Pretty much as expected, last Friday (July 3rd), this was my view as we headed north.
Conversely, this was my completely unexpected view headed south, the following Tuesday.
Let me explain.
The harried, bittersweet process of packing all our stuff for the sealift ended at 11 p.m. on Thursday, July 2. Jared took the day off, and we packed up the last few boxes, wrapped the few pieces of furniture in weird grey blankets, and made sure everything was in the spreadsheets. It turns out that moving in the middle of the summer, when most of your friends are associated with the seminary, means that almost the only people around to help you move are professor types, half of whom have bad backs. But they came anyway, and made loading the truck into the work of forty-five minutes. Bless every one of them, Lord.
We moved up here with a U-haul full of stuff, five years ago. That U-haul was a good bit bigger, was packed a lot tighter, and represented the worldly possessions of two fewer people. That was a little disconcerting. But it was also freeing. No more moving stuff that we don’t really want to own, but just don’t feel like troubling ourselves to be rid of. The harder part is bound to be this week and the following, when we have to actually get rid of the remainder. Since the house doesn’t feel that much emptier now than it did a week and a half ago, I suspect it will be pretty awful.
We got up at 3:30 Friday morning. We had carefully limited ourselves to the poundage our new employers said they’d pay for, but Jared gave up at the last minute and decided to bring the rest of his books anyway. He wants them up there, and it’ll be cheaper to move them this way now anyway. So we piled them in, piled little girls into the back of our accord, and drove north.
Of course, we picked the biggest travel weekend in the country for this trip. We thought this wouldn’t be an issue, since we were, after all, leaving the country. But it turns out everyone in Ohio owns some kind of cabin on Lake Huron and was going up there to shoot off fireworks on July 4th. That doesn’t really make sense to me, but I tried not to be bitter, as we sat for an hour and a half waiting to pass the border guard, then another hour and a half at immigration.
My absolute favorite moment of the day was when we pulled up to the border guard booth, and from the back, N says, “Fries ketchup?”
The girls were pretty good for most of the drive. There were a couple hours of horrible screaming from the three-month old, and now she cries pretty much any time I buckle her into her carseat. I can’t blame her. Thankfully, they both found soothing the voice of my audiobook.
The car started to overheat a bit on the drive up. I tried to be nice to it, but didn’t think much of it. The air conditioning still worked, so I figured everything was okay.
When we got to Ottawa after fifteen hours on the road, we were greeted by our old friends, with whom we would be staying. We hadn’t seen them in three years, and they had just finished moving into their new house two and a half days previous, but they took us in like family. We didn’t see a single one of the noteworthy sights Ottawa has to offer, but we did have a blast with our friends.
Mostly, we shopped ’till we dropped. What we dropped was an impossible amount of money at Costco, stocking up on dry goods and paper goods for the year, and replacing all the pantry items we left in Pittsburgh. (Not that they checked our truck at the border. Gnnngh.) We went to Bulk Barn for oats and wheat berries and brown rice, which Costco unbelievably didn’t have… but for a place called “Bulk Barn,” they were woefully unprepared for actually selling things in bulk. I had to painstakingly scoop 30 lbs of oats, 40 lbs of wheat berries, and 30 lbs of rice into flimsy little plastic bags. We might find another way to do that next year.
The food was piled into the Uhaul, packaged up in boxes and bins, and dropped off at a company called TSC. They will pack everything into crates for us, put it on the boat… and we’ll see all our earthly possessions again sometime in late August or early September.
I am feeling surprisingly calm about this.
We relaxed on Sunday, went to our friends’ new church where we already have some old friends, and learned a new board game in the evening. We left at a reasonable time on Monday morning, hoping to be in our own beds before midnight.
That hope died in the town of Watertown, New York, when we pulled off for gas, and our engine died at a stoplight. That’s when we noticed smoke coming out of our engine.
