—family meant everything.
One tradition our family observed was that everyone must come home for the holiday.
Snow was forecast the night that my family was driving to central Missouri on its annual pilgrimage. Most were coming from the west; Hilary and Lauren and the snow were coming from the other direction. The two girls were riding together and no one was surprised when they got a late start.
The snow, however, was right on time.
Neither girl had extensive winter driving experience, so my sister and I were hoping that once on the interstate, our daughters would have a clean road home.
Then, we would have our holiday.
Back home at Grandma’s, the house was filling up. The women worked in the kitchen while the men huddled around the TV, trying to find a ballgame. As each family member arrived, the noise level increased and so did the colorful circle of gifts under the tree, waiting for the last two to get home.
An hour later, my sister called Lauren to check on the girls’ progress. Hilary quickly answered her cousin’s phone, panic in her voice.
“The interstate is terrible and there are accidents up and down the exit ramps. We are afraid to turn around so we’re just going to keep going.”
Then … nothing but static.
Our repeated calls went unanswered, so my sister and I stood at the window holding hands, watching the blowing snow. Neither of us wanted to acknowledge that our selfish family tradition had put our daughters in danger.
What kind of tradition is that?
By now, the men were pacing; the looks on their faces said it all. Our daughters had been on the road for hours and the snow had only intensified.
What if something had happened?
I called three times before Hilary answered. The line crackled with static but I could still hear the tears in her voice. “Mom,” Hilary wailed. “I don’t know where we are … we’re trying to get home!”
Then I heard my daughter cry out a warning; I couldn’t make out her words but felt her fear down deep in my soul.
The phone went silent.
By then, everyone had crowded around, the Christmas lights illuminating the worry filling the room. Someone turned off the TV and the food sat forgotten in the oven as we desperately tried calling back. The whole family—minus two—convened, huddling at the window, sitting close on the couch, or pacing a path around the room. An eerie quiet settled on the house, and we could almost feel the weight of the snow overhead.
“Okay,” I shouted, preparing everyone in the room for something they might not like.
“We’re going after them!”
Those four words were like a call to arms. The men gathered around, choosing the heaviest vehicles with the fullest gas tanks. The cousins collected boots and blankets, and the women called for road reports. My family was together all right, and we would do anything to bring our girls home.
We forgot about the holiday.
Suddenly, the door flew open and there they were. Our prodigal daughters were finally home. A cheer went up and the whole family stood crying and kissing and clinging to one another as if all our dreams had come true.
Everyone was home for the holiday.
Much later, the gifts were still unopened and the food in the oven stayed right where it was. We just closed the door to the world and sheltered together, celebrating a bond stronger than any tradition.
That blustery December night, my grateful family realized that the day would come when we couldn’t all be together for the holiday but we would never be far apart.
Our holiday tradition changed after that snowstorm. Now, all we want for our family is what I wish for yours:
May everyone be safe for the holiday.
Lorry Myers writes from her home in central Missouri. Contact her at LorrysStorys@gmail.com.