Christmas Eve 1999

Within seconds of the 5am GMT alarm buzzing me awake, I realized that this most anticipated day had arrived.I hadn’t been home to America in nearly three months. I longed for home and today was be the day I’d be traveling home.

Andy and I shared a fondness for Neil Diamond songs. As we approached Christmas Eve, we’d sing, “We’re going to America. Dahn dahn dahn. We’re going to America. Dahn, dahn, dahn.” On this Christmas Eve morning, we exuberantly added, “Today! Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. Today!” There was no need for the snooze alarm. We jumped out of bed.

From our local Ealing Broadway London Underground station, we headed into Victoria Station where we caught the Gatwick Express. I had a spring in my step as we made our way to the American Airlines gate where we’d board the flight to my beloved RDU.

We were already thrilled to have business class seats, but when the flight attendant asked us if we’d like to move up to first class, we didn’t hesitate. This awesome day had just become even awesomer.

After the eight-hourish flight, we made our way to immigration at about 3pm EST (8pm GMT). Hearing “Welcome back home” with that sweet North Carolina accent from the immigration officer was pure music to my ears.

After collecting our luggage, we took a cab to my friend Toni’s house in Cary. After a quick visit with Toni, Glenn and Toni’s parents, Andy and I hopped in my 1994 Toyota Camry that had been parked by Toni’s house since I left it there in early October.

While living in London, I took public transportation to work. I was too intimidated by London traffic to try to learn driving on the wrong side of the road.

Though the driver’s seat of my silver Camry was a familiar place, I had to knock off a little driving rust after months of not driving at all. My recent  experiences in a car were spent being in Andy’s passenger seat as he was driving on the left side of the road.

A lovely light snow was falling in Raleigh, but melting as soon as it touched the warm ground. I was thankful that the roads weren’t treacherous.

As the light of day soon waned, I was conscious that the melting snow might change to accumulating snow. I drove cautiously.

As we approached the Blue Ridge Mountains, snow was accumulating. At about 9pm EST (2am GMT) we got to Boone. From there onwards, the roads were partially snow covered.

I was exhausted from the long day of travel combined with the heavy concentration I needed for the slippery road.

Unfortunately, Andy couldn’t help me drive. He had very little US driving experience and even less experience driving on icy roads.

The closer, we got home, the more snow-covered the roads were. I was nervous. I prayed for safety.

I was so close to home, but  it seemed that I couldn’t get there even driving so carefully and slowly.

I’d visualize the terrain of the road ahead. I knew these mountain roads like the back of my hand. I knew the notoriously slick and steep sections. As we slowly made our way into Linville, the roads were worse. I knew hospital hill, a steep and always slick stretch, was just a couple miles ahead. I also knew that the last pay phone we’d pass was right there in Linville.

We were only five miles from home, but I had reached my limit. I couldn’t drive any further. I made the quick decision that I would pull over into the Linville Exxon Station and call Daddy.

It was about 10pm EST (3am GMT). I had been up for 22 hours straight.

Thankfully I had the coins for the pay phone. When Daddy answered, I told him I had traveled over 4,000 miles that day, but I couldn’t go any further on my own. I asked him if he could please drive his four-wheel drive truck to pick us up in Linville and he agreed.

I can still visualize Daddy’s red Ford pick-up truck pulling up beside of my Camry. What a beautiful sight it was! We transferred our luggage into the snow-covered truck bed. Then we got into the cab of the truck. What a relief it was that I didn’t have to do any more driving that night.

It only took us about five or so minutes to get home. As soon as we walked through the front door, we could smell the fresh balsam Christmas tree. We walked up the stairs to greet  everyone who had been waiting for our arrival.

It was Christmas Eve and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to be home.


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