way back playback: driving home for christmas

on the fifteenth day of december...

my third year of university was spent in chicoutimi, quebec. that was exactly twenty years ago! i always remember which year it was because dad turned fifty that year i was away – i remember doing up a special happy birthday package based on the number 50 that i mailed home.

chicoutimi is a barren outpost a two hour drive northeast from quebec city (which is two hours east of montreal). that means it was a ten hour drive, minimum, from home. needless to say, i didn’t travel home at all between the start of school in september and the christmas holidays.


i have fond memories of my time in chicoutimi. luckily, one of my very best friends from u of w – whose name was also cathy – decided to go to chicoutimi, too, that year. we were both in the certificat de français pour non-francophones program. there was only about ten of us in the program – an eclectic mix of personalities! – and i really appreciated having one of my besties from home along with me.

file photo from 1995: me and cathy

we started making our christmas travel plans well before the holidays. one of the other girls in our program, jackie, had a car in chicoutimi, and cathy and i would be able to get a drive home with her as far as guelph (about 45 min away from where we lived, in kitchener). a fourth girl, also from guelph – and i completely forget her name! i think it started with m?! mila? mira?? – would complete our carpool.

once december 1st arrived, i remember getting super excited to come home. thanks to my advent calendar (told you i have one every year!), i tracked the days til we would depart. and here is a nice memory: i remember a couple of our profs switched around the exam schedule for us so that we would be able to travel home a few days sooner than originally anticipated.

since the drive would be so long, we planned to start our homeward journey early in the morning – i am going to guess 7 a.m.-ish. now, picture this: jackie’s car was a little tin can – ancient! tiny! i bet it would not pass a safety inspection, nowadays. now imagine four girls PLUS all their gear and luggage piled into this shitbox economy car. i clearly remember cathy and i being STUFFED into the back seat, with a hodge-podge of bags jammed in all around us. [mila/mira was a bit of a diva and if she had one bag, she had five pieces of luggage, i do recall!]. we did not care – we were going home.

chicoutimi is known for snow and biting cold temps. wouldn’t you know it, departure day saw fairly extreme weather conditions hit this region of quebec…and southward to montreal…and into eastern and southern ontario. yes, for the entire trip home, we would be driving through snowfalls, squalls, and flurries.

looking back, our trip home can be considered a christmas miracle. how we four girls made it down the 401 in the accumulating snowfall is unbelievable! i distinctly remember taking my turn as the driver, and just holding onto the steering wheel for dear life as i kept the car in the tracks made by the vehicles ahead of us.


otherwise, the ten + hours in the car was a lot of fun. we were all so hyper to be going home – we sang christmas carols, gossiped and laughed about classmates, and snacked on potato chips and hershey kisses.

we pulled into guelph after dark – maybe 6 p.m. or so?? i was so excited to see mom and dad, who picked cathy and me up at jackie’s. what a joyful reunion. we took cathy home, and finally got to our house. i remember mom had prepared one of my favourite meals – ground beef/sour cream/noodle casserole, and for dessert, i got a piece of dad’s birthday cake that mom had frozen and saved for me. we all sat around the kitchen table, so happy to be conversing and sharing in person (remember, this was the era before skype and email – communication had been limited to weekly phone calls and snail mail letters).

that christmas holiday was jam-packed with visits with family and friends, and favourite traditions. each celebration felt a little extra special.

what’s a nasty-weather drive that you’ve experienced? another white-knuckle drive that i remember very clearly was a treacherous, snow-stormy trip home from teacher’s college in st catharines with julie and kersten – we barely made it up the super-huge hill heading out of burlington/hamilton and into clappison’s corners.

file photo from u of w graduation in 1994! me and julie!

what is one thing you appreciate about home after you’ve been away for a while? there is nothing like sleeping in your own bed, again!

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  • Stephanie  On December 15, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    I love saying “Chicoutimi”! It’s one of those words that just roll off the tongue. We’re driving from Nova Scotia to Toronto in early January. Fingers crossed for safe roads!

    • 1970kikiproject  On December 16, 2011 at 6:54 am

      i agree! chicoutimi does have a flair to it – with french or english pronunciation. wow – ns to toronto -> we will definitely keep our fingers crossed that these mild temps here in ontario continue for a while longer!!

  • Dorry  On December 15, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Love the old photos! it’s fun to reminisce about college days. Being from Dallas, we would drive 7-8 hours to Lawrence, Kansas, and we definitely had some terrible snowy/icy weather when coming to and from for Christmas vacation. I’m glad we all made it home safely!

    • 1970kikiproject  On December 15, 2011 at 11:43 am

      yes! sometimes we don’t realize til AFTER the fact, just how bad the driving conditions were! i am glad you had safe travels. your comment makes me think that we celebrate christmas at the wrong time of year in terms of reliable weather. christmas in july -> we’d hav no travel worries! 🙂

  • Zo  On December 15, 2011 at 10:36 am

    I’ve had some nail biters driving after snowstorms last year. They don’t really plow where I work so it gets difficult driving around there.
    Love your college drive memories. I also live being in my own bed, but just really enjoy being near my familiar stuff. And of course I am always happy to see sc cat again!

    • 1970kikiproject  On December 15, 2011 at 10:43 am

      and i bet sc kittie is always happy to welcome YOU home, too! plowing -> something to be thankful for, for sure. the “before” and “afer” of road conditions is remarkable!

  • Julie  On December 15, 2011 at 8:44 am

    I totally remember that drive Cathy!!! I was so scared on that hill. And then was that the drive your car broke down and we were walking by Sportsworld. I remember I was annoying everyone because I kept moaning about the fact I had forgotten my mittens. I took socks out of my bag and was wearing them on my hands, they were so cold. Thank goodness you were a good driver!

    • 1970kikiproject  On December 15, 2011 at 9:08 am

      yes! i remember the car problems trip, too, but had forgotten about your lack of mittens! man, we sure had our share of “interesting” drives duing those four months at brock!

  • Johanna B  On December 15, 2011 at 8:26 am

    What is one thing I appreciate about home after i’ve been gone? My bed. I love to sleep in my own bed, with my own blankets, and my things around me. Comforting.

    Bad weather drives. Two spring to mind – one in gale force winds and rain from Houston to New Orleans and the other from Topeka to Kansas City in the worst packed snow I’ve ever driven on. There was no one else on the road. I was really stupid to have tried it but my daughter was in KC and wanted to see me so, of course, I hopped in the car and white knuckled it all the way.

    • 1970kikiproject  On December 15, 2011 at 8:34 am

      what you will not do for family, right johanna? i am glad you made it to your daughter’s with the frightful weather. yes – truly, it is “the comforts of home” that are so enjoyable after being away!

  • Andrea Budding (@AndreaBudding)  On December 15, 2011 at 7:08 am

    I had no idea you lived in Chicoutimi! I used to go camping at Mont Orford, QC every summer with my family!

    One thing I will appreciate about home? Oh, where to begin!
    1. Vincenzo’s hummus and baba ganoush;
    2. goat’s cheese;
    3. crisp, cool evenings;
    4. speedy Internet.
    Joel says:
    1. Morty’s wings;
    2. speedy Internet.

    We fly home in less than 48 hours; very looking forward to reconnecting with you and other family members!

    • 1970kikiproject  On December 15, 2011 at 8:33 am

      whee!!!! safe travels home, andrea (and joel!) it will be SO FUN to see you christmas day. thanks for sharing your lists! speedy internet – thanks for the reminder to appreciate that! so many of us complain – but we are spoiled! xoxo!

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