Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Scariest Traveling Experience Ever

The little bit of turbulence on the flight back home last night made me think of my mom. When my family lived overseas in the late 70s and early 80s, we put in some serious flying time. We were usually split up . . . my youngest brother is the most familiar with my mom's terror in the air because he was most often sitting next to her.

My mom would always try to be brave for us, but I don't ever remember being scared because of the plane. If the flight got turbulent, she would turn pale and her eyes would become big and intense, like she just saw something very wrong. She would order some liquor and hold onto one of us with a vice-like grip, murmuring something like, "Sweet Baby Jesus, white light the plane. Keep my family safe." She would really say it out loud, which wasn't very comforting.

Back then, I didn't know about the permanent effects of pregnancy hormones and the formidable challenge known as traveling with kids. Now, I can totally sympathize with her fear and composure, especially when I think about our scariest traveling experience ever. It happened on a trip back to Saudi Arabia with just my mom and brothers. My dad had gone ahead of us. My mom was in her early 30s and our ages were something like 10, 8 and 3.

We flew from California to maybe New York then headed toward Europe. It was night and we were dug in for a long flight - I think us kids were probably asleep - when the flight attendants started acting like something was wrong, and someone went to inspect the cargo hold with a flashlight. I think I remember my mom telling it that way. An announcement was made that we would be making an emergency landing in . . . Newfoundland? Somewhere cold and remote in Eastern Canada. Maybe our plane was on fire. I'm really not sure about the details. I do know there was some urgency in us getting away from the plane.

I think I can imagine how scared my mom was to be the only adult with three kids. When we landed, we deplaned quickly but not on that cool inflatable slide that you're supposed to have in real emergencies. I do remember some adults pushing past us as we ran alongside my mom who was wearing heels and holding my youngest brother (this may be my overactive imagination but I seem to remember her wearing a plaid wrap-around skirt and camel wedges). It was freaking cold. We were coming from California and heading toward the Middle East in August, so we didn't have jackets or even long sleeves.

The airport was tiny and overwhelmed by a flood of passengers. There were emergency vehicles surrounding the large plane, which didn't explode like it should if you had ever watched a James Bond movie. Somehow, the situation was dealt with and at that point, the plane needed to be repaired or replaced, which wasn't going to happen until the next day. The town wasn't big enough to provide boarding to all the passengers so some of us had to stay behind and sleep on the plane. My clearest memory is of a flight attendant ripping off an airplane curtain and handing it to a passenger because there were no more blankets. We shoved the armrests upward and laid across the seats, huddling under thin blankets. My mom arranged us all around her. At some point during the night, a man who apparently wasn't comfortable or warm enough, moved me and took my blanket. My mom woke up to a random guy sleeping where she left her daughter, finding me in a different aisle.

So probably she didn't start saying the Baby Jesus thing until after that time.

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