The excursion did not begin auspiciously. Mom, Dad, my three-year-old brother, Casey, and I piled into the trusty Volvo we’d had shipped over from the States, but when Dad turned the key, the engine wouldn’t start. We made it to the bus depot in time, but when we tried to board, the driver claimed that we had paid for just one person. After Dad produced our receipt, we were allowed to get on, only to find that passengers were already squeezed in two to a seat. Three uncomfortable hours later, we stopped at a roadside Gasthaus, where we were met with cold blood sausage and potatoes. Mom was horrified. Dad nibbled cautiously. My brother and I made do with crackers. Outside, the sky darkened and the temperature dropped.
When we arrived at our destination, things didn’t improve. There weren’t enough axes. There weren’t enough trees. In the end, we had to trudge into the woods to find a worthy specimen. As our legs sank deeper into the snow, Casey and I staved off hunger by sucking on icicles. Finally, Dad spotted a fine six-foot fir, chopped it down, and dragged it back to the bus. Unfortunately, all the roof space had been taken up by other trees, so, with pine needles flying, we had to wrestle our tree on board.
Wet and exhausted, we groaned when the bus parked in front of the same Gasthaus for dinner. But, to our surprise, this time we received a dose of salvation: generous bowls of erbsensuppe, a fragrant, nourishing split pea soup. Each steamy, smoky, ham-and-vegetable-packed spoonful warmed our bodies and revived our spirits. After a few minutes of silence, my dad started to laugh; soon, my mom followed suit. Maybe it was the erbsensuppe, or maybe my parents knew, then and there, that they had a good Christmas story they could tell and retell for years to come.