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.
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.
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.
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!