Audouin did lots of mental math to figure out if we could get the sofas into the Voyager. I didn't bother following him through the contortions (it was very complicated; I suggested drawings). One would fit, and we had the roof rack. That was good enough.
On Christmas eve, we loaded the Christmas presents, luggage, sleeping bags and pillows, three kids, two dogs, my husband and myself into the Voyager and set off for my inlaws' home 2 hours south of us, not far from Châteaudun, on the edge of the Beauce, France's Great Plains. We were sailing along uneventfully past the château d'Anet, de l'Ormes' hunting palace built by Henry II for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who rather cunningly happened to share the same name as the great goddess of the hunt, and had cleared the uphill climb to the straight-away through his hunting domain, perhaps having passed the lunch pavilion, which one must circumnavigate to continue tout droit, before Audouin started muttering, and then swearing.
"Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?" I asked, as he pulled over onto the shoulder of the road, upset that it was a lousy place to have to pull over, with cars approaching from behind. Not my main concern at that particular moment.
"Qu'est-ce qui se passe?"
"Ca chauffe. Le moteur chauffe depuis un moment. J'ai gardé un oeil dessus depuis avant la côte, mais ça chauffe." Vapeur, or smoke -- a more alarming possibility --, was streaming from under the hood. He got out of the car to go do what you do in such situations: open the hood and look at the radiator. His son had the not so brilliant impulse to follow him, which meant not one, but two Labrador Retrievers jumping from the door at the same time, into the dark night along a road cars travel at speeds upwards of 90 km per hour. His sister and my son lunged for the leashes.
Everyone, stay calm. Please regain your seats and remain calm.
I called my mother-in-law.
We sat and waited for the motor, and our heads, to cool.
"Ca va être difficile d'avoir un taxi le réveillon de Noël," I shared, "et pire encore, on n'est même pas 50 km de chez nous. Tu n'as pas changé l'assurance d'assistance sur ce véhicle quand tu as fait les autres, je pense." Our equivalent of AAA only kicks in once we are more than 50 km from home, but he changed that recently for the two cars we drive the most frequently, although this one is by far the least reliable. The last time it broke down, on the way to his parents' home (for Mother's Day, no less), we were 51 km from home.
We'd have pushed the damn thing a kilometer if we'd had to.
This time, by our calculations, we had about 17 km to push, right past Dreux. Not an option. Think fast. Stay cool. Audouin thought we might be able to make it back, in short hops, between the boiling points, if we sat and waited long enough each time it overheated. A light cold rain was falling in the winter night, a major plus.
"Il y a un McDo à l'entrée d'Anet. Tu penses qu'on peut y arriver et demander de l'eau?"
"Je ne sais pas s'il a été encore ouvert, mais ça vaudra le coup, et au moins on serait un peu plus près de la maison." As if being 8 km closer to the house, when we were still some 27 km away if we couldn't get any water would help. I was trying to be positive and encouraging. I do that when the situation is grave and calls for it. He nodded.
"On peut toujours essayer. On attendra que ça refroidisse, et puis on le tentera." We waited another 10 minutes, the kids settled down, playing DS or listening to their music. Baccarat, who had been upset and whimpering, had calmed, too. She must have smelled the hot metal and fone into high alert. It didn't help when his kids started imploring, "Non, Papa! Ne fait pas ça! Ne fait pas ça!" Dogs don't like anxiety in small, enclosed spaces.
"Ca doit être ce qu'on sentait à la Chaussée d'Ivry." La Chaussée d'Ivry had smelled very bad. We couldn't fathom why.
Now, it all made sense.
"J'ai senti quelque chose avant de quitter Mousseaux," added Sam. Why he didn't mention it is beyond me. Actually, he always says that Mousseaux stinks, so.
Let us just say that coasting as much as possible (the big uphill was a lot easier on an overheated engine heading back down), stopping once again in Anet for 15 minutes with the hood open under the December drizzle, and the great good fortune of the cleaning guys letting Audouin in and giving him a bucket of water, although one looked none too happy about breaking the rules to do that, and we made it home. Two and a half hours after we left it, we were unloading the car and carrying everything back inside. My stepson turned on the TV, and there, having only just started, was Ratatouille, right on cue.
Never was domum more dolce.
I called my mother-in-law, who could barely contain her disappointment, while I could barely contain my joy and relief, "Je suis désolée," I apologized, "j'ai de mal à vous communiquer la déception que je ressens quand je suis si soulagée d'avoir pu regagner chez nous au lieu d'être toujours au bord de la route, le réveillon de Noël."
I was nearly giddy with happiness, and she was nearly in tears, however, she could understand that my joy and relief trumped any disappointment I might have been feeling when we weren't still sitting on the side of the dark road, smoke pouring out from under the hood, the car loaded with everything precious, on Christmas eve.
However, this also meant that we wouldn't have the benefit of the minivan sans benches in and upon which to transport the two leather and wood sofas. The BMW was going to have to fit the bill, and make two trips.
And that, friends, is another story, for another day.
PS: The car doesn't have a big nose. It just looks that way.