Donna was sorry to hear about her aunt Evelyn’s death.
“Even when she had to live in that nursing home, Aunt Evelyn always had something good to say,” Donna said to her mother over the phone.
“She had a lot of lemons to make lemonade with,” Donna’s mother said. “But remember, she was 93. We knew this day would come.”
“I suppose,” Donna said, knowing her mother was only a few years younger.
“Make sure you’re here on time,” Donna’s mother said. “We’ll meet at my house so we can go in to the front pews together.”
Next, Donna called her daughter-in-law. Elaine was sorry to hear the news too.
“We all liked Evelyn,” Elaine said. “She was so patient with the kids.”
The two women made plans for Donna and her husband Dale and Elaine and her husband Jeff to travel to Melville for the Saturday funeral.
“Will you bring the kids?” Donna said.
Elaine thought about it. Connor was old enough to understand a funeral, but two-year-old Jenny would probably be a distraction. And neither of the kids would enjoy the five-hour round-trip drive.
“I think I’ll look for a sitter,” Elaine said.
“Good idea,” Donna answered. They both knew Dale’s father Ed and his partner Helen would take the kids willingly, but a whole day with both Connor and Jenny would be a lot for them to handle.
It had been a while since Elaine had hired a babysitter. Dale or Donna usually watched the kids. But Madison Hunter, who lived a few miles to the west of the Hansons, was an enthusiastic 15-year-old.
“Sure,” Madison’s mother, Tara, said. “Madison will be thrilled. But can I ask a favour?”
“Sure,” Elaine said.
“Can Madison bring her sister Allie along? Allie’s only 12, but she took the babysitting course and now she needs some practical time with kids to get her certificate.”
Elaine agreed, and made plans to pick the girls up on Saturday morning.
Jeff was happy to go to Melville and see his relatives, but not happy about the dress code.
“Seriously, Mom?” he’d said to Donna. “Lots of people wear jeans to funerals.”
“They don’t have to sit in a pew with my mother,” Donna said. “Just make it easy for everyone and put on a suit.”
So on Saturday morning the four Hansons waved goodbye to Connor, Jenny and their two young babysitters and headed north, dressed in their best.
“There’s almost no traffic,” Jeff said.
“That’s everyone else’s loss,” Dale said, enjoying his spot in the driver’s seat. “It’s a beautiful day.”
“Finally, after this long winter,” Jeff said.
The funeral went as planned, and after eating egg salad sandwiches and Nanaimo bars in the church basement, Aunt Evelyn’s close relatives gathered at Donna’s mother’s house for a few hours.
“You should have planned to stay the night,” Donna’s mother said. “I have room.”
But after they’d looked through the old photo albums and eaten some pizza, the Hansons were ready to head home.
When they stepped outside they realized the temperature was falling and the sky had clouded over.
“It could rain,” Dale said, as the first drops hit the windshield.
“Might get icy,” Jeff said. “We should’ve left sooner.”
By the time the Hansons travelled 30 miles south on Highway 47 the rain had turned to wet snow and was piling up.
Soon Dale couldn’t see the highway. “If there aren’t any curves, I can keep us going straight,” he said.
The windshield wipers were coated in ice. “Let me clean those off,” Jeff said.
“In your suit?” Dale said. “Elaine? Do you have an emergency kit back there?”
She had snow boots, mitts, toques, blankets, a flashlight and some candy bars in the back of the SUV. Dale pulled over and Elaine passed the boots and mitts up to Jeff.
“Who would’ve thought I’d be out in a storm without decent pants?” Jeff muttered.
Elaine and Donna looked at each other’s high-heeled shoes. It hadn’t occurred to them to bring boots.
“Be careful, Jeff,” Dale said. “It would be just our luck if there’s traffic now.”
Jeff stepped out and used the mitts to clean the wipers. “At least it’s not cold,” he said when he got in.
“No, but you’re soaked!” Elaine said. “We’ll have to get that suit dry cleaned.”
Visibility got worse. After taking almost 30 minutes to travel the next 10 miles, the Hansons were almost relieved to see the RCMP roadblock near Grenfell.
“We’ve closed the road,” the young officer said when Dale rolled down his window. “There’s rooms at the motel.”
Elaine called Tara Hunter, who quickly volunteered to drive over and spend the night at Jeff and Elaine’s house. “Your kids don’t know me, but we’ll be fine,” Tara said.
It was 9 p.m. when they got to the motel, just in time for Dale to book the last vacant room. Elaine and Donna made their way through the snow to the door to room 6. Inside, the room was cramped with two small, sagging double beds covered in faded red bedspreads.
“At least we don’t have to spend a lot of time unpacking,” Donna said. Then she put on the emergency snow boots Jeff had used earlier and walked back outside.
Elaine was close to tears. “My babies are at home with strangers. My phone’s dead, so I can’t even look at their pictures. And I didn’t bring my contact lens solution.” She laid down on the bed by the door and covered her face with her hands.
Jeff was phoning the farmer who’d planned to bring seed to their cleaning plant on Sunday. Maybe he could reschedule to the afternoon. Dale was wondering if the babysitter would feed the dog.
The mood in the room was at a low ebb.
Then Donna came back. “Put your coats on,” she said. “Just because we can’t go home doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. We’re only a block from the bar.” She looked at Elaine. “We’ll take turns wearing the boots. I’ll wear them over, then Dale can bring them back for you.”
None of the three of them really wanted to go, but nobody had the energy to argue with Donna. They headed down the street through the swirling snow in shifts, the women taking turns with the boots.
Twenty minutes later, they were around a table, drinking beer. Elaine had borrowed the bartender’s charger and found a plug-in near the beer cooler. “Let’s try a game,” Donna said, looking over at the pool table. “I haven’t played in years.”
Before Elaine and Donna were finished beating the men for the third time, Tara called to report that Connor and Jenny were both asleep. The girls had braided Jenny’s hair, and promised Connor pancakes for breakfast. “Allie figures she can get most of her 30 practical hours on this one job,” Tara joked. Elaine brightened, and nailed her last shot.
When they got back to the hotel room, Jeff and Elaine both thanked Donna for taking them out. Dale chimed in too.
“We were here,” Donna said. “We might as well make the most of it.”
“Aunt Evelyn would have approved,” Elaine answered.