After giving the engine a rest, we managed to get it to a garage at a mall a couple miles away. What began was a seemingly endless trevail, which I don’t think I have the heart to repeat in great detail. We wandered the mall for hours, then they said they fixed the car, we handed them a credit card, and it broke after a mile. We stayed overnight in a hotel, walked back to the garage, they said they fixed it again, we loaded up, drove it back to the hotel to get our stuff, and it was broke again. (The janitors working on the sign in front of the hotel, with their strong hispanic accents, seemed to know more about our engine than the mechanics did.) We gave it a rest, took it back to the garage, and wandered around the mall some more, buying ice cream and french fries to keep from tearing out our hair. They said they fixed it, they test drove it to make sure, we loaded up, drove for an hour… and it started overheating. To the point that the AC stopped working. The check engine light was flashing, and now the oil light too. And it was making horrible noises again.
We were ready to give up on this car. We’d sunk a useless grand into what was now a large green paperweight, and we didn’t care about anything anymore except getting home. We would have left the thing on the side of the road and donated it to NPR, but the car’s title was accidentally left in the lockbox that we’d just put into a crate of stuff we wouldn’t see for two months. It’d take weeks and a notorized form to legally even give the car away.
I tried to navigate us to a Uhaul, hoping they’d have something we could use to get the car home, but we ended up at some mom-and-pop rental station that didn’t have anything suitable, with a smoking engine and a hot, miserable family.
We were in North Syracuse, and we were getting close to despair.
Jared’s phone was dying, so I left him with my phone so he could make phone calls to Uhaul and rental care places on my phone while looking them up on his. I put M in a wrap and N in the stroller and we made off in search of a snack and air conditioning.
Of course, when we walk into the Rite Aid, the first thing N notices is a display full of lollypops. Now, I have no objection to lollypops, but I decided that I still had to be a parent, so I tried to hold off until we could use the bathroom and our brains were working a little better. I finally caved, but when she found out we had to pay for the lollypop (a process she thinks as of infinite duration), she had a complete fit in front of the soda cooler. Cried ’till she stopped breathing and passed out, and came to screaming a few blue-lipped seconds later. By then I was on the floor with her, also crying, holding her, while some lady got her Mountain Dew.
Some piece of my pride got permanently left on the tile floor of a Rite Aid in North Syracuse.
I did pay for the lollypop.
Jared joined us soon, having made arrangements for a rental car to drive the girls home, and with a Uhaul place to rent a 10-foot truck and a tow dolly. (A pick-up truck can also manage a tow dolly, but it’s Uhaul’s policy only to rent those for in-town moves. And Uhaul does not rent a single vehicle with more than three seats. Again: Gnnnngh.) Then we realized, we had to go to the rental place first, otherwise we’d have no way of getting the girls to the rental car once our car was being towed. And the Uhaul place was 20 minutes away, and closing in half an hour. It was Jared’s turn to look like he was going to cry.
“Call the Uhaul guy and beg him to stay,” I said, “and we’ll run.”
Run we did, but at that point it was out of our hands. We didn’t have any other solutions, and we didn’t know if this one would work, so we just had to keep doing what we’ve been doing all this time: obey and trust. Trust and obey. Do the very best we could and believe in the God who had always provided to us heretofore, though he doesn’t seem to mind letting us get rather close to the wire.
We ran from the Rite Aid back to our car. The car had cooled down enough that, refilling the coolant and oil, we got it into the local airport’s parking lot. Jared took off for the rental car desk while I started unbuckling carseats. We threw our children and a few necessities into the rental car, and drove (rather over the speed limit) to the Uhaul place. Bless the man who stayed ’till we got there. We got the Uhaul back to the airport (with girls screaming the whole way by then), the car had enough juice left to drive onto the tow dolly… and around 8 p.m. on Tuesday, we were finally on the way home with some hope of making it.
400 miles and a lot of caffeine later, we collapsed into our beds around 4 a.m. on Wednesday. Jared was back at work training his replacement a full four hours later.
Our poor dear Honda Accord has no less than 320,000 miles on it. It’s had some troubles, which had ramped up a bit lately, but it really didn’t have one more long trip in it, and there’s no way we could have known. I’m sure the Enemy had some hand in engineering such a trauma a full three days before our ordination to the diaconate. But if he did, it backfired. The outcomes of this trial were two. First, we understand in a whole new way that our only priorities are that our family is safe, together, and obeying God. Second, there is just no point whatsoever in approaching our insane life any other way than on our knees. Our lives are in God’s hands.
It was rough. And will go on being rough. But it was not bad, in the end, as preparation for today.