It has been a while. If you need to remember where we are, you can read part six here.
With one family "met," we had one left. His family. But I had only been home from my mission for a few months, and I wanted to go home for Christmas. My family wanted me home for Christmas. So we'd have to meet his family some other time.
Fast forward to the week of semester finals. I was planning to drive home with some friends for Christmas to spend it with my family. Then one night, Mr. TD&H and I were talking about Christmas. We didn't want to be apart, but I wanted to be home. He felt very strongly about going to Canada for Christmas, and he just threw the idea out there. Why didn't I come home with him for Christmas? I immediately said that I couldn't. I wanted to be home. But I started to think about it. I had just been home at Thanksgiving. I really did want to meet his family. Why didn't I go? I felt peaceful. I hoped my family would understand. I knew they'd be disappointed. I was disappointed. But I hoped they would be able to see where I was coming from. It was a long trip, and I wanted time to really get to know his family. I knew Christmas break was the right time. It felt right.
I was a little nervous at the thought of meeting his family. Mr. TD&H was VERY close to his family. They meant everything to him. He had five sisters and one brother. His sisters absolutely adored him, and they were also very protective of him. Especially the sister closest to him in age. He had talked about other girls he had taken home that hadn't gotten "approval" from the sisters. I hoped I would win their approval, but I wasn't overly worried because I knew I had his. It would be like icing on the cake. I hoped they weren't hideously mean! (hee, hee, sweetarita!)
After finals were done, I waited patiently to go. We had decided to go the day before Christmas Eve. It was a long drive, 13 hours, and I wasn't looking forward to it. On the other hand, I would have Mr. TD&H all to myself!
As i waited in his apartment, I was getting a little antsy. He had a project for a client that he was finishing, and it was taking a lot longer than he thought. He kept putting off the departure. I was a little annoyed, but I was more than happy to sleep a little more to make up for all the sleep deprivation through finals. Eventually it got too late to go that day, so I schlepped myself home to sleep a few hours and get on the road early on Christmas Eve.
I was back early the next morning, and we were off! We were snuggled in to the melanoma car with a stereo for tunes and a blanket or two in the back seat. We made it all the way to near McCammon, Idaho (maybe three hours on our trip). I was driving and all of a sudden I didn't feel any traction. I told Mr. TD&H and he reacted: "Black ice!" I completely panicked. I had heard so many scary black ice stories and had experienced it myself on a desolate Nevada stretch of I-80--complete with 360's! I screamed back, "What do I do?" He told me to pump the brakes, and they seemed to be working just fine. I just didn't have any oomph. I would step on the gas, but nothing happened. We finally came to a stop at the side of the road just before the exit leading to Lava Hot Springs. This was before cell phones, so we actually had to get out of the car and hoof it to the nearest house. As we left the car behind, we noticed a pinkish trail leading to where we stopped. "Transmission fluid," he stated. I was at a loss. What would we do?
The first house we passed was surrounded by snow drifts. Not there. Let's try the next. The door opened to our knock, and we entered a very comfortable home. There were pictures of temples on the wall and inspirational quotes. Relief flooded me. We'd be okay. We called a tow truck that took us in to Inkom, Idaho (about 20 minutes). We ended up spending about 7 hours in this little fix-it shop. Please remember, however, that it was Christmas Eve. We were lucky they even looked at the car. The guys were so nice. The car just had a tune-up, but the repairman hadn't properly replaced the plug for the transmission fluid, and it had all leaked out. We had to find a new plug. On Christmas Eve. So the amazing guys at the shop called a junkyard in Pocatello and located one. I am still amazed that they fixed it. About 3 p.m. we were back on the road. My guy's family didn't know about the delay, so we hurried on our way so as not to worry them. We made it through Idaho and started into Montana. It was getting dark, and the weather worsened. I was clueless about the directions, so I didn't know that we were near a crucial crossroads. Where I-90 crosses I-15. If you blink, you'll miss the signs and get on the wrong road. We did. We were heading to Missoula, Montana, and we didn't know it. After going about an hour and not recognizing anything, Mr. TD&H pulled off the road and found a pay phone. He called his dad and broke the news that we'd be late. Very late. Then he found out that we were on the wrong road. We had to backtrack over a small highway to get back to I-15. We got the directions and started on our way.
It was pitch dark when we finally made it to Great Falls. We gassed up and called his house to let them know of our progress. As we left the gas station, I realized that we were losing our first Christmas Eve together. So I put on some hymns on the stereo and started reading Luke 2. The Spirit flooded that little car. We were filled with love for a Baby born in a stable thousands of years ago. We were filled with love and gratitude for each other. It had been a hard day, but we had enjoyed each other's company and been positive. Mr. TD&H told me later that he was so impressed by my unfailing optimism. Boy, had I tricked him! The Lord must have strengthened me through that test. There is no other explanation.
