The Long Way Home for the Holidays

By Jeffery Cohen

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays, no matter how far away you roam. I found myself singing the words of that song for weeks during the December of my freshmen year in college. Though I hadn’t really roamed very far, the forty five-minutes that separated me from my family as Christmas approached seemed endless.

Sugar plums weren’t dancing in my head, but visions of home were. I could see us all piling into Dad’s old Ford and heading out on a frosty night in search of the perfect tree that was just waiting to be decorated in our living room. I could smell the aroma of vanilla and cinnamon that filled the kitchen as my mother, elbow-deep in flour, scurried back and forth to the oven, sliding batches of warm cookies from their pans. Feeling a cold snap in the air reminded me that my father and I, as usual, would be braving that chill as we stapled multi-colored lights around the front of our house. Stores and shops draped in red and green would warmly welcome me. There were presents to buy, gifts to wrap. I couldn’t wait to get home for the holidays.

The last couple of bars of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” drifted off before the PA system crackled then skipped to its end. The lobby of the dormitory, usually teeming with chatter and laughter, was unusually silent as I sat staring at the twinkling lights of the college Christmas tree as the sun went down. The school had emptied out for vacation. I figured that I was the last one still waiting for his folks to pick him up. That’s when I spotted Walter, a guy that I knew well enough to nod a hello to when we passed in the hall.

I don’t believe it,” he moaned as he collapsed in a chair. Noticing me across the room, he said, “I missed my ride home. They must have left early. I don’t know what I’m going to do now.” He sighed, burying his head in his hands.Sitting there, touched by the holiday spirit, and remembering my Dad telling me how it was always better to give than receive, I got up and walked over to poor old stranded Walter. “Where do you live, Walt?”

A pair of sad eyes looked up at me. “I live just down the road a piece.”

“Well, my father is going to pick me up any minute. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind dropping you off.”

“Really?” A grin grew as his face lit up. “If you’re sure it’s okay, I’ll just get my stuff.” As he disappeared through one door, my father appeared through another.

“So, are you ready?” my Dad asked as he shooed the cold away.

“In just a minute. Is it okay if we drop off a friend of mine? He’s kind of stranded.”

“Where does he live?” my pop asked.

“Oh, just down the road a piece,” I explained as Walter came flying out of the dorm, suitcase in hand.

As I tried to make introductions, Walter said, “I’ll be right back.” He returned dragging a steamer trunk, then went back and retrieved a navy sea bag full of dirty laundry, two shopping bags of Christmas presents, and a parrot in a cage! “That does it.” He smiled.

“I’ll say that does it,” my father muttered. It took nearly twenty minutes to squeeze everything into the car. “So, where are you going, son?” my father asked as he settled in behind the wheel.

“It’s just down the road a piece.” Walter nodded.

“In your dreams,” the parrot squawked.

“You make a left at the corner and go three blocks down,” Walter directed. “Now a sharp left. A right, a left, and take the left side of that fork.” Dad patiently followed instructions. “Now go under that bridge, over those railroad tracks, and a right at that light.” Dad continued without a sound. “Stay in the right lane. Turn left and…get on eighty.”

“Eighty? Route eighty? Where do you live, son?” Dad asked.

“Oh, just down the road a piece.” Walter smiled. He must have said that about a dozen times in the next two hours. The highway slowly turned into dirt roads. Further and further we drove into the mountains as the black night swallowed us up.

“Are you sure this is the right way?” I whispered to Walter.

“It’s just down the road a piece,” he reassured me.

After more than two hours of silence, my father finally sighed. “Well, at least it’s not snowing.” Thirty seconds later, snowflakes began to collect on the windshield. It was another hour before we reached Walter’s house. We quickly unloaded his gear and headed into the developing snow storm. I think Walter waved goodbye but the car windows were so glazed with ice, it was hard to tell.

“Gee, Pop, I didn’t know he lived way out here.” I tried to apologize. “But like you always say, a good deed is always rewarded.” That’s about the time we had the blow out! I offered to help change the tire.

“Just sit in the car,” my father growled through clenched teeth. I don’t think he trusted himself with that tire iron in his hand.

As we drove home through a blizzard, I reminded my father that it was better to give then receive. It must have sunk in because the following Christmas, he gave me a bus ticket to get home.

About this writer

  • Jeffery Cohen

    Jeffery Cohen

    Freelance writer and newspaper columnist, Jeffery Cohen, has written for Sasee, Lifetime and Read, Learn, Write. He’s won awards in Women-On-Writing Contest, Vocabula’s Well Written Contest, National League of American Pen Women’s’ Keats Competition, Southern California Genealogy Competition, and Writer’s Weekly writing contest.

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2 Responses to “The Long Way Home for the Holidays”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Your stories should be compiled into a collection and put on everybody’s reading list.

  2. Anna Riley says:

    Oh my goodness! Uplifted me for the afternoon
    I had some good chuckles! Hope the bus rides were less stressful for you and for your Dad! ;)

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