“I’ll tell you the story, but it’s not that good of a story.
“This was– This was 11 or 12 years ago. I’m coming up 95 — I’m coming home for Christmas. I hadn’t been home in two or three years, because I worked. That’s all I did was work. Working all the time. Had to work. I was down south, and it cost a lot of money to come home, so I didn’t come home. But I missed home. I would call home, and my family–
“My family was close. We still are. I got four brothers and a sister. I got my parents, my grandparents, and I got all these uncles and aunts and cousins. We all do Christmas together, and before me, nobody ever moved away, and nobody ever missed Christmas. I was the first. When I didn’t come home that first year, I was alone in my apartment on Christmas and the phone rang, and I get on the phone, and it’s my mom calling to say ‘Merry Christmas’ and I can hear all the people in the back, and I was on that phone for two hours, because she had to pass the phone to everybody so they could say ‘Hello and Merry Christmas.’ We did the same thing the next year, and the year after that.
“This is going to be my first year home.
“I’m all excited, but I have to drive. I got this old, beat-up car that made every noise you ever heard a car make in your life. It was making those noises when I left Huntsville, and I got to get it all the way to Rhode Island. I told my Mom, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it.’ She’s going ‘You’ll make, you’ll make it.’ Okay, we’ll see.
“I make it to right outside of Danbury, Connecticut, and that’s it. The car gives up. I couldn’t believe it had made it that far. I don’t have AAA or anything like that. Too much money. I call my Mom. It’s Christmas Eve. Now, we do a big Christmas, but we do an even bigger Christmas Eve, because we’re Italian, so it’s a big night for us. I can hear everybody yelling and asking where I am, and I tell my Mom to ask if anybody there has AAA I can use, and hopefully the tow truck driver doesn’t ask to see the card.
“My mom gives the phone to my dad, who can’t hear a thing, and he gives the phone to my sister, and my sister says, ‘Where are you right now?’ I tell her. ‘Stay there,’ she says. ‘I’ll come get you.’ I tell her it’s too far. She’s in Providence. She’s going to drive all the way to Danbury? No way. I say, ‘I’ll figure something out.’
‘What are you going to figure out, you idiot? You’re in the middle of nowhere. We’ll pick you up.’ Hear that? ‘We.’ Who’s we? But I can’t even ask, because she hangs up the phone. All she knew was what exit I was by. I’m thinking, I’m going to die out here on this highway. She’s never going to find me. Luckily, I had a big coat back then, so I wasn’t worried about keeping warm.
“An hour goes. Hour and a half. I’m getting sad. What am I going to do? Do I have to try sleeping in the car and then try hitchhiking on Christmas? I’m getting really down.
“Cars are going by me, and none are stopping. I’m texting my sister and she keeps saying, ‘We’re on our way.’
I ask, ‘Who’s we?’
‘We’re almost there.’
‘I brought Bobby with me.’ Bobby’s her husband.
‘Okay.’ Cars are going by. I’m thinking she’s never going to find me.
I see a car pull up behind me. I text her, ‘Is this you?’
‘Yeah, that’s me.’
“Then I see another car pull up behind her. I think that’s Bobby. He must have taken his own car. I don’t know why, but that’s what I thought.
“Another car pulls up behind that car. I’m thinking, ‘What the hell is going on?’
“More cars pull up. This is on a busy highway. Not that busy, because it’s getting late on Christmas Eve, but busy enough.
“I get out of the car and there’s my sister, and she runs over and gives me a hug. Bobby gets out of the car and he comes over. I say, ‘Who are these cars behind you?’
“Then my mother gets out of the car. She runs over. My dad. My cousins. My Aunt Teresa. There are 10 or 12 cars all lined up behind my sister’s car. They all came to get me. Do you believe that?
“I said, ‘You people are nuts! What are you doing?’
‘We wanted to come see you.’ They couldn’t wait. They all got in their cars, and they went in a line all the way down 95, then they had to turn around so they’d be going in the right direction to come find me. I guess they all saw another car they thought was me, but it was abandoned so they all pulled over, and it wasn’t my car, and my mother’s yelling at my sister, and my sister is asking her how she’s supposed to know which car is mine. ‘Didn’t he give you the license plate?’ They were arguing over the phone, and Bobby is telling my sister to put the phone down, because she was distracting him. He was the one driving.
“All those cars, and they had their hazard lights on, that’s how they followed each other, and I don’t know how they didn’t get pulled over. But I had my own caravan come to get me on Christmas Eve. We left my car there. I never even went back to get it, and I never went back to Huntsville.
“Cars are whizzing by us, and we’re all hugging, and crying, and my mother’s going, ‘You got so big!’ like I left home at 6 years old. It was nice though.
“I remember getting in the back of my sister’s car, with my brother-in-law driving, and my father told my mother to get in the backseat with me, because he knew she wanted to spend as much time with me as she could, and so it’s all of us driving back home from Danbury with all these cars behind us, and they kept honking their horns the whole way, and my mother’s going, ‘We’re all going to get arrested if they don’t knock it off!’ but she was laughing, because she was so happy to have all her kids back home again.
“That’s the story. It’s a nice story, isn’t it? I don’t know if it’s good enough for a magazine, but we tell that story every year.
“The time I broke down on the highway, and the whole family came to get me.
“It’s good to have a family like that. A lot of people don’t have any family. When you got a family who show up for you, you got a lot to be happy about in this world, even with everything going on. This year, we can’t have the big Christmas, but we’re all going to get on the computer and that’s what we’ll do until next year.
“I’m just happy I have a family to talk to. That’s what I tell everyone. Just want everybody to be safe. We already all almost died on the side of the highway, and that’s as dangerous as I ever want to get again. Just be happy if you got a family when a lot of people lost so many people this year. If that’s not you, you’re lucky, and I’m very lucky.
“I gotta go, though, my sister’s calling me. My phone’s always ringing. Somebody’s always calling to see how you are. It used to drive me nuts, but I don’t mind it as much. Just nice to hear from everybody, you know?
“Nice to know you got people you can count on.
“Always good to have somebody who’s there when you need them.”