My aunt and uncle lived up the hill from Martins Ferry, Ohio, high above the river. My uncle ran a used car lot — Snezek’s — and so it was understood that they had a little bit of money and a bigger house than the rest of the family in the Valley.
We would drive there every year at Christmas; first the two and a half hours to Martins Ferry, a pit-stop at my grandmother’s, and then a drive up the woods that covered the winding upper roads like a dark cloud. These were family gatherings before distractions, before everyone carried their lives with them in their pocket, so you had to prepare.
I always brought a few books or some Christmas presents to play with. One year I brought my entire Dungeons & Dragons set in an effort to learn how to play — even though I had no one to play with.
We’d shiver in the backseat as we wound up the hill. House windows faced us, candles aglow. White glowing reindeer and sleighs peeked between pines. At the house we’d coast into the driveway and hop out into the crystalline cold. A few steps more and we would be warm.