Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 23, 2012

Ed Hungness: To Grandma's house we go

BY ED HUNGNESS, Local columnist

---- — The Christmas tree is decorated, the presents bought and wrapped and the smells of home-baked cookies and fruitcake drift from the kitchen.

Dad is relaxing by the fireplace, reading the newspaper with the dog curled up sleeping at his feet. Meanwhile, Mom scurries around the kitchen humming Christmas carols while preparing for the out-of-town house guests. She loves wearing the new Christmas-decorated apron that Aunt Betty mailed to her.

Does this Norman Rockwell setting sound like your house right now? Maybe not. Most everyone loves Christmas, but it can be a stressful time for those working to create those near-perfect holiday moments.

Some Christmas memories are carried with us throughout our lives. When families gather, everyone has a story to share about their "special" Christmas. During the holiday celebration someone will probably say, "Do you remember the Christmas when"¦"

I will never forget one Christmas in the early '50s. We lived in a central Illinois farming community. Both sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles and many of our cousins lived in Chicago, where we often made the Christmas pilgrimage. We were like the country mice going to visit the city mice.

It was a five-hour drive on narrow two-lane highways that passed through countless small towns with endless stop signs and traffic lights. Our family automobile was a Studebaker two-door coupe with a big back seat and an even bigger trunk with plenty of room for suitcases and presents.

On our planned day of departure, Dad arrived from work soon after dark. Instead of seeing the Studebaker pulling up the drive, I spied an old pick-up truck with a loud muffler. He was greeted at the door by three faces with question marks etched in their eyes. Dad informed us that while driving to work that morning, the engine had fallen out of the Studebaker as he drove across the rough railroad tracks. What was parked in the drive was now our transportation to Grandma's house. My mother and sister were horrified. I thought, "Wow, we're going in a truck?"

My dad owned a small heating and plumbing company and a work truck was all he could come up with on such short notice. It was a rusty two-door with one bench seat and a floor-shift. That afternoon, while at work, he built a plywood topper to cover the rear cargo bed. It was makeshift, but he promised that it would keep the Christmas packages dry.

After a hurried supper, he loaded the luggage and gifts into the back of the truck. Dressed in warm clothing, we headed for Chicago. It was extremely crowded with four of us sitting in the front seat of that Chevy pick-up. It rattled and creaked, and the engine noise made conversation difficult. I sat next to Dad so I could "help him drive" and my sister sat between my mom and me.

Shortly after we left town, it began to snow. I remember worrying about the presents getting wet, but was reassured by Dad that they were safe. It was very dark driving through the sparsely populated countryside. Only occasionally did we meet any oncoming traffic.

The big snowflakes, illuminated by the headlights, rushed toward the windshield, then were deflected around the cab of the truck and flew by the side windows. The snow-covered highway followed the railroad tracks leading to Chicago. I tried counting the telephone poles along the tracks but gave up. The phrase, "When are we going to get there?" echoed in my brain.

Five hours later, we arrived and I ran up the steps to be the first one in Grandma's house. It was a long and difficult ride, but nothing that a few freshly baked sugar cookies couldn't cure. The next day we would eat the Christmas goose and open packages!

I hope that you all enjoy creating your own memories this holiday season. Merry Christmas, northern Michigan.

Ed Hungness and his wife became full-time residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed's retirement. He can be reached at or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633.