Don’t get me wrong – Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without my mom and brother coming up from, respectively, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Arriving in late December, however, usually means rain, wind, darkness and potential power outages. Last year, I treated my mom to a stay in The Rose Court Cottage, a particularly charming part of the Arcata Stay network. Sadly, when the windstorm knocked out the power, the charm of the cottage was lost in the dark. A few years ago, desperate to show her some of Humboldt’s beauty and knowing her fondness for the sight of waves smashing into rocks, I attempted a mad dash to Patrick’s Point during a break in the rain. As we drove north, the clouds regathered. We made it to the parking lot near Agate Beach, stepped out of the car… the sky opened back up. We ended up tooling over to the parking lot closest to the point, me pointing through the rain, “Look!” My mom was a great sport about it all.But this year has me worried they may not come back. Christmas Day progressed smoothly enough: a holiday chill-out mix on the iTunes via Soma; a blazing fire in the woodstove; enough presents for everyone to feel special without being overwhelmed by materialism; goodies galore; and, Christmas enchiladas with just enough chipotle kick to warm everyone up even more. We played board games. The guys began building Nick’s trebuchet. (Example, not identical model, here.)Due to my mom’s hectic life as a science instructor for the K-8 kids at a private school in L.A., she can never stay long enough. Lots of frogs, newts and other critters to feed. Plus she still had to visit my sister and her family in Vegas, plus she doesn’t like to do the whole drive in one day, so she spends a night each way in SF. The plan was to leave Wednesday morning.But her minivan had been experience some difficulty shifting gears, so instead she, my brother and Bobby made a trip to Leon’s. A new transmission, they said. To her credit, despite being hit with the news that she needed major work done on her van while 700 miles from home and without even a chance to recover from holiday spending, my mom stayed reasonably calm. (Folks at Leon’s, thank you for being so nice and helpful!)Leon’s recommended Arcata Transmission, but they, embodying all that is different in Arcata than Los Angeles, apparently took the whole holiday week off. Mom tried Aamco – but they gave her a price of $3,500, a ridiculous amount. (Her long-time mechanic back home told her $1,200 over the phone. I know we’re behind the Redwood Curtain, but we’re not a freakin’ island!) Roger’s was also recommended, but apparently the folks there either had a lousy Christmas or were bitter about having to work the day after. Or both. Or maybe they’re just jerks all the time. In any case, Roger’s was quickly crossed off the list.So, taking the chance of interrupting his holidays and unsure if he even does transmissions, I called my mechanic out in Fieldbrook. He said, no problem, bring it over, I can do that. (Is there nothing on a car this man can’t do? I wondered.) Thursday morning, mom and Bobby made the trek. We received the same bad news – definitely needs a new tranny – but my guy at least gave a reasonable price.Unsure about investing that much in a 13-year-old minivan with likely other problems, my mom weighed her options. Or rather, we all did, in a dining-table gathering. Fly? Rent a car? Drive to SF and fly from there? Have Bobby drive them to SF? Rent a U-Haul truck and tow bar? Dizzied from price research and choices – none of which felt good – the plan morphed into Mom and my brother renting a car at Hertz and driving to SF, then my mom continuing on to L.A. They’d leave the van in Fieldbrook, which was cool with my mechanic, and my mom would further explore her options back in the safe haven of L.A.They did what one would do to rent a car: went to hertz.com and made the reservation. But upon calling the Eureka Hertz office to say they’d be running just a bit late, they were told, “We don’t have a car for you anyway.”(Cut to Seinfeld moment: Agent: Can I help you? Name please?Jerry: Seinfeld. I made a reservation for a mid-size, and she’s a small. I’mkidding around, of course.Agent: Okay, let’s see here.Agent: I’m sorry, we have no mid-size available at the moment.Jerry: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have thereservation.Agent: I know why we have reservations.Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how totake the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation andthat’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybodycan just take them.) Mom was advised to try the airport Hertz. She called the 800-reservation number and was told, “You’ll definitely have a car waiting at 3:30.” She was assured of this multiple times. So I take them to the airport, drop them off at the gate and go park. When I walk in, I see my normally easy-going brother developing a twitch in his forehead. He’s standing every bit of his 6-foot, 3-inches tall at the counter and saying, “We’re going to need more than an apology. We’re going to need a car.” A sign behind the clerk says, “Sold out.” Things threatened to get ugly, but then, somehow, the clerk came up with another car. (Maybe someone else got screwed later? I have no idea.) My brother apologized and said, “You must get this sort of thing all the time.” The clerk said, “Yes, I do. In fact, I’m quitting because I get so much of this all the time.”Car finally obtained, we returned home, loaded the spiffy PT Cruiser-knockoff and hugged goodbye. Looking at the rain and impending darkness, I suppressed my urge to tell them to wait another night, leave in the morning when it would be safer. I knew Mom was anxious to get home. I should’ve listened to myself.About 7 p.m. the phone rings. It’s my brother, calling from Laytonville. “Jenni,” he says, “can you check if the road is closed at Willits?” It’s snowing, he says.I pull up highway conditions on the Mac and yes, yes, indeed, the 101 is closed 2 miles north of the 20 to a mile south. “Motorists are advised to take an alternate route.” Weather forecast predicts precipitation and continually falling temperatures into the night.They’re unsure what to do. I tell them, hang tight and I’ll call back. I call a local friend who grew up in Willits to see if he knows any “alternate routes.” No, he says, but his mom is the most hospitable person in the world and would gladly help them out if they can get to Willits. Hallelujah, I think. At least they’ve got one safe harbor. If they can get to it.I pass the name and number on to my brother. He’s unsure about getting back on the road due to the snow. My mom is definite in her feelings of not wanting to be on the road due to the snow. Of course, every room – as if Laytonville has many options – is booked. They’re at a pizza parlor (I need to get the name of this place!) and decide to stay there for a bit while they figure things out. Every tragic lost-in-the-storm news story I’ve ever read haunts me as I pace the kitchen, drinking white wine leftover from our Solstice Party. I don’t even like white wine, but I’m at a loss of what else to do. I call everyone I can think of who might have a connection in Laytonville. No luck.A half hour later, my brother calls back. They’ve called the very nice mom of my friend, who has indeed offered them shelter if they can get there. But they can’t get there yet. My mom says if worst comes to worst, they’ll huddle in the car outside the Mobil station. I think of the poor Kim family and can’t stand this. Another hour passes. They call back and say the pizza parlor owner has announced he won’t kick anyone out into the snow – apparently many other people are in the same situation as my mom and brother, a fact which comforts me, as does the reassurance my mom won’t be freezing to death outside a Mobil in Laytonville.Around midnight, I get a text: “The road is clear, hurrah! We’re going on.” I hope that means they’re going on to a warm, snug place in Willits – I’m ever so grateful to know they’d be cared for there – but no. They’re on a mission now. They drive all the way to SF, arriving at 3 a.m. My mom checked into a hotel and went to sleep around 4 a.m., which is normally when she wakes up. Later this morning, she began the next leg of the not-so-endless journey after all. Mom called from L.A. this evening, home safe. Everyone is back where they’re supposed to be.”Thank goodness,” I said. “Come up in August next year,” I suggested.