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  • Holly Winter Huppert

Before the Decorations


My sister Heather invited me over to help her family decorate their Christmas tree. Usually I love to dress my house for the holidays, but I didn't feel like reorganizing my living room to fit my tree or digging out my boxes of ornaments. If I don't put up ornaments, I don't have to take them down.


My apathy for decorating only applied to my house; I accepted the invitation to mess up her house. Maybe my lack of Christmas Spirit was more of an aversion to having to clean before the decorations came out and then clean after they were put away again.


I drove my car onto her driveway, and noted the beauty of the forest that surrounds her country home. Old trees reaching out their old limbs to hold hands with younger trees. A light breeze blew the branches and made it look like they were waving to me.


Hello trees.


I remembered when Heather and I camped out with a group of our women friends in her woods far from her house. We laughed all night as we melted cheeses and roasted steaks and warmed cobblers and drinks over the fire. The stream serenaded us as we slept. In the morning we sat by the fire and cooked oatmeal and finger painted on old pieces of cardboard and washed our hands in that cold stream.


I smiled at the memories.


Woah. My tires spun, reminding me it was winter and I needed to pay attention to the thick layer of ice on her driveway.


I let up on the gas and then tried to press the accelerator again.


Spinning. Spinning.


There is a deep ravine next to her driveway. Wouldn't it be inconvenient if my car slid into the abyss? How long until my sister and her family came looking for me?


I backed down the hill, took a deep breath, then gunned it.


Spinning. Spinning. Sliding towards the ravine.


Oh, wow. This was not the excitement I was hoping for.


I backed the car down the slippery slope and parked at the bottom. As I gathered my purse and package of bagels a house guest left in my freezer that would be gifted to my sister's family, I surveyed the path to her house: a layer of ice over the foot of snow.


Note to self: maybe I should keep my snow boots in the car, just in case I have to climb an icy hill.


I stepped forward and rather than making at dent in the snow, my foot slid on top of the snow. This was seriously slippery.


Hm. Sliding steps? I was thinking about how wrong it was for me to have to deal with slick conditions when I was dealing with pleurisy, and then fell, landing on my outer thigh. I took inventory: keys, phone and money. All here. Frozen bagels. Check.


How could I stand when the hill was covered in a layer of ice?


From the ground I looked at my sister's house, fully expecting her family of four to be standing at the bedroom window, which had a great view of the driveway, and taking videos of my fall. They weren't there.


I stood for a moment, then fell again.


Sitting on the ground, I took another inventory of my purse, then zipped it shut with the bagels inside. I figured two teenaged nephews would slide down the hill to rescue me.

Nobody came to my rescue.


I stood and stepped forward, a tiny step; I didn't fall. I tried another tiny step and marveled that I was now three tiny steps away from my car. Only another thousand or so tiny steps and I'd reach her house.


Several months ago I was diagnosed with pleurisy, a virus that attached itself to the outer wall of my lung. Every breath put me in more pain. The doctor insisted I spend my time lying in bed or for a change of scenery move to the couch. She said nothing about going for a winter hike.


There was a stick buried in the ice just out of reach. A walking stick. Perhaps I could walk if I had a walking stick. I slid my feet towards the stick, worried I would slide right past it and end up in the next county.


I fell next to the stick, but was able to grab it and pull myself up: progress. I needed this stick. Since I didn't have an axe in my pocket to chop away the ice around the base, I had to use the next best thing that was far from helpful: the heel of my shoe.


Bang. Bang. I bashed my shoe onto the ice around the stick but my pounding didn't make a dent. At another time I might have marveled at the strength of this ice. The stick remained stuck.


After cursing and pulling for several minutes, the stick gave in and let me have it. I celebrated the win by sitting still for several minutes to calm my breathing which would calm the pleurisy pains. No worries, though, I could do this.


The stick was over six feet long, too long for a walking stick, but it would work. I felt enormously proud in winning this stick. There was nobody standing at the bedroom window noticing my efforts.


I thrust the stick into the ice and pulled myself forward: it worked. I was now four steps from the car. I picked up the stick and poked it through the icy snow a few feet ahead of me. I stomped my feet hard, trying to break through the ice, but it was too thick. I shimmied up to the stick and then fell and slid back so far that I couldn't reach it.


I looked up at my sister's house; hello? If only my phone would work out here.


Nope. I was on my own.


My friend Gayle once told a story of arriving at a friend's house for a New Year's Eve party. She parked her car next to the house on a patch of ice. Inside she could hear people laughing and talking and the loud music was inviting.


She got out of the car and fell on the ice. She spent a half hour or so trying to get to the front door; how had the other guests managed to get there? She couldn't get her footing and was so tired and out of breath with her makeup sliding off with the sweat she had worked up, that she slid back to the car on her bottom, crawled inside and drove home.


I was tired of laying in bed; I needed a party.


I turned my body sideways to the hill and made baby steps up, one step, two steps, three steps. I reached for the stick and held it and was able to move the stick forward a few inches.


Progress!


Slowly I moved forward two steps, fell, recovered and got in a few more steps.

As thus I managed my way up the hill to the house, slowly, swearing and sweating and seriously out of breath. I leaned the walking stick against her basement wall and walked up the icy steps to her front door.


I burst into the house and found her family sitting on the couch discussing how they wanted to decorate the tree.


I told my harrowing tale of clawing my way up their driveway and gifted them with bagels.

My sister turned to her husband, "I thought you salted the driveway."


"Only the end by the road." he said staring at my flushed face as I tried to regulate my breathing.


My brother-in-law and older nephew went out to move my car to a neighbor's house and promised to drive me to my car when I was ready to go.


We had a good afternoon decorating the tree and singing along with Christmas carols and sipping hot drinks. When it was time to go, as promised, my sister drove me to my car in her 4-wheel-drive vehicle. She pointed to my over-sized walking stick. "Is that yours?"


"Yes."


She laughed as if I were a stand up comedian who had just delivered the perfect punch line.


The next day she was driving down her driveway in the daylight and saw the trail of difficulty I left behind. She called and described what she saw. Holes from the stick. Sliding marks. Scraping marks.


Clearly she was calling to offer her apologies for not seeing I needed help and perhaps there would be a healthy dose of pity, too. That was a hard climb.


She cleared her voice, sighed and said slowly, "I really wish I had a video of you crawling up that hill."

© Holly Winter Huppert
2020 Winuply Press

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