By TERRY STAWAR
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
This holiday travel season looks like it may be the busiest in recent years. The American Automobile Association predicts that more than 93 million brave Americans will take to the highways this year, up nearly 2 percent from last year. My wife Diane and I usually visit our daughter’s family in Cincinnati on Christmas, but this year we decided to be bold and made an early stop in Cincinnati and then went on to spend Christmas in New York City, to visit our youngest son.
While holiday travel can be exciting, it also can be extremely stressful. You have all hassles and anxieties of a trip, added on top of the usual holiday stresses. For example, Claus, our cat, can’t tolerate any loss of family time, so we have to impose upon our neighbor to come over and visit him. If we don’t, Claus complains bitterly for days on end when we return. We always leave Claus plenty of dry cat food, but when we were gone on a trip a few years ago, Claus managed to convince our neighbor that he also needed a can of wet cat food every day. Since then, he always gets both.
Of course, there are also some advantages to holiday travel. This year, since we were going to be out of town, we decide to simplify our decorating and didn’t get a real Christmas tree, even though that would usually be considered heresy in our family.
When we used to visit my mother, who lived near St. Louis, for the holidays, we noticed that there can be a sense of jovial comradeship among holiday travelers. We would often recognize and acknowledge the same fellow travelers in the various places that we would all stop at, along the way and everyone always seemed to be in an exceptionally good mood.
I also firmly believe that there is something about holiday trips that immediately compromises the immune system. For me this time it started innocently enough with a scratchy throat, but by the second day of our trip, it sounded like I was coughing up a lung. That is also about the same time when Diane started showing her symptoms. Sustained by a massive dose of Tylenol, Ibuprofen and decongestant, we soldiered on and hoped that it didn’t get so bad that we would have to find an emergency clinic where they spoke English.
I was concerned about driving in New York City with my cold. It seems like you need every bit of your ability to focus attention to avoid the cabs coming at you from every angle. An ill-timed sneeze could prove disastrous. We finally arrived at our hotel on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. After an early dinner with our son and his girlfriend and a few lessons how to ride New York City cabs [never tell them where you are going, until after you get inside the cab], we walked around the city looking at store windows and Christmas lights. We saw the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, but it was too crowded to see any ice skaters. We also went by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but you couldn’t see very much because they were restoring it and we learned that the Christmas Eve service required reservation and tickets were ordered as early as September.
While walking among the Christmas lights on Third Avenue on the way back to our hotel, after seeing our son off at Grand Central Station, it began to snow. Diane turned to me and said you know this isn’t nearly as great as it sounds. I coughed agreement.
We did end up going to a late Christmas services at a historical Episcopal church on Park Avenue, just across the street from the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The service was impressive and moving. It was a beautiful and enormous church, that featured highlights made from “creamy Indiana limestone” which made us feel right at home. The people were also very friendly and we seemed to fit right in with the folks around us, who kept sneezing and coughing.
I think being on the road for the holidays is something you have to get used to, since spending Christmas at home is held out as the ideal. Perry Como’s 1954 song, “There’s No Place like Homes for the Holidays” and Bing Crosby’s “I'll be home from Christmas” which tells the story of a World War II soldier writing a letter to his family telling them that he will be coming home for Christmas, captures this ideal. John Gresham’s novel “Skipping Christmas” which was made into the movie “Christmas with the Kranks” is a cautionary tale about what can happen if you try to forego the traditional home style Christmas.
We were happy that we were able to spend the holiday with our son, although I hope he can get off work next year, so he can fly in for Christmas. He did seem genuinely glad to see us and I'll always remember what he said to us as we were leaving Grand Central Station, “You guys could use a good expectorant.”
Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at www.planetterry.wordpress.com.