December 22, 2004

Santa's Revenge, Or: Making Memories, Dammit!

As you know, The Boy loves trains. So way back in November, I purchased five tickets on the special Polar Express Train that the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad was offering for Christmas. For the low, low price of $24 per adult and $12 per child, you got a one hour and fifteen minute round trip journey to the "North Pole," complete with Mrs. Claus reading The Polar Express, hot chocolate, cookies, and a visit from Santa. Since Hublet's parents reside in Asheville, I thought, this would be a perfect Christmas outing--one that would be indelibly etched into our warm and fuzzy Christmas memories of yore.

Well I was right about the indelibly etched part, anyway.

Hublet, The Boy and I departed last Friday night for the first part of our 1,000 mile, four-day relative-palooza, and went to Camden, SC to visit all the crazy people I'm related to down there. On Saturday, after lunch with about 20 of my relatives and an orgy of gifts for everyone under the age of twelve, we loaded up again and drove another two and a half hours to Asheville. My mountain cousins had helpfully informed me of the Gigantic Lake Effect Winter Event that was due to arrive on Sunday. Guess when our train trip was? Yeah. Guess who was practically pushing the car in his haste to ride the Polar Express? Yeah. Guess who spent the entirety of a two and a half hour drive alternately bargaining with and threatening the Almighty with dire consequences if snow caused her to disappoint the toddler? Oh hell yeah.

Exhausted, we collapsed into bed on Saturday, only to be awakened Sunday morning by the eerily flat voice of the National Weather Service Announcer proclaiming that only fools and Englishmen would go out today, because all hell was about to break loose. There was something about carrying a portable Coleman stove in your glove compartment, but I had ceased listening after the first part and was staring out the window at a perfectly clear, sunny--but COLD! GOOD GOD was it cold!--day.

Hublet was grim. Mother-in-law had decided to stay home, father-in-law was more blase', but as this is the man who managed to run into our new car IN OUR DRIVEWAY, and who seems to think it can be fixed for under $200, I tend to take his pronouncements with a shaker of salt. And then The Boy waltzed into the den, all smiles and excitement, and said, "I get to ride the Polar Express!" And it was on. We were going to ride that train, by God, even if it wiped out the entire family. No, my middle name is not Ahab.

I told father-in-law to call Bryson City and get a hotel reservation in case we got stuck, and we all went to the I-Hop for brunch. And then it started snowing. At 1:30 we had packed overnight bags and I had put every stitch of clothing The Boy owned on him--we had decided to take our car as it had all wheel drive, and I felt better with Hublet at the wheel than with Captain Driveway toting us around, and we were set. Well, except for the part where my zaftig (okay, obese) mother-in-law suddenly decided to join us. Let's just say seatbelts were unnecessary in the back of the Subaru Forester.

One hour and ten minutes (and no more snow) later, we were in Bryson City, about three hours ahead of schedule. We went to the local cafe with an increasingly antsy Boy to kill some time. The sky was clear, and since we had to decide whether to cancel the hotel reservations by 4 p.m., we cancelled them. Guess what? Yep. Snow.

There followed two and a half hours of Distracting The Boy, involving potty trips, train store browsing, and Very Brief Walks In the Arctic Environment. Finally it was 5:45, boarding time, according to the ticket office, so off we went to the Depot. And the train pulled into the station! There was much rejoicing, and we all made our way out from under the shelter.

And stood in 15 degree weather with snow pelting our faces and a wind chill of 6 degrees for, oh, about twenty minutes. At one point Hublet cracked wise about "making memories" and if my hand hadn't been completely numb I would have clocked him.

So there was finally a heated car, hot chocolate, a cookie, caroling, pretty lights at the "North Pole" (actually Whittier, NC) and a visit from Santa, who bestowed a sleigh bell on The Boy. And the 15 seconds of video I have of The Boy screaming and pointing and yelling, "LOOK! IT'S THE POLAR EXPRESS!" made all the rest of it worthwhile. Well, except maybe for the hour and forty-five minute return trip over icy mountain roads.

Ah, memories.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at December 22, 2004 09:55 PM

Did you take The Boy down to the Transportation Museum in Spencer this fall for a ride on Thomas teh Tank Engine? Shorter ride, but more to do and look at, and much less stress. Not to mention better weather. You can buy advance tix, and we even managed to schedule our trip for the Panthers' bye weekend (hey, my kids are just as interested in watching the Panthers as I am).

Posted by: Lex at December 23, 2004 09:47 AM

This is the kind of priceless memory you can hold over his head someday....

"I won't even MENTION childbirth, no, but I stood in a BIZZARD for HOURS so you could ride that TRAIN..."

Posted by: Naomi at December 23, 2004 10:44 AM

You are the bomb, sweetie. Some of the best memories involve Mother Nature at her least cooperative; this trip will be with you all the more, and your future daughter-in-law will be in stitches when you are regaling her with the by-then-highly-embroidered-version years from now. Merry Christmas!!

Posted by: Sheryl at December 24, 2004 07:59 PM

I always wonder why they charge adults more than kids for things like that that are obviously for the kids. Most of the adults are only there because they can't send the kids by themselves.

Posted by: Laura at December 25, 2004 11:23 AM


Exactly. You always gouge the captive audience.


Isn't it amazing how a child that won't sit still for 2 minutes for anything will lapse in to contemplative harmony for certain experiences? We took Boy Two (who is 4) on a six hour train ride (three there, three back) and he was angelic as long as he was on the moving train (and this is in downstate Illinois, which doesn't exactly boast the most interesting scenery).

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 26, 2004 03:10 PM