We basked in the reason for the season and started sharing Christmas memories from our childhood. I told him of my amazing Beatles digital watch that I sneaked down in the middle of the night to open. He told me of homemade jammies and heartfelt gifts from his family. We were making the best of this crazy situation. Then the blizzard hit. He was driving, thank goodness, and then next few hours we creeped along the highway at a snail's pace. Each time a semi would pass us, we would silently pray that we would stay on the road during the ensuing white-out. He would hit drift after drift in his little car, hoping to not hit one we couldn't get through. I was beside myself with fear. Practically a native California girl, I had never experienced anything like this. Mr. TD&H was intently concentrating on the road, so my mind had plenty of opportunities to play out gruesome scenarios. At the time my inexperience with this kind of weather was probably a blessing. I had no idea how bad it really was. Hours passed slowly as the tension mounted. I prayed we would make it. We weren't prepared for this kind of situation. I was grateful for the blankets, but they wouldn't do us much good if we ran off the road.
Finally, the weather eased up. He was exhausted. We traded places, and I took the driver's seat. With sunflower seeds in hand to keep me awake, I started toward Shelby. After I had driven about 30 minutes, I saw a car. This was a welcome sight. We hadn't seen many for a long time. But then the car started acting strange. It came up right next to me, and the driver seemed to be trying to communicate. I was so freaked out, that I sped up to try to get away from the crazy person. Then the car sped in front of me and pulled in to my lane. Now I was really getting scared. The car then started to slow down. I had no choice but to slow down as well. We both stopped and I locked the car doors and turned to Mr. TD&H. Panicked, I told him that someone was walking toward the car. He sat bolt upright, trying to wake up. The driver was at my window! My heart was racing in my chest. What should I do? Did I have anything i could use as a weapon? All of a sudden, Mr. TD&H said, "Pedro!"
He reached over me and started rolling down the window. There stood an average-sized guy with a blond afro. This was no Pedro. Was my guy really awake? Was this part of his dream? Then "Pedro" smiled. He said, "We are so glad we found you. What took you so long?" I turned to Mr. TD&H for some explanation. "This is my brother in law," he glibly stated. They exchanged greetings and "Pedro" said, "Your dad's in the car, too. We came to find you."
When we hadn't shown up, they called the border. The person working there told them of the storm and that, because it was Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, there would be no Highway Patrol officers out from midnight on. Had we gone off the road, there would have been no help at all. We could have frozen to death in some ditch in Montana. I was so glad I hadn't known that. The family had gotten together and decided they would send a "rescue party." So Dad and "Pedro" set out in the wee hours of Christmas morning to find us. That is completely normal for this family. Sacrifice for other family members? Sacrifice? What sacrifice?
So these intrepid adventurers escorted us across the border. Funny story about that border. Mr. TD&H had told me not to say anything stupid at the border. Just answer the questions calmly and everything would be fine. So what do I do? I get to the border--I am still in the driver's seat, remember? First, they state that we must be the who they had been looking for. Auspicious start, eh? They start asking questions, and I get a little flustered. Finally I just softly shriek that I am an American. My passenger not-so-nervously laughs and says that this is my first border crossing (which it isn't), and they let us move on our merry way. Excited to be so close to home, Mr. TD&H wanted to drove. Go right ahead, I thought. An hour later, we pulled in to his parent's driveway. Home at last!
I walked in, feeling like death warmed over. I hadn't showered in two days, but with the stress and expectations for these introductions, I felt even more crusty and fuzzy-teethed. I said a cursory hello, and headed for the bathroom. The hot water thankfully brought me back to life. It was hot--really hot. I finished my shower, stepped out, and almost passed out. It must have been 90 degrees in that bathroom with the heat and the steam. I thought I would be sick! I quickly opened the window and stuck my head out as far as the screen would permit. It felt wonderful, but as I breathed in, my throat hurt. Was I getting sick? I didn't think so. I found out later that the pain in my throat came because it was 40 DEGREES BELOW ZERO!!!!!!!!!! What? To my Californian body, 40 degrees was cold. But below zero? Does the temperature really go that low? (I am sure there are many knowing chuckles out there at this point) I finally joined the family, and we had a wonderful Christmas morning. Although they had only known about me coming for a few days, they had a stocking and a pile of presents for me. I was NOT expecting that! I felt loved, thought of, and valued. They took me in as one of their own. And the sister I was worried about? She treated ME as a true sister. What a wonderful end to an interesting Christmas journey!
After a day full of family, food, and fun, Mr. TD&H had some time together late that night in front of the fire. There I was, looking out the window onto the first white Christmas I could remember, cuddled in front of a warm fire with the man I loved. Could it get any better?
After talking for a while, he turned to me with a very earnest face. He spoke of hopes and dreams, ones that would include me. He told me he wanted to spend his life with me. I whole-heartedly agreed. It was a glorious moment. I floated to bed on Cloud Nine.
The next day we were quietly talking, and he asked me how I felt about the night before. Great, I responded. He asked if I was ok with it. With what? With being engaged, he answered. Engaged? Are we engaged? Panic ripped through me. Engaged? He saw the deer-in-the-headlights look on my face and faltered. Was I okay, he asked? I considered for a moment. Was I engaged? I guess I was. Our conversation of the night before could be considered a proposal, I just didn't realize it. I did want to be with him. So I was engaged.
I put on a brave smile. I asked myself, why was I so scared? Did marriage scare me? I didn't know. I thought that maybe I just needed time to get used to the idea. Yeah--I just needed time.