Understanding the perils, real or imagined, faced by travelers

Originally Appeared in : 9801-1/4/18

“You guys can spend the night!” caused Magan’s phone to ping shortly after Thanksgiving. It was a note of excitement from my sister, whose family had just purchased a new home that included a finished basement where she hoped we could bunk during future visits to the metro-Atlanta area.


The plan was for us to visit the week of Christmas, but Magan had been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions when she rode for too long. With my sister’s house a solid three hours away, we had written off the overnight aspect and were considering an up-and-back trip that included crossed fingers and a few extra prayers.


That all changed the day after Christmas.


“You know part of me is saying we should bite the bullet and stay the night,” Magan said. “I know it would mean a lot to your sister.”


“What made you have a change of heart?” I asked.


“Well, the kids are never going to experience anything cooped up in our house...and watching Home Alone..’


“Home Alone?” I asked with raised eyebrows.


“Yeah,” Magan continued. “Just seeing how all of their families were together for Christmas. The kids need to know their cousins, and they’re not going to learn about the world cooped up in our house all the time.”


So, thanks to the fictional McCallisters of 671 Lincoln Ave., we reenacted their mad-scramble departure scene complete with a loaded passenger van, multiple countings of children and even a random uncle in tow (my brother, Josh), and we were on our way shortly after 10 a.m.


We traversed every Interstate and highway Georgia has to offer before arriving at a driveway that was only about twice as big as our van. Inside, we were met with hugs and immediate requests to give us a grand tour of the house, including our quarters for the night: a former movie room and a playroom enrobed in cushioned tiles in every imaginable color.


“We even bought a new air mattress for the boys,” my sister said.


Everyone was excited about our visit...everyone, that is, except for my sister’s two cats, Bonnie and Clyde.


This tabby-twosome is a mixed bag of hot and cold when it comes to strangers, with Clyde making himself right at home in anyone’s lap, and Bonnie peering from corners and sprinting under beds to avoid any possible socialization with the outside world.


For most of the rest of the day, we all felt, well, like somebody was watching. And it wasn’t the baby camera in the corner of the playroom. That paranoia grew as afternoon turned into evening, and the Aerobed finished inflating, with the occasional flash of gray, brown and black catching the corner of our eyes but never materializing into anything real.


It was starting to feel like a Buford retelling of “The Ghost and the Darkness,” except the only thing between us and the two cats in question were a pair of two-foot baby gates at the top and bottom of the basement staircase.


“What are we going to do about the cats?” Magan said, with Clyde’s nose and whiskers poking out from the kitchenette at the end of the hall.


“I don’t know,” I said. “They may jump on the boys’ bed tonight.”


“If a cat jumps on me, I’m going to scream,” Magan said, before she turned to the Pack n’ Play holding Eli and AnnaMarie. “You two, if a cat jumps on you, you scream.”


“No,” I said, trying to inject a little reason to counteract the rising fear creeping up in our camp. “Don’t scream.”


As expected, Magan’s Braxton Hicks had kicked in from the drive, and she decided to bed down with the boys on their inflatable mattress while Noah and I headed upstairs to be social before bedtime.


After about 20 minutes, though, my intuition beckoned me downstairs to check on things.


I came down the stairs to find Bonnie looking at me with disdain from the kitchenette, and Magan and the boys laughing and making a racket from the air mattress. Then Clyde came running my way.


“What’s the matter?” I asked.


“Oh my word,” Magan replied, “We’ve got to figure something out.”


“Why is Jesse holding his backpack in the bed?”


“He grabbed it and said, ‘I don’t want Clyde to spray my backpack.’ It was hilarious.”


The cats were staring at me from a distance. I could just feel it. 


And I didn’t want to wake up to find one or more of our party had been dragged from the Aerobed by either of the baby lions.


“Okay,” I said, thinking on my feet, “everyone in the playroom and shut the door.”


Once we had secured our crowd safely in the cushioned-tile elegance of the playroom and shut the door, everyone was able to go to sleep without incident...even if the cats were both waiting at the door every single time I opened it.


The trip was not the most convenient, or the most comfortable for our family but a necessary one that I’m glad Magan recommended we take.


While the danger of the house cats was imaginary, Joseph and his new family faced a very real danger when “the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt…” (Matthew 2:13).


The lesson in both instances is that sometimes travel is necessary to preserve our literal and spiritual families and, ultimately, our faith...and to never watch Home Alone with a pregnant woman unless you’re ready to visit distant relatives immediately.


Jason Halcombe has five sons and a daughter. He and his wife, Magan, are members of Immaculate Conception Church, Dublin.

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