Doug and I sat down with Papa, his calendar and a computer earlier this week to coordinate details for his summer trip. We made a few phone calls, developed a plan, and booked his plane tickets. Like Papa, his itinerary is not long or complicated; he wants to spend nondescript time in both Illinois and California to see all of his siblings, his favorite brother-in-law and the West Coast Maroccos. We have explained that once he gets the feel of flying we can fit more trips in-between all of his scheduled appointments but I know that this first trip will be the hardest on all of us. He is a bit nervous and of course we have some of the same apprehensions that we had when our children tried something new, something big, and we were not sure if they were ready for it or not. But we let our kids spread their wings and they were prepared every time, they passed all of the obstacles that came their way and while they may have different accounts of how we may have been a bit over protective here or there they were always independent and became worldly travelers at a young age. Papa is no different, Doug and I will be on edge from the moment we take him to O’Hare to put him on a flight until we hear he has arrived in San Diego, but deep down I know that he too will pass this test. As Papa mentioned tonight, I won’t really be alone, there are other people on the plane, aren’t there?
Papa does not recall flying by himself, so like everything else if he does not remember, it never really happened. It is reassuring to me that he is very absolute in his thinking. He does not get frustrated trying to recall memories from the past that are lost in his brain. He does not get angry knowing that the facts are locked up inside just shy of being seen. He does not get upset wondering if he has or has not done something. He does not worry about things he cannot change, he says he doesn’t remember and moves on. In his mind he has never flown by himself, period. We know however that this is not actually the case, Papa has flown alone and I can clearly picture two instances that I wanted to share with him last night. I am sure that in addition to these, there has been another time or two he has ventured off alone over the years.
In 1984 Papa drove across the country with Nathan and I to meet Doug at his first duty station. It was a four-day trip with a four-month old in a Ford Escort with no air conditioning. The weather was very warm, and we received minimal relief from opening the pull vents as we traveled down the interstate. This is one of my favorite pictures of Nathan and Papa along the way. We did not stop at National Parks to stretch our legs like I would do today; we stopped at dingy rest areas, truck stops and a few diners. We drove, we talked and we ate while Nathan slept in the back seat. I remember stopping at a joint in Texas that had both jukeboxes and payphones in every booth. Papa, being a jokester decided to use the phone. We laid out all of our change on the table and called his nephew Tim who worked at their family cleaners in Glendale, Arizona. When Tim answered the phone Papa sang the Jefferson’s Movin’ On Up theme song and said This is George, Weezy and I are headed into town tomorrow. Papa does not remember this, but I can still hear Papa laughing out loud after his conversation with Tim. We shared driving, but it was easier on both of us when I drove so he could hear and carry on a conversation without all of the Huh? the Ehhhh? or the What did you say? (His left ear is still his better ear). It was fun. He flew home by himself, a few days after seeing his father in San Diego and making sure Doug and his young family had been reunited.
In December 1988 Papa again flew out to visit us, alone, to spend his birthday and hopefully get to meet his first granddaughter. He spent a week playing with Nathan and asking us more times than we could count, Is it time? Is she ready? Will it happen today? Sadly our scheduling was off, Papa flew home late one afternoon and our independent Allison arrived several hours after his departure. He was disappointed knowing he was going to have to wait a few weeks to meet her, and when he did it was love at first sight.
Papa could hold any one of his grandchildren for hours and just look in their eyes as if they carried on a silent and secret conversation. He has always said I have the best family; there are some the same but none better than ours. He loves his brood and his grandchildren will always have a very special place in his heart. This is one of the few photographs we have a Papa with a beard, he didn’t remember that either and laughed at the grey when I showed him the picture.
Papa has flown and even with a few apprehensions he is looking forward to this trip. I don’t know what I would do without you guys, you take care of everything. We can plan a trip and try to think of every possible scenario, but unfortunately we will not be on the plane with him. Sure he has nonstop flights and wheelchair assistance starting at the airport check in counter, and I am certain that American Airlines will help him get through security and to the correct gate for his flight. What I worry about is what will happen while he is sitting at the gate and waiting, when there are extra minutes ticking away, teasing him, just waiting for him to become momentarily distracted. Papa will enjoy people watching once he is at the gate; he may talk to a few people around him. He will probably ask his neighbor the date and time to make sure his watch is correct and will definitely become enamored at some of the young children playing. As he is watching the kids he will happily remember that we packed him some snacks for his trip and will start snacking on a cookie or some chocolate covered raisins. He will be content. He may hear one of the moms ask her child if they have to go to the bathroom before the flight and it will remind Papa he should also look for the facilities. He will find a restroom, probably not the closest or most convenient and may walk out and start heading the wrong way. He will see McDonald’s just up the terminal and decide he needs a chocolate shake. You get the picture, Papa is as easily distracted as the mouse in one of Laura Numeroff’s books as soon he has a cookie in his hand.
Papa will have a wonderful time visiting the best family in the world, but I think I better look for a new cell phone, one that he can hear ring, before he leaves so we can make sure he travels from point A to point B without incident.