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The nightmare after Christmas

Stomach virus? Check.

Too many presents? Check.

Painful injury? Check.

More stomach virus? Check.

Yellow jacket stings? Check.

Best gas station in America? Check.

And yet again more stomach virus? Check.

The annual Christmas visit to the in-laws in Texas had all the ingredients of a typical Horton holiday. We headed west a few days after Christmas to join my wife’s family for a time of love, gift-giving and much vomiting.

The day before we departed, the oldest daughter emptied her stomach repeatedly. She ran fever. She was miserable. And being the good parents we are, we stuck her in a crowded vehicle and drove seven hours with her. It was not fun — for her or us.

There were tears, nausea, more tears, more nausea. You get the idea. But we finally arrived at our destination and thought the worst was behind us. We were sorely mistaken.

Not two hours after arriving at the in-laws, our oldest son bounced upstairs to unpack in his room. He was met by yellow jackets that had apparently called the warm, empty room home for the winter. He screamed. It was not fun. But we pressed on with the holiday festivities.

Just before dinner that night, our youngest child pulled at a stocking that was hung from the mantle with little care, and down came the heavy, metal stocking holder.

She heard a noise above her and looked up just in time for the holder to hit her a few millimeters below her eye. Her cheek split open like a prize fighter’s who just took a jab to the face. There was blood, talk of stitches and tears. It was not fun.

Again, we thought the worst was behind us. We were wrong again.

On Day 3, after the present-opening and merry-making, the son who had been stung by the yellow jackets began feeling sick. A couple hours later, the vomit came. Then the fever. Then the nausea. Then the aches. It was not merry.

Yet we persisted and tried to make the most of our holiday vacation. Surely, it couldn’t get worse.

On Day 5 we headed back home to Brookhaven, but not before another child was hit with a stomach ache. He puked in the car (thankfully we had a plastic bag), but then appeared to recover quickly. We thought maybe he’s fine, maybe it’s not the exact same stomach virus his siblings had, maybe we can salvage this trip yet. We thought: What we need is a trip to Buc-ee’s.

If you are unfamiliar with the Texas gas station shopping mecca called Buc-ee’s, you are missing out on a unique experience unrivaled by any convenience store anywhere. At 60,000 square feet and 96 gas pumps, it’s overwhelming just from its sheer size. Inside, a shopping experience awaits that’s hard to find elsewhere. It’s like a Walmart combined with a barbecue joint combined with a sporting goods store combined with Joanna Gaines combined with a farmers market.

There is authentic Texas barbecue, smoked daily and served hot. There is homemade fudge, a sandwich shop, a row of Slushie machines (with Dr. Pepper flavored drinks), canned pickles, salsa and just about anything else you could ever want. There were deer feeders, fishing poles, Houston Texans gear, cowhide rugs, cast iron cookware, aisles of candy, beef jerky, and more Texas-themed clothing and farmhouse decor than I’ve seen in one place.

We spent an hour shopping. Inside a gas station. It was the highlight of our miserable trip. But sadly, our misery was not over.

Not long after pulling out from Buc-ee’s, the child we thought would be OK was not. The nausea hit. It was crawl-out-of-your skin, hope-to-die nausea. And he was trapped in a booster seat between sisters. He was as miserable as I’ve ever seen another human.

There was more vomit, a few minutes of relief from the nausea, then more nausea. The cycle repeated for the next six hours. No drugs we gave him helped, no words comforted him. If he could have, he would have chosen death at that moment.

We finally pulled into our Brookhaven driveway, he headed for the bed (where he spent the next 15 hours), and we tried to put this Christmas journey behind us. And when everyone was finally healthy again days later, the new presents were pulled from boxes, and the Christmas everyone wanted in Texas finally took hold back here in Brookhaven.

It will be a while before we all pile in the car again for seven hours — the memories of vomit are too fresh right now. But when we do, we will again head west with visions of presents, family, and of course Buc-ee’s, dancing in our heads.

Email publisher Luke Horton at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.