Truckee, CA – Executing a 360-degree spinout in a snowstorm while entering Highway 80 seemed effortless with Rachel behind the wheel—like a trained ballerina twirling a pirouette—only we were doing it in four-wheel drive with snow chains on the front tires. My heart went into my throat. Rachel—fresh from celebrating her 40th birthday—quickly got us back on the road. “Okay, that was the first time I ever did a complete spinout,” she said. “Glad that’s over.” She pointed the white Acura SUV due west toward Sacramento. Like the Donner Party who made this crossing in the winter of 1846-47, on this same exact pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains, we were trying to make our way home. Pioneers! O Pioneers!
This was our second attempt at getting off the Sierra. The snowstorm came in earlier than expected the day before and Caltrans closed the highway, ending any wide-eyed hopes of watching 60 Minutes from the comfort of our own homes. The dream of a St. Bernard dog with a barrel of brandy around his neck coming to our Alpine rescue was just that—a fantasy, much like watching Carrie Bradshaw trying to marry Mr. Big in a lavish wedding in Sex and the City on the tiny television in Rachel’s car. Beth, the doe-eyed beauty of the group called a friend of a friend, of a friend, who owned a second home in Truckee and our base camp for the night was secured—we were ready to hunker down for the evening.
There are times in life when the kindness of newfound friends is so profound that the opportunity for repayment is not possible, and so it was with our hosts: Tanya and her mother and father in-law, Nonni and Nonna, affectionately known as the Italians. Their generosity embodied the biblical “water into wine, two fish into a feast” story. We drank ample bottles of Nonni’s homemade red wine. We watched in amazement as Nonna’s pasta dish grew from an original serving of five, to fill the bellies of ten. It was a glorious rigatoni concoction of spicy tomato sauce, diced chicken, and mozzarella cheese. A spinach and romaine lettuce salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing filled in the gaps along with two pizzas: one cheese, the other a meat and veggie combo. Where this freshly delivered pizza came from remained a mystery. File it under the “Marriage of Cana” miracle. For desert, we dined on Nonna’s pie made with homegrown apples from their Napa Valley trees.
Nonni told us stories of his hometown near Naples, Italy; and learned about the family restaurant that they owned for 40 years in Napa; and watched as their three grandchildren, all under the age of seven, showered them with affection by tearing up pieces of tissue paper and sprinkling their heads with it. Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.
In the morning, two feet of snow covered our cars and the driveway. The world looked like a freshly shaken snow globe. Highway 80, the main artery to our deliverance from this snow covered paradise was finally open and we were ready for adventure. Our hands and feet were frozen from shoveling snow and putting on tire chains, but our hearts were warm from the memory of our unexpected evening of international camaraderie including a rousing game of Scrabble, tossing the grandkids on the coach and the gift of newfound friendships.