Friday, 26 August 2011

A Trip to the Airport

Friday, 26 August 2011
The world is, indeed, a tiny, tiny place. Here I am, four thousand miles away from my parents, and yet, I may as well be living next door – thanks to Facebook, email and Skype, four thousand miles is barely the distance from the end of my nose to the LCD screen.


If my Mum gets her hair cut, I see it on Skype. If she’s deciding what to wear on a night out, she holds up two different shoes to a webcam to get my instant opinion. If I get the laptop out, my two year old comes running over, clambers on my knee and says, “See Nana? See Nana, Mammy?”

It’s certainly a vastly different state of affairs from when I was a kid. We moved from England to Canada in 1981 – some of you out there will be ill equipped to remember that long ago world of blue tissue writing paper, special airmail envelopes with PAR AVION emblazoned up the edge. Transatlantic phone calls were restricted to birthdays and Christmas ONLY, and even then, especially on 25 December, a phone call was usually preceded with at least half an hour’s fevered redialing – and I mean actual dialing, not button pushing -- trying to ‘get a line’ between the busy signals. My Mum is the eldest of five siblings. Add those to my grandparents and my Dad’s side of the family, there was an awful lot of blistered forefingers round our way come Boxing Day.

As if the effort was directly conducive to the hardiness** of the bond of our bloodline, my extended family always has, even to this day, remained very close. My childhood summer holidays meant one thing: a trip to the airport – whether to receive a carload of Limeys or to deliver ourselves to one; that ceremonial journey up the 401 East towards the airport became standard operational procedure for summertime. We’d all pile in the car and head for the airport -- if we were good, stopping for a donut and a coffee on the way.

My earliest notions of travelling distance and time were forged early – I knew when we were nearly at the airport when my old Dad started fiddling with the radio dials, trying to find Toronto Airport's radio station. Back then, we’d check for flight arrivals via radio – any delays would be read out on the station’s AM frequency; we’d all wait with baited breath for a flight number and the word “MANCHESTER” to signify the impending arrival of our kindred on Canadian soil. I can hear the announcer in my mind – or rather, my Dad’s impression of him, warning us in his best clipped broadcast voice: “There is limited paaaaahr-king at Lestaah B Peaaah-son International Aaaahport…”


We'd always go early enough to watch the planes come in for a bit. “Is that them, Dad?” we’d squeal, waving madly off the airport roof, hoping our Grandma and Grandad, or our aunties and uncles or whoever it was would recognise their ant-sized relations from 1000… 900… 800 feet up as they touched down. And you know? Somehow they always did.  :-)

Then we’d scramble into the lift and press the button to be taken down to Arrivals where we’d elbow for a spot at the front with a good view of the automatic doors separating the luggage conveyors from the Arrivals hall.  Jonathan and me would be monkey-barring along the barriers, searching: “Is this them? Awwww, no. Is THIS them? Awww, no.”  

Mum stood, giant swelling of emotion trapped at the back of her throat rendering her unable to speak while her tears waited, quivering pools in her eyelids, for their cue to spill once we finally – at last – recognised the driver behind next luggage trolley.

Is there a name for what happens when you live an ocean away from those you hold most dear? What do you call it when a handful of time zones rips the fabric of filial connection to a sky full of angry swirls of ruddy crimson, fraying cloudy ribbons jostling in some ethereal breeze that never blows hard enough to bring the edges within reach? The pain of the separation, the severance you feel is at best a dull ache – you can live with it, but at times the pain of the tear is acute. The only balm is one of these trips to the airport.

Fast forward 25 years, and I’m my Mum, and the monkeys swinging in the Arrivals hall are my own kids. And that choking ball of emotion is already forming in the back of my throat, because in a few days, my Mum and Dad are coming from Canada.

Ben and I are picking them up from the airport.

We’re setting off really early.

We are going to wave at planes.

We’re definitely going to have a coffee and a donut.

And the best bit? The best bit by miles – four thousand miles – will be watching my boy’s face as he watches for familiar drivers of luggage trolleys.


**hardiness – family joke – my Grandma’s maiden name was “Hardy

5 people had something to say about this...:

Danielle said...

I'm now crying. I want to visit, too! Beautifully said.

Mammy P said...

You are welcome ANYTIME! xo

Lynn said...

Awwww, I totally teared up! Hope you are having a wonderful visit.

syl said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who teared up...you just described my childhood too. xo

The Sentimental Suitcase said...

I am embarasingly on skype with my Mom for 3+ hours every single day! Yikes!