I'm really glad tomorrow is another snow day. That means the number of clean, dog-hair-free, more-or-less-professional outfits I have to find for this school week has been reduced almost by half.
We used to do laundry at the home of one of my partner Jake's relatives, Michael. That, by the way, is not his real name. Since this man is my future relative, too, I tried not to feel uncomfortable invading his home to do my laundry. He swore he didn't mind, said he understood that we were without water at the moment, thanks to a leak somewhere in our underground line and the constant snow that's kept us from fixing it.
Our laundry invite has since been revoked. Even if I could drive to town to do laundry at Michael's house, we are no longer welcome there after nearly breaking up the man's marriage last week.
That's when the car still worked, of course.
Christmas. Let's go back that far, because that's the last time things went according to plan. Of course Jake and I knew we ought not drive as far as my sister Jennifer's house, because, from the moans and groans coming from our old Ford, we could tell the vehicle no longer wanted to bear weight on all four wheels. The right rear tire was held together by little more than the grace of God and a can of Fix-a-Flat as it was. We were pushing our luck driving two hours over the river and through the woods.
But my niece has autism, which means she's a head and shoulders above the rest of us when it comes to event planning. Everything was ready, down to her detailed maps of sleeping arrangements. She had even knitted new collars for my three dogs and wrapped them in notebook paper so the animals wouldn't feel left out on Christmas. Canceling our trip now, on the heels of my niece's other aunt, my sister Heather, announcing that she couldn't make it in from Philly, would be akin to killing Santa Claus.
So we drove across the mountains, dodging patches of ice still clinging from last week's storm. And the worst that happened on the trip was that the puppy peed in the laundry basket. Yuck, yes, but he's done worse. The car held up and the family had as smooth a holiday as a blended family with several members in various positions on the autism spectrum can have. Jake and I even stayed an extra night, even though we hadn't brought enough clothing along, and the clothing we had had been puppied.
Then we made our first mistake.
We started back.
I guess the first bad omen was that the dogs ate the muffins. Good Heavens, did those muffins smell good. I woke the day after Christmas from a nightmare about slipping on ice and falling on my rear end, but I promptly forgot the dream because of the smell of baking muffins. Jennifer sent us on our way with a butter tub full of them, but we weren't a mile out when the dogs pulled the tub out of my overnight bag and ate every last crumb. I still don't know how they opened the container. All I know is that those muffins were tragically taken before their time.
Jake's sister Mandy happens to live at the halfway point between Jennifer's house and our own, just across town from Michael. Jake decided to visit his sister, but because she and her family have eleven dogs already – for real, eleven – there was no way we could ask her to let our three pooches stay, especially not with Buddy being the size of a Budweiser Clydesdale and still growing. So I agreed to take the dogs home and spend a night writing, planning to return to town for Jake in the morning, at which point we would do a load of laundry, as was our weekly routine thanks to Michael's willingness to share his appliances in the interest of us not smelling bad. Mandy even offered to send her cell phone with me in case I ran into any trouble. But I assured her and Jake that all would be fine.
I made it halfway home from Mandy's house.
We'd made this CD to get us in the Christmas spirit. It was mostly the Trans Siberian Orchestra and my favorite song had just come on. The headlights of an oncoming Chevy flashed at me, so I slowed down as I entered one of the many U-turns my stretch of southern West Virginia byway makes between the nearest town and the heart of my county.
When I saw the fire truck, lights flashing, and the firemen milling about in my lane, I slowed nearly to a stop. I say nearly, because there is no stopping completely when you find yourself on a solid sheet of black ice, especially not if you're a bad driver like me.
To the crashing crescendo of Carol of the Bells, the guy behind me hit my bumper.
It took me about thirty seconds to realize I'd just been hit, after which I started panicking as I inched by the firemen so I could get off the road. After we all stopped and it was clear that nobody was hurt and the worst that had happened was that my bumper had a new ding and my littlest dog was suffering from PTSD, we all went on our way to get home before the roads could get any worse.
At this point, I'm pretty sure what happened was that I hit more ice. There was water gushing across the road, after all, and it was more sluggish than usual by the time I reached it. But I was so freaked out by the accident and so distracted by the insistent stress-barking in the back seat that when the Ford took a shimmy to the right, I did a U-turn and went back to the nearest open business.
Open, actually, was not a fair assessment. The Mor-for-Less Grocery was scheduled to close less than two minutes after my arrival. Only then did I think of Mandy's cell phone, still in my pocket. I pulled it out only to find that, of course, of course, of course, it did not get a signal down in my mountains. Luckily, the manager of the Mor-for-Less was generous and after about six tries, I managed to dial Mandy's landline. She and Jake agreed to come and get me, since I was afraid to drive the rest of the way home.
After sitting in the Mor-for-Less long enough to learn their floor-waxing procedure, to witness three separate visits by a worried father to warn his cashier daughter that the roads were getting slick, and to finally be kicked out into the parking lot so the store employees could go home, I spied Mandy's Jeep. Nobody fancied driving the Ford in this weather to ascertain whether anything was wrong. Because a formidable mountain stood between us and home, and because Cashier Girl's worried father had already declared that particular mountain “slicker'n spit,” Jake and I decided we would have to go back to Mandy's for the night.
