#28: Christmas Ice Capades

#28: Christmas Ice Capades

Having worked in a hospital for most of my adult life, I am accustomed to missing out on holidays with family and friends or, at the very least, celebrating major holidays on a day other than the actual day. My family has graciously adjusted their plans to fit my schedule, sometimes celebrating Christmas a day or so early or late, just so we can all be together.

It’s not ideal, but we somehow make it work.

Christmas 2001, however, found me far beyond the reach of flexibility. I was living in Romania, and it would be the first Christmas that I would spend completely away from family.

I awoke that Christmas morning determined to make the best of spending Christmas in a foreign land with new friends and adopted family. I had spent Christmas Eve with my friend, Ruth, watching movies and being serenaded off and on by carolers packed inside the stairwell of her building and singing Romanian carols at the top of their lungs. (I would later learn that I apparently slept through some of our merry caroling friends yelling my name outside my own window at 5am.)

For Christmas Day, I had been invited to join a small gathering of friends hosted by some British missionaries at their flat just a few blocks from my own. My beloved Romanian family, Cornel and Amalia, would be there, so I gratefully accepted the invitation.

I had offered to make a dessert, and decided on my grandmother’s homemade banana pudding. I was clearly missing home and was eager to share a family favorite with my new friends. And just so there’s no confusion, I’m talking real banana pudding here, people. From scratch, baked in the oven, meringue on top.

Yu-hu-hu-hu-hum.

I slept in Christmas morning, having stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to call my family and, well, being caroled and all. After making the banana pudding with only the minor alteration of what I believe were actually teething biscuits in place of the Nilla wafers, I placed the cover on the glass casserole dish to protect the delicate meringue and wrapped it up in a towel to keep it warm in transit. Then, after bundling up in more layers than one even needs to own in Atlanta, I set off.

If memory serves me correctly, there was a good amount of snow on the ground that Christmas. But the snow is really secondary to our story. The ICE– now that was the real star of the show.

It was a relatively short trek as far as Romanian treks go. Maybe five or six city blocks which could be knocked out on a good day in 10 or so minutes.

On a good day.

Now, there are a few things you need to understand about the sidewalks in my neighborhood back then. They were not exactly what one might call… level. Like, think about pictures you’ve seen post-earthquake of highways out in California. Now, shrink that down, take out the mangled cars, and put it along the side of a street between small European cars and block buildings. Now you’re getting the picture.

Suffice it to say there was a reason I never saw anyone on rollerblades in Romania.

Now, you also need to know that I am not always the most graceful person. But believe it or not, the advent of winter and ice actually proved to be my friend. I found that I could glide over the cracks and bulges in the sidewalk with greater ease than I could navigate them in warmer weather. I was pretty sure I was onto something.

When I set out into the cold that day, I was surrounded by the still silence that comes with snow. The kind where you feel certain you can hear each snowflake hitting the ground. I was lost in the quiet beauty around me and heard only my breath and the sound of my feet crunching across the ice. It was incredibly peaceful.

Even as bundled as I was in my winter parka and cradling my warm casserole dish up close to my body, I was still cold. So when I neared the market near my flat, it only made sense to look for a short-cut.  The small park behind the Orthodox church seemed like a straight shot to my destination.

It really never occurred to me that cutting behind buildings on an icy day would not provide the surest footing.

(Side note: That early in my Romanian life, I had not yet discovered that my sleek little soft-soled boots so adequate for Atlanta winters needed to be ditched for my more sturdy Timberlands. So young, so naïve).

When I made a last minute decision to go this way instead of that off a curb, that was all she wrote. My feet flew out from under me higher than they’ve been since my brief fling with gymnastics in 4th grade. I’m talking a Charlie Brown wipe-out, minus Lucy and the football.

The first thing to hit the ground was the back of my head. The rest of my body followed, the wind completely knocked out of it. I don’t know which was louder: the clank inside my head as it hit the ice or the thud that bounced off the buildings in the silence.

My mind quickly raced through a full-body system check while simultaneously repeating the phrase, “Oh my goodness… Oh my goodness… Oh my goodness.” I lay there checking myself out for what seemed like an eternity. Able to wiggle the toes, ears still ringing, glasses askew.

And the pudding – lid still on, towel still wrapped, cradled up against my chest like a babe to a mother’s bosom.

After a few minutes of lying there on the ice I realized, to my simultaneous disappointment and relief, not a soul was around nor would be coming to help. I was just getting cold and wet, so I slowly got up and pressed on.

I made it the rest of the way without event, while still doing a system check and reciting my name, rank and serial number for good measure. And by the time I got to my friends’ flat, I had a nice goose-egg coming up on the back of my noggin, prompting Cornel’s joke in English: “Oh, it’s a Christmas concussion!” Ha, ha, ha… ha.

(Oh, that Cornel. Always the card. Ten thousand comedians out of work in the country, and he was doing it for FREE!)

And that’s how I came to spend Christmas Day 2001 with a bag of frozen peas on top of my head. Ice being hard to come by and all, y’know.

So as you make your way out into the world this Christmas season, ladened as you will be with homemade goodies and spirited with Christmas cheer, remember that the only shortcut truly worth taking is the one that leads you home.

And by all means, people, gird the pudding!


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