Over the past 20 years, we have only ever missed two seasons, those years when our grandsons were born (both arrived in February). Over these past decades, some of our fondest family memories have been shared in various winter wonderlands. We have skied many resorts in many countries, but there has always been one constant: It’s name is Chaos. No holiday with the Augustines is ever without its share of weird and wonderful adventure!
Chaos just seems to follow us — I don’t quite know why. It clings to our family like a rash. It stows away between the pages of our passports and slithers along for the ride, rearing its head from time to time, carrying with it comedy, tragedy, and sometimes a generous mix of both.
I submit for your consideration the Chaotic record of our first ski adventure: La Toussuire, France, 1994, subtitled “When Good Cars Go Bad.”
Though I had my Volvo serviced right before departure, our mechanic had failed to tighten the oil cap sufficiently, and partway through France, black smoke started billowing from our exhaust. We were holidaying with friends, and between the 8 of us, not a single one spoke French sufficient to explain our car problems…
We called our breakdown insurance, and they arranged for us to find a local garage. We ended up in Nowhereville, a village like most in central France that was a grayish collection of aged, concrete buildings still bullet pocked from World War II. Time had frozen on the eve of D-Day, and there may well still be Nazis roaming the streets for all we knew.
We found our garage, and through some bizarre combination of charades and speaking English very slowly and very loudly (which, as we all know is a highly successful means of communicating with non-English speakers) managed to get our car assessed and back on the road. The French mechanic stood there scratching his head and laughing softly at us as we drove off into the sunset.
Upon arriving at our resort, we had trouble getting up the hill and had to put on snow chains. Later in the holiday, when we had to take the car back down into the village, one of the snow chains snapped, cleanly severing our brake line. Our Volvo careened down the hill and landed in a 5 foot snow drift at the bottom. HH somehow managed to back out of the snowbank and turn around, but of course the windscreen was covered in snow and more was falling in large, wet drops. He turned on the wipers and they refused to move. He got out and unstuck them from the windscreen, an action that caused them to break completely.
Driving back up the hill without wipers, however, was impossible. HH, being at the time quite young and undeniably insane, came up with a solution: His cunning scheme involved tying one of his boot laces to each wiper, rolling down both front windows and alternately pulling the lace from each side to operate the wipers. Getting the rhythm just right was a challenge when we were laughing like loons, but for all its madness, HH’s cunning plan worked!
As usual, Chaos reigned.
The next day we were all piling into our friends’ car to drive the kids down to ski school (our car had been towed away). HH, being a kind and generous chap, decided to clear the windscreen as a favour to our friends. I seem to recall saying something to the effect of, “Be careful with that wiper – I think it is frozen to the screen since it’s been raining…”
Well, naturally HH rolled his eyes at me (because I’m such a nag!), and proceeded to snap the wiper clean off its bracket. Oh, his face – standing there with the wiper blade in hand… I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Thanks to the generosity of my beloved HH and the nonstop rain, our friends then had to operate their wipers with a tea towel wrapped around the now vacant post to prevent scratching their windscreen. Their one operable blade, thankfully, was on the driver’s side.
The rain continued to fall, followed by a sleety hail, followed by a grainy ice powder. Nothing coming from the sky in France for the reaminder of that holiday could have been described as snow. So, naturally, since it was our first year skiing, the kids and I had the pleasure of learning on an ice glaze and slush in rented skis. HH, being a Colorado native, was off with the big boys while I languished on the bunny slope… I cannot begin to tell you how many bruises I had that year. Both knees boasted deep purple bruises both inside and outside, and both hips were black as coal from falling on the ice.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, we decided that we loved ski holidays. Crazy, right? Most people would have given up, but not the Augustines. Us and our resident Chaos did manage to have a wonderful time in spite of ourselves, and though I was a pretty slow starter at learning to ski, I got there in the end. Our car was eventually returned to us complete with repaired brakes, we paid for a new wiper blade for our friends’ car, and on the way back home I bought my first pair of skis and boots, an investment that meant I HAD to return to the slopes the next year, which we did.
Chaos was still in residence the next year, when we were off to Sauze D’Oulz, Italy…
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