Sassy at seventy: ‘Twas the week before Christmas

Dec 08, 2022
The yearly family road trip to see the rellies. Source: Getty

Well, it’s that time of year again. Yes, I know you’re thinking of Christmas trees, and decorations, and presents, and food, and drinks, and food, and drinks, and … 

But I’m talking about that time-honoured institution, the pre-Christmas trip to see the rellies. You know the one where it’s stinking hot and you have to pack the car full of kids and presents and luggage and the esky full of water (and some of those drinks you’re looking forward to on Christmas day) and squeeze yourself into a vehicle that really needs expandable sides and better air-conditioning.

Years ago when our boys were working and unable to join us, Rob and I and our daughter, Kris, left our sunny coastal home in central Queensland to drive the inland route to see Rob’s parents in Kerang, Victoria.

Kris was feeling a bit below par, but as fifteen-year-olds are rarely enthusiastic about travelling to a town that didn’t even boast a movie theatre, we put that down to impending boredom.

The trip started out routinely enough – we’d done it many times before. By the time we made it to Dalby the heat was increasing and so were our appetites. Lunch in the park and off we went again. But I think we were all prone to that after-lunch slump that hits on a hot afternoon, and we didn’t notice that we’d missed the turn-off to Goondiwindi and instead were headed west.

About ten minutes out of town we became aware that the sun was in the wrong part of the sky. At the same time, an oncoming truck started veering over into our lane, heading straight for us. Just as Rob swerved as far to the left as he could – the road dropped off into a gully on our side – the truck driver must have woken up. The truck pulled madly back into its own lane, its slipstream buffeting our car as it passed with inches to spare.

To say we were shaken and definitely stirred is an understatement. It took years before I could look at the golden arches and not think “Big Mack” rather than something edible.

We went back to Dalby and found the correct turn-off to Goondiwindi. By this time the temperature had passed forty degrees and taken our tempers with it. Particularly when something started thumping the rear passenger door and roof. Kris, lying on the back seat, protested she wasn’t kicking it, and when we finally pulled over we discovered the window rubber had come loose and was flailing about in the wind. 

We got that fixed in Goondiwindi and continued south. Straight into a ferocious hail storm. We pulled to the side of the road and cringed as branches ripped off trees, hail battered our car, and birds smashed into the scrub. By the time we limped into Moree our car looked like a golf ball, there wasn’t a panel left un-dimpled. Luckily none of the debris had broken the windscreen. We pulled into a service station and got out to survey the damage, and saw a galah plastered across the car’s grill like a scene from a cartoon. Its head had wedged into and through the grill so hard its neck was totally scraped of feathers, poor thing.

So it was a relieved trio who flung themselves into bed in a Gilgandra motel that night. Sleep was never so welcome. Well, it would have been if I could have had some. By now Kris was running a fever and bordered on delirious. So my night passed sponging her down and relying on what Florence Nightingale skills I possessed.

The next morning we found a doctor’s office and joined a dozen patients in the waiting room. My heart sank as I looked at the paint-peeling walls, the hole in the ceiling, and the cracked lino. I wondered what sort of doctor we would find, but he turned out to be a lovely and extremely capable doctor from India who was doing his compulsory Australian rural secondment and hadn’t been able to find more salubrious premises. A diagnosis of tonsillitis and a prescription for antibiotics later, we continued our trek.

By the time we got to our next overnight stop, the weather had cooled to below ten degrees, the sky was grey, the wind was coming off the Antarctic and every time we left the car we turned into popsicles. You see, being Queenslanders, we’d expected summer to remain hot, as it had done on our previous visits. We didn’t have a single jacket between us and it was too late to go shopping.

So it was a cold, tired trio who arrived in Kerang the next day. Like travellers of old, we were greeted by a fire blazing in the living room hearth, hot food bubbling on the wood stove, and the welcoming love of family.

The following day we bought jumpers. 

No matter how or where you travel this Christmas, even if it’s only around the corner to see friends or loved ones, I wish you this Gaelic blessing: May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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