Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Once more back to Michigan for Christmas

I can't remember the last time Susie and I went back to Michigan for Christmas. No matter. This year Susie, her brother Dick and sister Mary decided to spend Christmas with their mom in Grand Rapids; Joyce had to work and would be sorely missed.

So, a week ago last Saturday afternoon after the French Tarte wrapped up some last minute business and then closed up shop, we packed up the Mini, pulled out of the drive and headed for Route 146 north to Mass Pike (I-90). The weather was fine, cold but no snow. Of course that would change in western Massachusetts in the Berkshires where we would run the gamut of numerous squalls which posed little threat aside from lowering the visibility to nearly zero.

By late afternoon dark had set in and we sailed into Utica, New York, along the New York Thruway to spend the night at a Red Roof Inn. The room was clean and warm, exceedingly so in fact that we had to turn the heating system off. But we found a wonderful little bistro tucked into the downtown area of lovely Utica and had a delicious meal.
Planca fria, assorted cheeses and cold cuts
Crispy pork legs with homemade baked beans
Lightly fried chicken with polenta fritters

The next morning we arose early,  reloaded the car and continued heading west into the wilds of western New York. We had no sooner pulled onto the highway than we ran into slightly serious snow, enough to create snow ruts on the roadway in which the Mini struggled to find its way. After an hour or so, as dawn arose (she's always late),  we passed through Buffalo, and crossed into Canada over the Rainbow Bridge in lovely downtown Niagara Falls.

Unfortunately the mist was so pervasive that we couldn't catch a glimpse of the falls although we could see the world's largest casino (reportedly). So we left this truly incredible natural wonder behind us, it's beauty set in counterpoint to some of the most grotesque manmade structures in the western hemisphere, and turned to spending the next three hours navigating through the incredibly boring flats of Ontario.

Upon arriving in Sarnia, we spent about 15 minutes at the US border -- one of the shortest times in recent memory since Canada became such a dire threat to US security -- and pushed on into Michigan, zipping past Flint, skirting Lansing, reaching Grand Rapids by late afternoon. Dick and Dorothy met us at the hotel -- they had arrived about an hour or so ahead of us, and after unpacking we headed to Bernice's house to start the festivities. . .

We had a wonderful supper that evening -- as memories stirred once again of so many warm and comforting holiday meals at Eagle Ridge Court, with Susie, Mary, Dick, Dorothy, Ben and Bernice in attendance, but other family absent from the table: the Bergmans flung far and wide, Tunis and William  resting peacefully with the ageless ones.

Christmas Eve was more of the same, good cameraderie and even better food. (Dick and Dorothy had the foresight to bring along their latest batch of beef burgundy all the way from Douglas, MA.) Since Ben had to leave to go back to his father's house we opened gifts late in the afternoon -- it's always a joy to watch Ben's expressions and just to be around him. He is one those rare special people favored by the gods who seems to know more about the rest of us than we can ever hope to understand.

Ben and his grammy

Hoping to stay ahead of a predicted coming storm, Dick and Dorothy left late on Christmas Day. I had taken Mary to the airport in the morning for a flight to Boston where she will spend a couple of nights with Mallory, so by the end of Christmas the house had taken on a slightly less festive feel but the warm quiet was much appreciated.

The day after Christmas Bernice invited family over for a lunch. After a leisurely meal sharing stories and news, we relaxed in the dining room and just chatted away the afternoon.  There were the three Van Halsema sisters, Marian Bernice and Betsy:

Aunt Thea with her every-ready smile and wit:

And Susie's cousin Clark shared the latest stories from travels to various corners of the universe.

Uncle John, Marian's husband, continued to regale us with wild stories of harebrained squirrels doing the least likely things (although generally acting "squirrely" it must be admitted). Talking with John always makes me miss the times we used to walk his garden out at Clear Lake, looking for the right cucumbers to make the most scrumptious dill pickles. And we were pretty good at at, too, it must be admitted.

Aunt Betsy
The day after the first storm of the season, depositing several inches on western Michigan, Susie and I made the command decision to try and stay ahead of the next round of white and leave Thursday instead of Friday. Sadly that meant having to forgo meeting with friends but life in the Ocean State called and we listened.

So we pulled out of Grand Rapids a little after 1pm, skirting south this time leaving the Canadian authorities aghast that we were not going to traverse Ontario roadways for the umpteenth time.  So we headed for the magical Ohio Turnpike where we made a hard left turn and pointed due east racing the darkness. After passing Cleveland and Youngstown we plunged into the wilds of northern Pennsylvania and about an hour of braving the mountainous wilderness we pulled off for the night in Clarion for a night's rest.

We got an early start the next morning and pushed ever eastward, contrary to Greeley's advice, but there you have it. We soon found ourselves basking in the traffic anarchy of I-95 just outside of NYC but soon cruised right on in to Providence, ready for the New Year and the next phase of life.

Our time in the wilds of the Midwest literally flew by -- it always does when you're having fun, I suppose -- and as I sit and write these lines I sometimes wonder if it wasn't a dream. But one can ask the same about all those many times now behind us, the good ones and the bad ones, that have slipped through our short lives.

Life is short and it's time to go to Paris, don't you think?

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