It was Christmas Eve and our little SUV made its journey home slicing a light in the darkness. This was just before the years of 24 hour Wal-Marts and fast-food restaurants. Possibly just before teenagers began staying up all night texting their friends. It was Christmas Eve and we were somewhere along a faceless highway, in the no man’s land between the small towns and communities of central North Carolina. There was no snow, no reindeer, no Santa Claus, no sign of sleigh or reindeer. It seemed all the world was sound asleep except for three travelers chatting merrily over the hum of Christmas Carols on the FM radio.
My husband Perry cannot see well to drive at night, or so he says, and he often uses this as a license to engage in much merriment and a liberal consumption of libations at Christmas parties and social events. I often find myself, therefore, as the Designated Driver, which isn’t usually a problem since my overconsumption tends to center upon the dessert table and not at the bar. I commuted to my job in the city for many years and I’m nearly as at home driving as I am sitting on my own sofa.
With me at the wheel, Aunt Carole riding shot gun and my husband in the back seat, our little Dodge Caliber purred across the hills and valleys of the NC countryside. We were headed home from a family Christmas Eve dinner at my sister’s. All was well til Aunt Carole announced she had to go to the bathroom. The black of night engulfed us. We were far from home, miles from any towns; there were no rest stations and everything, if there was anything, was closed. Aunt Carole began to squirm in her seat as I scanned the horizon frantically for signs of life. “I don’t see anywhere to stop Aunt Carole,” I uttered helplessly and drove on for a few miles. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom NOW!” orderd Aunt Carole.
As we topped the next hill, I could see the faint glow of a street lamp, it’s phos-fluorescent glow creating a sort of halo in the moist night air. Aunt Carole began furiously removing her long winter coat and unfastening her britches as I pulled the car off the highway and into a small paved entrance just off the highway. The street lamp marked the entry to a parking lot of a small business with a very large gate. The gate was locked and we could travel no further.
“I’m so sorry Aunt Carole,” I uttered helplessly.
I may not have known what to do at that moment but that didn’t stop Aunt Carole. Nothing had stopped Aunt Carole, for that matter, for most of her eighty odd years of life and she refused to be undone by a bout of IBS, a locked gate and the lack of restroom facilities. She hopped out of the car, shot around to the front side of the passenger door and began to do her business.
I glanced in the rearview mirror at my husband. His face had assumed a familiar position: his mouth beneath the moustache was stretched wide and flat into an uncomfortable fake smile; one eyebrow arched nervously as his eyes darted around everywhere except the front passenger side where poor Aunt Carole was hanging on to the car door for dear life.
Lordy, I felt so bad for Aunt Carole! Of all my aunts, of all the older ladies I knew, Aunt Carole was so elegant and ladylike. That she be forced to such circumstances at the side of the road, no room at the inn-terstate seemed a great travesty. Jingle Bells was playing on the radio and I turned the volume up a bit so I didn’t have to hear anything outside that I didn’t want to hear.
“I think I’m done,” said Aunt Carole finally and I handed her a bunch of napkins from my glove compartment. “Oh no,” she cried. “It’s all over my slacks! God God, it’s everywhere…”
Perry was squirming in the back seat, audibly, and his restlessness had turned into a twitch.
“Hold on, let me see if I have anything.” I stepped out and made my way to the back of the car, threw open the hatch and scanned the contents of the car. Often, I carry everything but the kitchen sink back there but I had cleaned it out to make room for hauling Christmas items. There were bags of Christmas gifts, left over Sweet potato Casserole and a tray of cookies. No gym clothes or plastic bags or cleaning rags. Aunt Carole had used our complete stash of napkins for the first round of unsuccessful cleaning and the only available item that could help was a tablecloth.
Aunt Carole peered at me helplessly over the top of the passenger door. “I’ve got to take these things off…” she said, matter of fact. “I’ve got to take them ALL off.”
I thought to offer her the tablecloth but I eyed the car’s interior selfishly. “Hold on….” said my husband in the back. I could see him squirming around and in a few seconds he handed me his jeans. I turned around to find him perched in the back seat looking rather sexy with his Christmas sweater, dark socks, loafers and skivvies. I couldn’t help but smile.
“Here you go Aunt Carole,” I said and handed her my husband’s pants. “Oh Perry!” she exclaimed. “Honey you don’t have to do this… oh I am so sorry babies.” Poor sweet Aunt Carole, dirty and half naked, getting dressed by street lamp in the middle of nowhere. Hubby in the backseat was subdued, his nervousness for Aunt Carole now surpassed by his own.
My aunt made her way back into the car. I smoothed the tablecloth over the front seat and she sat down gingerly. “Oh my! I am so sorry,” she continued to murmur. “Perry, you didn’t have to do that, honey, but I thank you so much. So very much my darlings…You’re just my angels!”
I pulled the car back onto the highway. We tried to ignore any new scents that permeated the night air, and I cracked the window for myself even as I turned up the heat for my naked husband in the back seat. After a few miles, we began to laugh and joke, even Aunt Carole. “Did I ever tell you about the time this happened to me in Winston Salem?” I asked. “I left my underwear beside a tree in someone’s yard in Sherwood Forest one evening!” Perry recounted his own incidents of not quite making it to the bathroom as well. It was decided that pretty much the whole family was full of shit and we laughed and joked our way across the rest of the county til we reached Aunt Carole’s home.
“Don’t bother seeing me to the door.. Want me to get you a blanket or something?” she teased Perry.
“That’s ok,” he said. “We’re ’bout home…”
She peered back into the car, shook her head in amusement at my husband, still seated in the backseat and patted me lovingly on the hand before departing.
“Aunt Carole,’ my husband called from the darkness. “I just want you to know you got me out of my pants faster than any woman I’ve ever known!”
Aunt Carole snorted and we all began to laugh hysterically. My precious witty husband. How his quick thinking and humor had saved quite a humiliating evening for one of our favorite people in the world. It would be a secret shared by my husband and Aunt Carole for the rest of her life.
It’s our custom to give presents for those we love at Christmastime and while that’s okay, always remember the best gifts are spontaneously given from our hearts. You don’t always have to give the shirt off your back or the britches off your bottom but sometimes that’s just what is needed.
Merry Christmas and rest in peace my darling, Aunt Carole. You know who you are. Your secret is safe with me.