Did I mention she drives a Jeep? Yeah. A Wrangler. Soft-top. And Jake and I have three dogs -- one of whom is Buddy, who is sort of like keeping a gentle grizzly bear for a pet. So I piled in the back seat with all three dogs, and of course of the three of them, it was Buddy who was most frightened and who insisted in sitting on my lap the whole way. All hundred and twenty pounds of him.
It took over an hour to make the 45-minute trip to Mandy's. By the time we got there, we'd worked out a plan to deal with the dogs. Rather than inciting a riot by trying to take them into Mandy's already-dog-ridden home, we would drop them off at Michael's house, the place where we usually do our laundry. It would only be for the night, after all, and he only had two dogs instead of Mandy's eleven, so it shouldn't be a problem.
Yeah, well, his wife disagreed with us.
Worried that we were causing marital strife between Michael and his wife, we decided to pay him a visit at his place of business. He works nights and we found him caught up in his work. His coworker assured us he would be with us just as soon as possible. Then she kept looking at us after that. Just looking. I guess we must have looked hungry, because she finally said, “Have some of this.”
Where she was hiding such a gigantic tin of sugar cookies in that tiny little office, I don't know. We tore into the cookies like they were going out of style, which, I guess, since they were Christmas cookies and it was now an hour and forty-five minutes into December 27, they kind of were.
After the cookies came peanut butter fudge, and after the peanut butter fudge came warm, flat Pibb Extra from a 2-liter bottle. Then, at long last, came Michael.
We discussed our doggie invasion of his home and he was quite patient and understanding, given the circumstances and the hour and his wife's repeated phone calls. (“Michael, I think it's your wife,” his coworker said on answering the phone. “It's hard to tell – there's lots of barking --”) Reassured, we took his coworker's parting gift of caramel corn and headed for McDonald's, whose 24-hour drive-thru might as well have had magical beams of Heavenly light beaming down on it from the night sky. Hot food! And, at long last, we headed to Mandy's.
The next morning, dodging the phone and ignoring the voice mails about our puppy's transgressions on Michael's kitchen floor, we hurried back down to the wilderness to rescue the car. Only problem was, when Jake drove it, it didn't feel quite right to him. So Mandy drove it. Same conclusion.
“Crud, I've gone and messed up the car,” I groaned, wondering what on earth we were going to do with our kitchen-full of unwelcome dogs and our new lack of transportation.
“I can't just leave you all stranded down here,” Mandy pointed out, which, actually, was an excellent point given the fact that we have no phone at our home and it's tough to schedule a tow and a garage visit if you've got neither car nor phone.
So Mandy took us to feed my cats, who were delighting in their time alone with the house. On the way back to town to walk the dogs before putting them back in Michael's kitchen just for one more night, Jake nearly panicked at the sight of a car upside down in the creek. We stopped and he slid down the bank to make sure no one was inside, but whoever they were, they'd gotten out. I'd been feeling guilty all morning about the craziness, and wishing I'd made it home without incident, but seeing this car, off the road and upside down at the foot of the mountain I was moments from descending when I got rear-ended in the first place, I was suddenly grateful I'd gotten stopped before I made it any further.
We walked the dogs and dodged the daggers of hatred sent our way by Michael's wife. Now all that was left to do was get comfortable and settle in for the night.
You know, when I graduated college, I remember sitting on a hard metal folding chair thinking about all of the things that were about to change. No more classes, no more professors, no more all-nighters to finish term papers.
But believe it or not, it didn't occur to me to wonder whether I'd ever make another middle-of-the-night Wal-Mart run for clean underwear. I just assumed that after college, those days were over.
No such luck. Now four years into my teaching career, I found myself at Wal-Mart at a couple of minutes past midnight, buying underwear and socks because I could no longer stand wearing the ones I'd been rotating since Christmas Day. It was now the wee hours of the 28th and we still weren't home.
Later that day, we were finally able to schedule the towing and mechanic work on our Ford, so Mandy drove us over to pick up the dogs. After an ugly scene at Michael's home, we left in haste and shame, toting three disgruntled pooches and the understanding that it was entirely possible they had single-pawed-ly wrecked my future relative's marriage.
And thus, revoked our laundry privileges. Crud.
We made it home without further event, and the worst that's happened since is that we learned the car was damaged not by the accident but by a problem it had already been developing. A twelve-hundred-dollar problem. Since that's most likely above the car's blue book value anyway, the Ford is currently sitting in our driveway, good for nothing more than a trip to the grocery store less than a block away.
My hastily-purchased Wal-Mart socks and underwear are all dirty now, and we have no way to get to a laundromat, or, better yet, to any other relative's houses. I've got one carefully-protected clean school outfit hanging from the curtain rod in the living room, and after that I'm going to have to get creative.
So I'm really, really glad that tomorrow is another snow day. Not just because I've got nothing to wear, but because, after my Christmas vacation, any day spent at home and off the roads is a good day in my book. Biased as my book may be.