father decided that it would be a good time to park and assess the
situation. There was a sudden burst of flames.
Volvo was now burning on the side of the road. My family flew out
of the car and froze; we were just inches from the edge of a cliff.
Other people had stopped; they were running and screaming up and
down the highway. My brother remembered the guinea pigs in the back
seat, and ran back to get them. My parents screamed and ran after
him and dragged him back as flames engulfed the entire car. It appeared
that the guinea pigs were toast. A brave man with a fire extinguisher
put out the fire. The car sizzled and then sort of belched and shifted
forward. It nearly rolled off the side of the cliff, but the weight
of the U-Haul held it back. A light snow fell.
hadn't been in Big Bear long enough to buy a sweater, hat or mittens.
I had on a hang ten T-shirt and shorts. My brother was crying. My
mother's purse was still in the car. My father had his wallet and
a vague plan to hitch a ride down the mountain and rent a car. He
walked across the two-lane highway, flagged down an RV and disappeared
down the winding road. My mother said, "I told your father
I smelled something burning."
waited by the side of the road for many hours. We were cold and
hungry; we all had to tinkle, and it's all we talked about. My mother
found the courage to go back to the car and verify the fate of our
guinea pigs. I'd seen smoked fish before and figured they would
look similar, maybe just fatter in the middle, with burnt hair.
My brother said they could still be alive. Bullshit! But they were
still alive. My mother pulled her charred purse and the guinea pig
box out of the car. My brother and I held Winnie and Pooh in our
arms for warmth.
elderly couple with New York license plates pulled off the road
to look at us. The old lady rolled down her window and asked for
a damage report. I dramatically recreated the scene, made sense
of the fiery chaos that had left us freezing by the side of the
road. The old lady clapped her hands and said that our Christmas
was probably ruined. I agreed. She said that she was Jewish and
didn't celebrate, but that she had a joke that might cheer me up.
did Hitler commit suicide?"
even know who Hitler was, but played along. "Why?"
he got his gas bill."
and laughed. Old lady was pleased with my response. She gave me
an apple. They pulled away and my mother said not to eat it because
the woman was a witch and the apple was probably poisoned. This
was rich -- a witch, a poisoned apple, my mother suddenly cracking
wise. Where had I been all my life?
thousand hours later my father returned with the rental car it was
very dark and we were very blue. I had gone from feeling 100% alive
to utterly brain dead. My mother wouldn't let us fall asleep for
fear that we would nap and die. For insurance reasons we could not
take the rental car into the snow, so going to the cabin was out
of the question. A tow truck came and took our car and the U-Haul
away to wherever they take those things to die. So long, presents
and Christmas dinner. Goodbye cruel Big Bear Mountain.
arrived home. We had nothing. It was still Christmas Eve.
next morning, Christmas, confirmed my brother Jefferson's worst
fear. Santa had indeed dropped our presents off at the empty cabin
in Big Bear. We went to Denny's for breakfast and sat amongst other
dejected Holiday Losers. The melancholy was delicious. We went to
a tree lot and all they had left was a scrabbly little branch that
reminded me of a Charlie Brown Christmas. We took it anyway.
This was my family's greatest hour; the four of us bound
by the same pain. We said things like, "At least we have each
other." I never knew what it was like to have nothing before.
I felt poor and outcast by fate. By accident, I had been thrown
onto the "have not" pile. And burned
was wonderful -- magic really. For weeks afterward I would pick
the scab of that wound and weep with joy. I had been singed by the
spirit of the season, and survived.
now when I say, "Have a great holiday," here's
what I mean. Have an accident. It will bring you fond memories for
years to come. If something disastrous happens, it will eventually
turn out to be a story worth telling. Maybe the greatest story
PAGE 1 2
version for easy reading
material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission|