This blog is quite long, just to warn all of you. I just couldn’t justify leaving any of the parts out.
The story you are about it read is true (well, with a few modifications). None of the names have been changed to protect anybody.
San Francisco International Airport July, 1965
San Francisco, California
The moment I entered the portals of the San Francisco Airport for my first-ever flight, I knew I was in trouble both physically and mentally. I was buzzing with excitement but my nervous stomach was already beginning to complain. I got even more anxious when the check-in clerk took my suitcase, weighed it, tagged it and sent it adrift down a slow black conveyer belt to Never-Never Land, and for all I knew never-never to be seen again (didn’t know how true this really was). My family and I began our walk across the miles of slick terminal floors to seek out our gate number. After check-in we entering into a long dark connecting tube that to me, smelled of dirty feet and motor oil. This tube reminded me of the crinkly plastic hose that attached the poofy bonnet to the base unit of Mom’s pink portable hair dryer. Only bigger. Lots of folks were mulling around, wiping tears, hugging, saying good-byes to their loved ones and heading into the pungent tube.
Once inside, a chat-chatty Stewardess with a fake smile was using hand and arm gestures to guide passengers inside that reminded me of the gals who demo the winning prizes on The Price Is Right. Her heavy make-up and over-powering perfume told me that she was probably a hooker in disguise working a second job just to try to make ends meet. More noise from the stomach department as my brain raced trying to figuring out how to back myself out of the mouth of this monster. I was tempted to turn around and run down that giant hair-dryer hose hallway as fast as my brand new shoes could carry me. Maybe I should have tried. Unfortunately, it was too late by then and my whole family got sucked into the innards of that plane. “Tickets, tickets please…”
This trip to Atlanta, Georgia was to visit my Daddy’s family so that they could meet my sister and I for the first time. I found out many years later that Daddy told Mom prior to our flight, that he thought that she and I should go on one plane he and Sissy should fly on a different plane. His thought being that in case either plane crashed, at least two of us would still be alive. I guess it made sense in a protective parent/survival kind of way. If I had known he didn’t trust our Delta pilot any more than I did, I would have faked a high fever (heating pad on my forehead on HIGH works every time) and stayed at my Aunt and Uncle’s house in the country. They always spoiled me rotten and fed me Auntie’s endless desserts that she baked, potato chips and Coca-cola; forbidden items in our house. I glanced over and Daddy was twitching and chewing (details about this coming up as this story progresses). At least he had stopped wringing his hands cause now they were gripping the armrests, turning his freckled knuckles white. Shit.
This plane flight was a big deal in our family, so Mom had us dress up like we were going to church. Fancy new dresses, shoes, hats and purses; Daddy miserable in his best suit and tie. When my motion-sickness kicked in, all I could think about was that I was not about to puke on my Sunday best. Maybe if I turned my head, it would land in my sister’s lap. Now that, I might enjoy. It was always hard for me being the much younger ugly-duckling sister of someone who once entered a REAL beauty pageant and besides, my sister always blabbed to people about me sucking my thumb, still, at the age of twelve (well, only in my sleep but she always forgot to tell them that part). Revenge comes in many forms.
I didn’t like the fact that as soon as we squeezed down the narrow aisle way and found our seats, a bell chime sounded and a sign flashed, informing us to sit down and buckle up. Once my motion sickness kicked in, every time I heard that chime from then on, my mouth would begin to water, just like Pavlov’s dogs. I soon discovered the airplane seats all shared a mutual arm rest and I would be subject to touching elbows with a complete stranger. I hoped they didn’t mind that later on they might be sharing an armrest with a talkative twelve year old who might smell a bit like barf or poop, depending on how things progressed. Never known for being able to sit still, I couldn’t imagine staying in that cramped little seat for the next five hours. Whenever I was really at a loss, I would always try praying. “God, please don’t do this to me, I swear, OK, I don’t swear, but I PROMISE that I won’t miss confession or ever sin again if you’ll just get me off of this fucking plane”. Of course, the F word was not in my vocabulary until much later in life but it’s the best word that describes my fears right at that moment. Besides that, God doesn’t appreciate the F word and he will probably move my name onto the Going To Hell list after this whole story anyway.
Many people experience jangled nerves just before their plane begins it’s 500-mile-an-hour-G-Force-that-splays-your-whole-face-back-into-your-hairline kind of acceleration during the take-off process. I had butterflies in my stomach while we sat waiting on the tarmac which seems like an eternity. My heart began to race when all the creaking and popping sounds started inside the cabin as we rolled slowly down the runway picking up speed. The vibrations of the engines nearly shook all of the fillings out of my teeth. When I looked around everyone and everything in that cabin was jiggling like a giant bowl of Cherry Jello. I felt dull pain shoot through both of my ears from the intense pressure (cabin pressure sucked in the 1960’s) and everyone around me suddenly sounded like they were talking through two tin cans and a piece of string. My Dad kept offering me a piece of his gum to “pop my ears” but I was too preoccupied worrying about my rumbling gut, the rumbling plane and my fillings falling out. My damn ears were the least of my worries.
I looked around and all the other passengers were calm and collected, as if they were all heavily sedated. I was really feeling frightened at this point so I reached over for Mom’s comforting hand. I saw her rosary beads in a death grip in her hand hidden under a blanket on her lap. I realized that her lips were moving with no sound coming out. Oh, Dear God, she’s praying the rosary and we’re all gonna die. Now I really panicked. Right when I imagined the whole plane exploding into a million pieces, I felt this eerie lifting sensation happening which then morphed into a downward sinking sensation in the middle of my belly at the same time, as we literally lifted off solid ground. I remember pulling my breath in a little, right as it happened cause it was such a creepy feeling. Is this the same kind of sensation that people get when they die? Some people might relish this feeling, but apparently, I’m not one of them, “Lower this monstrous thing back down on the ground and let me get off!”, my mind raced, “OK, now I’m getting angry… somebody PLEASE open that stupid hole in the side of the plane and JUST LET ME OUT. Mom’s rosary’s were out of sight again but I saw her mouthing the words. “Hail Mary, full of grace…”, I truly believed that I was about to meet my Maker at the ripe old age of twelve.
From the moment of lift-off, my motion sickness went onto auto-pilot. If I thought I got it bad when I was in the car, it was ten times worse in a plane. When we hit that first air pocket, within the first few of seconds of the flight, I felt like the top half of my body was being pulled up to Heaven and the lower half was heading to Hell with rapid speed. Like that feeling you get just as a roller coaster climbs slowly, slowly (clicking mechanical sounds that we all dread) and then wait…wait… and it makes that takes-your-breath-away death drop at fifty miles per hour. That tickle-like-open-stomach-valve-kind of feeling, you know the one. Tickles and hurts at the same time. Kind of like laughing and crying at the same time, something else that I experienced at times throughout this trip. “What was THAT?”, my voice chirped, high and shrill. No answer. Everyone looked at me like I was a lunatic. It then dawned on me that this sensation was an air pocket felt like. Worst sensation I’ve ever felt in my entire life. How many of those happen when your flying? Why won’t anyone answer me?
The distraction from all of this drama was that the cool and calm stewardesses were already coming up and down the aisles with their squeaky little carts, offering passengers food and drinks. I couldn’t get to the john or leave my seat to run, even if I wanted to. When the cart stopped next our seats, my folks thought that some 7-Up might settle my stomach. Wrong. The canned 7-Up was hot and too carbonated and the dry heaves began immediately. The pretty blonde stewardess suggested that I try eating some scrambled eggs. I figured it was worth a try, despite my stomach turning every time I smelled anyone else’s food around me. Scrambled eggs? Lady, are you insane? I’m about to throw up on your expensive high-heeled stewardess pumps and you want me to eat eggs? I think I took about two bites and sunk back down into my seat. The eggs were watery anyway and they failed to stop the dry heaves which I had during the entire rest of the flight. I spent the next five hours spitting saliva into Kleenex and making them into little saliva-soaked balls. So much for having something handy if you needed a tissue. To this day, I still get waves of nausea whenever I have warm 7-Up or watery scrambled eggs. I shudder just writing about it.
I stopped counting the number of air pockets at about two hundred. Flying over the southern most United States usually guarantees some sort of amazing turbulence or multiple thunderstorms. Over the next five hours, I asked myself, how could I have prevented this from even happening? We could have driven to Georgia. Takes a lot longer that’s for sure but I’ll take car sickness over air sickness any day. At least I can get out of the car and throw up in the street or somewhere along the highway but at least I’m still attached to the Earth. Here in the airplane, my only options for becoming sick to my stomach are the little paper bag that tells you the proper way to barf on a plane that Mom handed me, Sissy’s lap or making a bee-line to the bathrooms at the tail of the plane (which were usually “OCCUPIED”). Nothing like thinking about how or where to barf for the next five hours to create those special memories to write about in My Notebook.
Always curious and questioning, I wondered how something so incredibly heavy was able to defy gravity (never worked when I use to try and fly off the front porch while flapping my arms) and force it’s way up into the friendly skies, flying at 30,000 feet with all these passengers strapped into it’s belly trying our damnedest to eat and drink while it fought against the elements to move us from the western US to the southern US as quickly as possible? I pondered this question when I was interrupted by a notification from my stomach, eyes and inner ears that they were about to send me some very important information. They apparently were getting very impatient about this unstable environment and were planning on doing something about it fairly quickly. Lucky me.
I was told years ago that the reason people gets motion sickness, is that our brains gets mixed signals from the eyes and ears and their messages get scrambled (ugh, should have used a different word) when there are lots of physical imbalances going on (like while flying, duh). This creates lots of conflicting information to the brain so that when the brain DOES try to interpret what’s happening, he’s then not real clear in his message to the stomach, who in turn says “Hey, somethings not jiving with the guys upstairs in the balance department” so he creates an upset, literally. When Mr. Stomach doesn’t get the right message he responds with queasy (the word is “quick” and “easy” combined, as in loss your cookies ASAP) and motion sickness conveniently rears it’s ugly head. It’s like when you try riding The Octopus at the County Fair for the first time and within seconds your realize that your corn dog, cotton candy, salt water taffy and three slices of pepperoni pizza that you just ate are probably not going to be getting off the ride at the same exact time that you do. I am an expert on this subject as I have had severe motion sickness my entire life and believe me, it’s not nearly as fun as riding the Octopus. When riding the Octopus, you get a feeling that you’re going to die and/or lose your cookies in between all of your screaming. Kind of the feeling I was having right now on this stupid airplane.
My Mom, proud as a peacock with her whole family dressed for church smiled contently throughout most of the flight. My seventeen year old Sister, looking quite sexy, had dressed like she was planning on having sex on the plane with someone who she would bump into on her way to the bathroom (guess she refused to wear her Sunday best like Mom suggested) and my Dad? I should have known there was a problem when I had first spotted the giveaway clues back in the terminal which were his hyper gum chewing, his twitchy left eye and the twitchy left corner of his mouth both going a hundred miles per hour. He always subconsciously had these tics over the years and they would happen whenever he was really wound up or really pissed off. Before we got on the plane, he had also been pacing around like a caged animal and wringing his hands which he did when he was really antsy or nervous. There was something about this whole process that was not sitting right with him. If my Dad was pacing, twitching and wringing his hands, then I should be shitting bricks (I nearly did later, literally). I think it was right about this time that my bowels seriously began to really cramp up and I knew that in the near future, I was about to experience an untimely sooner-than-later case of nervous diarrhea. Wait, are there only bathrooms at the rear of this thing? Oh yeah, forgot about my sister wanting to live our her fantasy of being a member of the Mile High Club so I know there’s gotta be a really private toilet in here somewhere. If I can just find it. If not, maybe I can use that little paper bag my Mom gave me earlier.
I think Daddy’s anxiety was partly about seeing family that he had not seen in nearly 23 years, and partly his own fear of flying. He had made the decision during World War II to marry a beautiful twelve year younger Portuguese California girl that he met while stationed in the bay area. After the war, he stayed and living the rest of his life away from his loved ones in Georgia, to keep Mom happy and near to her very large and close-knit family. I think he was worried that he would be judged by his own family members for never coming home once the war ended. Never saw my Daddy sweat before, but believe me, the day of that flight he was sweating bullets. Unbeknownst to us, this would be his final trip to Georgia. We could never imagine that five years later we would lose him to cancer. I truly believe that somewhere deep inside of him, he felt he might not live a long time. It was at his insistence that we all make this trip that year. Maybe he had already not been feeling well, I don’t know cause he wasn’t one to complain. After smoking from the age of eleven until his early fifties when he quit cold turkey (took up chewing gum instead), I’m sure those unfiltered cigarettes had already done their damage. As a trucker, at one point, he smoked up to three packs a day. Only vice he ever had and it killed him. He was sixty years old when he passed and it has been forty-three years since he’s been gone. Hard to believe.
Life can be filled with contradictions. My Dad could be a stern disciplinarian at times (can you say the word “leather belt”?) but I always knew he loved me and he was very protective of his “two girls”, as he called my Sister and I. He loved and spoiled my Mom for nearly twenty-seven years of marriage until the day he died. He loved to tease Sissy and I (but in a fun way), swelled with pride when I would play the keyboard for people, loved and accepted people of every color (most unusual for someone raised in the old south), worked hard his whole life, was a good provider and more than anything, he was a great story-teller. Interestingly, I only remember my parents having one argument in their whole married lives and it was over a bunch of dust that Daddy found under the sofa, and he proceeded to chew Mom out about it when we got home from Church. He had the green sofa pulled out into the middle of our living room, a broom in his hand, trying to sweep. Mom ran out and down the back stairs crying, with me on her heels. We jumped in the car, I asked, “Where are we going?”, she cried, “I don’t know!!!” so we turned down a side street and parked there while she sat and sniveled in a tissue. My Mom was not a crier so I was pretty scared. After fifteen minutes, she regained her composure and we drove around the block back into our driveway. Once we got upstairs, she locked herself in the bathroom, sobbing loudly, while Daddy was pounding on the bathroom door, apologizing, telling her to unlock it. When I came down the hallway during this drama, he yelled at me to “go outside and play”, (granted I was about 13 at the time) which really confused me so I went outside and wandered around the back yard. It got quite quickly, so I guess they kissed and made up. That was it. I never knew or heard them argue again in my whole life. Go figure. Thank you, Daddy, for passing on the ability to be a story-teller to me. I’m doing my best with this story but motion sickness and screaming diarrhea are getting in the way and making it pretty difficult. And thanks for only yelling at Mom one time in twenty-seven years of marriage, about crappy dust that she missed picking up with her Hoover vacuum. Guess you were just having a really bad day.
My Mom always talked about becoming a Stewardess, so this flight for her, was a dream come true. She had the looks, the height and weight requirement to become a stewardess but in those days, they had strict standards about who could and couldn’t serve you food and drinks while balancing themselves down a bouncing skinny aisle way up in the sky. They could also specify how much that person should weigh and how tall they should be, so they wouldn’t overload the plane, I guess. They also wouldn’t hire you if you were married. How sexist it that? Her even-temperament and the “let-me-help-you” personality were ideal but she was already happily married and never finished high school so the airline companies wouldn’t even consider her and her dream faded away. I always believed that her life as a stewardess would have enriched her time here on Earth and made her more worldly (no pun intended). Just my gut feeling. Speaking of my gut…
I have always gotten car-sick my entire life. Straight highways and freeways were my best friends while riding in a car but once we hit any loopy hills or hairpin turns, my ears and eyes would tell my gut to get ready to unload its cargo and jump ship. It only took a couple of turns and I would be in the backseat of our turquoise 1957 Chevy turning green. For some reason, my Daddy would always get mad at me whenever I got car sick. I think he figured I was just imagining it, so Mom would patiently move me up front (no seat belts then, remember?) and we would roll all the windows down, I would take some deep breaths and yes, that would help me feel somewhat better. Even though my mouth would still water like crazy, at least I was in my Mom’s lap and that helped a whole bunch. But by twelve years old, I figured that just because I got car sick, didn’t necessarily mean I would get air sick. Silly me, I should have checked with my ears, eyes and stomach before making that assumption. I should NEVER have gotten on that plane.
Gosh, in all of this excitement, I nearly forgot about The Notebook. No, not the movie. My real genuine spiral-bound very own lined notebook which Mom purchased for me to take on the flight. She felt that if I could write about what I was seeing out the window while we flew, then I would have a record of the trip which I could look back on with fond memories and she also kept telling me I should try to sleep. Sorry Mom, no writing or sleeping for this Equilibrium Princess. But when you are motion sensitive, writing in a book or trying to sleep are probably only only two steps below trying to drinking warm 7-Up and eating scrambled eggs on a plane. To this day, when I read what I wrote in that little note book, which was only about 5-6 sentences cause I was too sick to move the pencil much, I wonder what in the hell my Mother was thinking. Because she loved to fly, never suffered with motion-sickness in her life, she had no idea that The Notebook would contribute to my suffering. And suffer I did. Although I never actually got those eggs and that 7-Up back up and out of my mouth, I nonetheless stayed nauseated and had watering saliva glands during that entire a flight. And as a special bonus, the 7-Up and eggs decided to head down and exit my body the easiest way they knew how. Within a matter of hours, they began their descent (like the plane would be doing eventually), I just didn’t want this to happen at 30,000 feet in the air.
When the “unfasten your seat belts” sign lit up, I made a dash to one of the tiny rear bathrooms. These little johns were always busy cause this plane was a 747 and it was packed. Mom asked if she should come with me, “No, it’s OK Mom”, I whispered through my watering mouth, “I can handle this by myself”. My claustrophobia about the narrow aisle I was hurrying down would have to take a back seat to my need to use that toilet. I had been waiting forever for the damn carts to be out of the aisles and this was my chance. Once inside with the latch in place, right in the middle of the most important part of my anal explosion, the little neon sign right in front of me lit up, two inches in front of my face flashing the message, “PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR SEAT”. I tried not to panic and ignored the sign but the plane began to lurch and dip, up and down, side to side, rumble, shake, a few air pockets thrown in just for good measure, all the while as I was trying to wipe my ass and not get shit on anything else but those little squares of white paper. Again and again the sign flashed, “PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR SEAT” and this time I hear a muffled announcement from the Pilot telling everyone to fasten their seat belts, that it’s roller coaster time (well, he actually said we were going to be hitting a bit of turbulence, same difference). Now, I’m right in the middle of taking the most urgent dump that I’ve ever needed to take in my entire life and I’m being told to go back to my seat. I’m literally holding the paper squares in one hand, hanging onto the edge of the toilet seat with my other hand so that I wouldn’t slide sideways off the damn commode. The saddest part was that I could see my reflection in the giant mirror mounted right in front of my face. Not a pretty sight. Seeing that mirror flashed the thought that I might just be in an episode of Candid Camera, looking right into the lens and I was going to probably be harassed by friends and family about this the rest of my life. My CC fantasy was interrupted by the stewardess who was knocking rapidly on my door, telling me to get up and get out. I felt reluctantly obliged to end this very important bowel movement mid-way, do my paperwork and quickly head back up to my seat. At least she let me wash my hands. I had to buckle my seat belt right away as well which was the ultimate act of denying me any further attempts to relieve my bodily functions, not as long as that bathroom neon warning sign was still flashing. It’s said that people’s bowels stop working if they become extremely frightened or become exceptionally stressed out. I don’t think I pooped again for around four days.
I do remember my Mother attempting to find a way to ease my nausea agony for nearly the entire flight. She discovered that if we kept the little cool-air device above my head blowing right down on my face, I seemed to feel better. Just a side note, what were the aviation engineers thinking, installing those air blowers a mile above a person’s head? We breath through our nostrils which are on the front of our face, not on the top of our heads. They should have installed them on the back of the seat in front of us instead of putting in those useless drop-down trays. The last thing I wanting do was to tip my head back so I could breath that nice cool air right in my face cause then the room would spin out of control but the cool air really did help. To this day, I always like to have air blowing on my face, sometimes during the day but always all night long when I sleep, no matter if it’s 10 degrees outside or 101 degrees. I have this huge fan that blows in my face because I like the noise and I just sleep better with it on. In fact, I can’t sleep without it on. I bet some therapist would have a field day with this one.
Daddy stayed restless in that tiny seat for the entire flight and loosening his tie and wiggled around and cleared his throat. Another nervous habit he had my whole life. The entire five hours, Mom was comforting me the best way she could. I think she felt guilty not being able to ease my pain and discomfort. This was typical of her Mom skills. Like I told you, she would have made a terrific stewardess cause she always loved to help others, especially sick people. She was even a volunteer nurses aid at the hospital during the war. She was that way then, and she was that way with me until the day she passed at age 84 in 2005. It’s not surprising that the hole she left in my heart when she died is as big as that hole in the side of that silly plane. Opp, there’s Sissy coming back from the rear restroom. Why is her face all flushed and she looks like her dress is on backwards? Guess she’s having a nervous stomach too…
My Daddy did have trouble with his inner ears when we had first taken off, and again as we began our descent. He never talked about it until later but I heard him telling my Mom right after we landed that he was really in a lot of pain. It seemed from that point on in his life, he continued to have problems with his sensitive ears and I don’t ever remember him flying again. I, on the other hand, hated that floaty feeling that keep making me feel like I was sliding into the person seated next to me as we began the descent; turning and dropping, tipping, turning and dropping (hang on stomach we’re almost there) until when I looked out the window I could make out tiny cars and miniature people scrambling like ants as the ground grew closer beneath us. When our southern pilot opened the mike to tell us the temperature in Georgia was a humid 90 degrees, I knew I would be on solid ground soon. I was already attempting to unbuckle my seat belt and get the Hell out of there.
When we roughly touched down, I was in the middle of saying a little Thank You prayer to God, when our necks were nearly snapped off as the Pilot hit both of the huge brakes on the plane and we stopped quite suddenly. My face felt like a boucing rubber ball after that but I didn’t care, at least we were all on the ground and in one piece. Everyone on the plane jumped up when the Buckle Your Seat Belt sign went OFF, like they had just announced a blue-light special sale at K-Mart. Passenger began shaking hands, hugging, exchanging phone numbers with strangers who had become their best buds during the five hour ordeal. It’s funny what the fear of flying will alter your brain to say and do when you are scared out of your wits. As we exited the plane and pushed our way out into the Atlanta terminal, my Father spotted his older brother, my Uncle Mac and his wife Aunt Carrie waving their arms at us. We made our acquaintance, hugged and laughed and they scooped us all up and drove us out to their little house in the country about an hour away.
Over the next few weeks I would learn much about them. Uncle Mac had been a distant and emotionally unavailable Daddy to all of their six children. Unlike my Daddy who glowed with pride at all Sissy and I did, my cousins shared how their Dad had been a distant, drunk and hands-off Father. Aunt Carrie was easy-going but spoke so rapidly that I could hardly understand her with her southern-drawl and her funny way of pulling in her breath and making little vocal sounds in her throat between each sentence she spoke. It was not annoying but endearing and I can still hear her vocal pattern in my head as I write this. She had a heart of gold, was a wonderful Mom and cooked southern food to die for. Uncle Mac was quite the character; chewed snuff every day and when he wasn’t chewing he was smoking, drank through out the rest of the day and night, told me funny family stories (yes, he had the gift of story-telling as well) and could recall crazy nick-names for every relative that existed in the entire family. Uncle Mac and Aunt Carrie sadly lost a 21 year old son Robert, to the Viet-Nam war, lost their eldest son Fred, much later, in a terrible auto accident; never had much but a pot to pee in but they seemed to still enjoy each others company and I loved them from the moment I spotted them waving wildly at us all as we came off that god-awful plane. Southern folks are friendly people by nature and they were no exception. As they drove us around and gave us a tour of Atlanta, I kept asking Daddy why strangers kept waving and saying “Hey.” “That’s just the way Folks are here, Dawnie.” It was a whole different world from our lives back in California and I loved how these people loved me, even if they were strangers.
Uncle Mac was an older, grayer, more-wrinkled version of my Dad, much gruffer and rougher around the edges and mean when he was drunk, but he also shined with a wicked sense of humor and a memory like an elephant. I was really glad my Daddy had quit smoking when I was seven. He quit cold-turkey and started chewing gum instead. Unlike my Daddy, Uncle Mac was quite the drinker and gambler in his youth. As a result my Father wouldn’t partake in any card games and hardly ever drank. He wouldn’t even consider playing a friendly game of Canasta with Mom and I over the years, even if we begged him. Mom told me this was from watching his drinker/gambler brother indulge in his vices years before. Daddy never talked much about he and Uncle Mac’s younger days, growing up poor to a stern-looking Farmer Dad and his frail-looking wife, their Mama. I do know that my Daddy took care of his Mama after his Daddy passed and she was bed-ridden for many years. By the time I set foot on Georgia’s deep red soil, my paternal Grandparents had already been dead for over 30 years. The closest I came to knowing them was when I stood at their worn headstones in 100 degree heat, in the old Georgia cemetery where they are laid.
