A little girl in Minnie Mouse pajamas on bright white roller skates with pink glittery wheels zips, screams, and flaps her arms past the lobby elevator.
“Merry Christmas,” her mother called, grinning slightly through clenched teeth.
This is Watertown, New York. Town Christmas (almost) forgotten.
We found ourselves here after a 7 hour drive from Washington DC to our friends in Canada, ending at the final hurdle just minutes from the border.
Storm Elliott caught up with us.
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We checked the radar and our course was clear, but as we now know – as Brits who have lived here for the past seven years – the weather in the US changes very little.
We limped past abandoned trucks, downed power lines, and even police cars pulled over in near-zero visibility to the nearest town, where we found the ubiquitous American Interstate hotel chain . There are rooms in the hotel. “Cream”…a.
We took it. It’s us, the kids and the dog.
There were dozens of powerline workers in the hall – some had driven up from Texas (30 hour drive) – who were called in to help restore power to thousands of people and none.
One guy told me he climbed a pole and it was so fragile due to the -34C temperature it simply snapped under his weight. A drift knocked him down, but he was ordered to rest inside for the rest of the day.
There was some food in the hotel, served to us with the elegance of a Santa hat.
They’ve even tried using what’s left of the bar for a “holiday cocktail,” with a cherry and “lots of ice” on a stick.
The blizzard outside beat against the windows. Our dogs tentatively stepped out to pee, but had to be brought back seconds later, their feet burned by the ice.
As we sat around the fire in reception, people shared stories of where they had come from and where they were going. A young man who went to his girlfriend’s house showed me a small square box in his backpack.
It would be a New Year’s Eve proposal, he said.
The hotel chef has been on duty for four days and four nights. They didn’t want him to leave in case someone else could not be found to replace him. What are the benefits? There wasn’t much food left, so there wasn’t much to do, he said.
We hunkered down overnight, safe and warm unlike many others in this once-in-a-lifetime storm.
Christmas morning has come. My teens are still sleeping and I’m thankful they’re not the age of the little kid on roller skates because as much as they’re sad they’re resigned and understand.
“Did Santa bring you those beautiful roller skates?” I asked the little girl, laughing.
“Yes!” she said. “He knew he had to get them here instead of Aunt Pat.”
Her mom and I exchanged a look only the moms of kids at Christmas could understand.