Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day After Christmas - "The Blessing"

I received an unforeseen shock when I awoke the day after Christmas. I went to the computer room at my parents' house to check in for my flight back to NYC first thing. No coffee. No nothing. Just check in and get that taken care of. The flight was at 6:30am and I hadn't been assigned a seat on the Memphis-LaGuardia leg yet. I just needed this one task out of the way so that I could enjoy the last day of my Christmas vacation with my family. It wasn't to be. I couldn't check in. No matter how I tried, nothing would let me check in. I got different error messages each time. Finally, I called customer service. I was on the phone for over an hour. Most of that time was taken up holding for an actual person.

Seems that because I missed the Memphis-Paducah leg of the flight on December 24, I was automatically cancelled off of the return flight. It's a new security measure. Funny how I have provided my cell number and email address for every reservation I've ever made with this airline and they didn't have the courtesy to alert me to this fantastically ridiculous cancellation. No customer service agent or supervisor would help me. They were willing to book me on another flight for a fee of $20. I promptly told the customer service agent that I could book my own return flight. There was a moment after explaining my story to a supervisor that I actually had to ask if he was still there. The air was so silent and dead that I thought we'd been disconnected. He was there. He just couldn't do anything for me. He said there was no way to re-ticket me on the flight back to LaGaurdia. What they could do was keep that flight open for a year. Make it a flight voucher. Meaning I would have to buy a one-way ticket from LaGuardia-Memphis and then I could use the rest of what I purchased for this holiday. I tried not to use the Christmas excuse with the people on the phone. I'm sure there were a lot of people with problems based around Christmas. What I did point out was the fact that $933 was the most I'd ever spent on travel to this location and that I couldn't believe that there was no courtesy shown me via email or phone call. They had my money and expected me to rebook to get back home. Done.

Furious to the point of fume coming out of my ears like Sylvester on Looney Tunes, I whipped out my American Express card and booked a one-way ticket back to NYC so that I could get home for work the next day. The interesting thing about that purchase was that I bought seat 5C for the Paducah-Memphis flight. The seat I had already purchased. The seat that they wouldn't reissue me a ticket for. I wanted to take that damn seat home with me after paying for it twice. The only seat available on the Memphis-LaGuardia flight was first class. It was only my second time to sit in first class. I think all the people boarding the plane and staring at the first class patrons makes me uncomfortable. I might need to get over that though because it was a fabulous way to travel. Bigger seats. More room. Breakfast. A pillow and a blanket. First class indeed.

When all was said and paid for twice, it cost me $1575.30 for my 64 hours of memory making with my family. Next year maybe I'll hitch a ride with Santa. Surely he can swing by KY and drop me off.

My sister convinced me to go ice skating in Paducah later that morning. We had been talking about it as a possibility since before my arrival. Abbi really wanted to go. I think everyone else did as well. I was in such a fowl mood that I wasn't sure I could go. I wasn't sure my presence would be welcomed by the family members trapped in the car with me. I conceded to go. I'm so glad that I did. The ice skating rink in Paducah was tiny, but not too crowded. It only cost us $5 each. April, Leah, Abbi and Dylan rode in one car. Casey, Whit, and I in the other. It was another bonding moment between us. The rink provided milk crates for the smaller kids to hold onto for balance as they got their skaters legs. Abbi was balance free. It was so funny. She couldn't figure it out with or without the milk crates. Dylan just pushed off in a run and sailed across the ice laying on the crates. So funny and cute. I began to loosen up and have some fun. It brought back memories of the first time April, Casey, Whit, and I had skated at Rockefeller Center. By the time we needed to leave, I was ready to stay. Doesn't it always work out that way?

The seven of us piled into our respective cars and headed to McDonald's for a small bite to eat. During the airline fiasco, I missed the orange danish's Mom had baked for breakfast. I was hungry. Who am I kidding, we were all hungry. Ice skating and anxiety can do that to you.

Saturday night was the night that Mom's family was gathering to celebrate Christmas. It's been a while since I've been able to attend one of those gatherings. They tend to be the weekend before or after Christmas. I think my being able to stay in KY for three days this year, combined with the day after Christmas falling on a Saturday, led to it being held that weekend. I was thankful. As much as I'm about tradition, this year we broke with tradition for our meal. No turkey and dressing for us. We had grilled steak and baked potatoes and fresh salad. It was a welcome change. My eyes were bigger than my stomach. I wasted what amounted to a second meal. I hate that.

During food preparation, I needed a drink. Maybe I just wanted one. I just wanted to relax. The stress of the morning was basically gone, but the anxiety of the next day's travel was beginning to creep in. The entire day was difficult for me to live in the moment and not watch the clock and count down the amount of time I had left in KY. I tried. Believe me, I tried. I drank a couple of glasses of wine. Sweet white wine. Not really my bag, but it was the only thing available to me. Honestly, it did help relax me. There were a couple of locked-in-the-back-bedroom moments with the sibling-cousins that will continue to make me laugh for years to come. It's like we were children trying to get away with something even though we're all adults in charge of our own lives. Do we ever really stop craving approval from our parents? Do we ever get over disappointing them? No and no.

What Christmas gathering with my family would be complete without game playing and quotes from "Christmas Vacation?" I'm not as up on the quotes of the movie as the other sibling-cousins. Ask me "Golden Girls," "Big Business," "Steel Magnolias," or "Soapdish" though and look out. I'm a quoting god. My favorite quote of the evening was Leah being both Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany in the scene around the dining table when Aunt Bethany is asked to say the blessing. The best laughing moments of the entire trip. Let's face it, that movie is a brilliant, comic depiction of a family during Christmas. Two separate clans with ideas and traditions all their own coming together to make one special holiday. Working out the differences is important and getting along with the only people who love you unconditionally is even more so.

After all the games had been played and most people had gone home, there was one other thing that I wanted to do. I wanted to read Abbi the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. She paused her television program and I retrieved the book from it's box and went to her bed. I laid down and she laid in the crook of my arm. She wanted to be able to see the words I was reading. A few pages into the chapter, Whit walked into the room and joined us on the bed for the dramatic reading. Of course you know it was dramatic. It was me reading it after all. When I completed the chapter, I closed the book and asked Abbi if she wanted me to return it to the box. She asked me to read one more chapter. I actually tried to get out of it. Then she said, "Please." What was I thinking. I wanted her to love those books as much as I, and here was an opportunity to spend some quality time with her. I agreed to one more chapter. She went to get Whit and the three of us piled back on her bed and I read the second chapter. My contacts were so dry during the reading that Abbi had to keep correcting words I was misreading. I needed contact drops and a glass of water. No complaints though. I loved every minute of reading to her. BTW, she loves the book.

So, games played, chapters read, laughter still ringing in my soul, Mom and I drove to her house so that I could pack and try to sleep before returning to NYC the next morning at 6:30am. The trip was not long enough, but at least it happened, and was packed with love. Now there's a blessing.