As the days of our visit passed, I became my usual chatter-box self. “Daddy, can I stay here in Georgia so that I don’t have to ride in an airplane again?” “How come when we get up at night to use their bathroom, all the cockroaches scramble out of the way when we shine our flashlight on them?” “How come the bugs outside light up at night?” “How come the lightening strikes right on the ground next to Uncle’s house and the grass sizzles and smokes and the sound is so deafening I can’t hear or see right afterwards?” (nothing like that in California, that’s for sure) “How come this well water tastes so good?” “How come I feel like I’m in a sauna when I walk outside?” “Why does Uncle Mac keep that tin can filled with brown spit along side his recliner chair, Daddy?” “How come Cousin H.M. eats three cucumber and mayonnaise sandwiches every day for lunch, Dad?” “When Cousin Harry took us to the “swimming hole”, how come there was a live frog next to me when I came up for air and the next time I came up there was a live human turd floating by my head, Daddy?” “How come Uncle Mac slurs his words when he drinks all those beers, Dad?” “Why didn’t you bring me here before?” “Can we go to that cemetery again and see where your Mama and Daddy are buried again?” I always loved to see my Daddy smile, and this day, he was smiling from ear to ear.
I flew to Georgia two additional times, once in 1970 with Mom, just after Daddy passed away and again in 1983, when I approached my Mom and told her that I woke up one day and felt a sense an urgency to return to Georgia again but unsure why and would she go with me? Never one to shy away from boarding another plane, she happily joined me. Uncle Mac was now in his ’80’s but his mind was still as sharp as a tack. Aunt Carrie still cooked like crazy but now they lived in a mobile home surrounded by feral kittens and a lake right out front where Uncle could fish for Catfish every day. I sat with my notepad and he on his rocking chair as I asked him family history for hours on end, he recalled all the unusual nick-names (something our family was famous for), all the cousins and their families names, all their children’s names, he never missed a beat. And me? I got smart and took Dramamine for this trip.
Mom and I stayed about a month with he and Aunt Carrie, she cooked us okra (when boiled, it slimes down your throat like boogers), chicken and home-made biscuits. The day we left, Uncle Mac insisted that we board the plane with two huge bags with handles, filled with his home-grown tomatoes, okra, zucchini and corn that were all from his enormous garden which he maintained completely by himself. He would wander around in that ungodly heat in his Pith helmet, cut off shorts and no shirt, talking away, up and down the aisles of all those vegetables and fruit for hours on end proudly showing me every ear of corn, every string bean, every nook and cranny of his massive labyrinth. By this visit, cousins had grown up and had children of their own and we rejoiced in meeting them all and watching this family grow since we had last been there in 1970. Mom and I said weepy good-byes and less than six months later Uncle Mac was dead. I was grateful for the intuition I felt that had drawn me there again to be with him and Auntie, collecting important family history that Daddy could no longer pass on to me. I loved hearing Uncle Mac’s voice once again and watching his mannerisms, so much like Daddy’s whom we had lost 13 years before. Oh how I wish he could have returned with us to where he grew up. I think in my heart I knew it was him who sent me the message to have Mom and I return to Georgia again, before the last of his siblings passed away and took all of those wonderful funny names and wild stories with him. Aunt Carrie passed many years later, and I stayed in touch with her over the years.
I was forced to fly again in 1985 for my job at the time, but never since then. Not surprisingly, I still hate the idea of flying and if I am ever forced to fly again (which I don’t plan on doing, at least in this lifetime) I will take my pills for motion sickness and I will still ask my two pertinent questions: “Where are your air-sick bags and does this plane have more than four restrooms?” Thanks anyway, I think I’ll just keep things simple and stay on the ground.
Oh, and one last thing. The motion sickness? It took my eye doctor recently asking me, after he had run some tests on my eyes. “Do you get car sick, air sick and/or sea sick easily?” “How did you know?”, I asked in surprise. “Well, you failed every eye test I gave you for being able to line things up vertically which is what has caused your motion sickness all these years, but we can fix that within the prescription of your glasses, if you like.” God, where were you about 45 years ago? We tried. Those lenses made me feel like I was on a boat, or a plane or in a car. So my glasses are just regular lenses and I still get motion sickness like when I was twelve. Guess my ears, eyes and stomach never got the message about fixing the problem via the prescription lens so they still do their job and make me as nauseous as they can. I suppose I’ll deal with this all the rest of my days. If that’s the worst thing I have to deal with at age sixty, I’m happy.
As my southern family would say, “Take care, Y’all…”