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Missing home — and warmth — at Christmas
It was the winter of 1993.
Dean and I (for he was not yet Chefhusband) had coaxed his elderly orange Volkswagen Rabbit over Roger’s Pass en route from Kelowna to Winnipeg, where we had spent my first-ever Christmas with his family.
Unaware of just how my introverted traits might clash with a house full of charades-loving extraverts, I had not yet made a sparkling impression.
But, there was still time to turn things around.
Next, piling into the Hossack family Accord, five of us headed southwest into Saskatchewan to ring in the New Year.
With a table set for 10, Paul and Rose Ilchuck — the family’s much loved honorary grandparents — were waiting for us on their family farm near Estevan.
All we had to do was drive through a blizzard with a faulty heater block in -50 F and plunging windchill.
Once there, I would win the Ilchucks over and my hoped-for in-laws would see what a lovely girl I really was.
After all, everyone’s grandparents always loved me.
Dean drove and his mom sat next to him to chat, while I filled in the back seat with his brother and sister.
(Dean’s dad, a Ph.D candidate with a dissertation to defend, remained in Winnipeg).
And, then, as it always does, hypothermia began with a shiver.
“Um, it’s really cold back here. Is there a car blanket in the trunk?” I should have said.
“Is there a truck stop coming up? I’d like to buy a bucket of coffee to sit in.” I should have said.
But, when no one else seemed bothered by the crystals of breath we collectively exhaled — and not wanting to be thought a complainer — I tucked my face into the collar of my (inadequate, Okanagan-weight) jacket and remained mum.
Perhaps I’d already moved through the first several stages of freezing to death, through lack-of-co-ordination and slurred speech, straight to impaired cognitive function.
In retrospect, leaving home at all, or continuing past my mom’s house in Swift Current, might have indicated signs of mental deficiency.
I could have, after all, been eating leftover venenyky with cream gravy right then.
In a warm house.
That’s where my sister was.
That’s where a hot bath was.
And, that’s where I tried my hardest to disappear to.
Warm thoughts, however, were of no use and I continued to shiver.
Until something went snap in my back.
Quietly, I added “Poor Specimen” to my list of personal deficiencies.
And, as I leaned against the car door for vertical support, I told myself I didn’t actually wish it would suddenly spring open.
Hours later, near the Ilchucks’ farm, two strapping young lads met us at the road on skidoos.
Wheeled vehicles, it turned out, could no longer navigate the driveway.
Thus, clinging to a masked man, I was next taken for a donuts-in-the-snow ride of my life and finally deposited on the farmhouse doorstep, where I made a wingeing sound and was led upstairs to bed.
For the next few days, from flat on my back, I listened to the sounds of loved ones visiting.
To rowdy games of Pit being played at the farm table, where players, overcome with game-lust, launched themselves from one end of the table to the other as they grabbed madly for spoons.
I know there was food — Rose was a legendary cook — but, I remember none of it.
Looking back, I imagine roasted chickens and country cakes, cinnamon toast bread puddings and perogies slathered with sour cream.
And, what of my plans for redemption?
Let’s just say the following year I merrily ate turkey at home.
Darcie Hossack is a food writer and author of Mennonites Don’t Dance (Thistledown Press). For past recipes, go online to nicefatgurdie.wordpress.com. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Cinnamon-toast bread pudding
2 tbsps. butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
4 slices day-old white bread, crusts removed (4 1/2-5oz)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup half and half
1 tsp. vanilla
Butter a four-cup baking dish.
Cream together cinnamon butter ingredients.
Lightly toast bread. Spread with cinnamon butter. Cut into cubes. In a large bowl, whisk milk, cream, eggs and vanilla. Add bread and toss to soak. Transfer to prepared dish.
Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes, until a knife inserted in centre comes out clean. Serve warm.