The Christmas That Was Almost Catastrophic

I'm writing this down in the hope that when I re-read this a year later I will find it to be hilarious. In fact, I hope a lot of people will find it hilarious. Right now, it still makes me quite sad but the
details are fresh in my head.
In September it had occurred to me that I should get a move on booking my flight to Calgary. So
I sat down with Expedia and looked at what was available. The first option was a rather brutal
one: Newark to Memphis TN, to Minnesota, to Calgary. But it was $620 for a round trip, which
sounded good to me. So I looked over at my boyfriend and said, "huh, $620.00 for a trip to
"That's really good," he replied and I could see wheels turning in his head, making thousands of
calculations all at once.
"Do you want to come?" I asked.
"You know, I could probably swing it for that amount."
So I booked two flights to Calgary.
The next two months we would wake up and wriggle with excitement that we were going to
spend Christmas together. I was going to show him how my family celebrated Christmas, how
gorgeous my home land is in the winter, how awesome Canadians are. And I was salivating at
the thought of being with my mother and sister once again.
My mother lives in Fairbanks Alaska, and my sister lives in Calgary. I have three brothers all
over the world, two of whom are in touch with me. There's a nest of cousins in Australia where
my grandmother lived before she moved to Spain, and another batch of family in Ontario, where
my Grandfather lived. But, I do have an aunt in Millerton and a handful of cousins in Clinton
I used to feel so lonely when at friend's family gatherings. They invited me over for
Thanksgiving or Easter, or Sunday dinner, and I always had a great time. I truly appreciate the
kindness and generosity extended to me. It's when they say, "you're our adopted daughter," that
I feel very sad and orphaned. My mother is still living and she does still love me, and I still love
her, we're just very far apart from one another. Sometimes the phone doesn't bridge the gap.
It's the same with my sister. I know of other siblings who are not very close with one another,
who don't speak to one another, who are feuding with one another and I feel so bad for them. I
can't fathom a relationship like that with Kirsty. We've shared a lot of secrets with one another,
hatched a lot of plots together, and tried to express just how precious we are to each other at least
three times year, if not during our weekly phone conversations.
There was also the considerable excitement that this was a first real vacation in so many ways. It
was the first vacation I'd be taking that year; the first vacation my boyfriend was taking in about
8 years and the first vacation we were taking together.
Most years, Christmas stresses me out. As I've written before, it is a tremendous challenge trying
to find a worthwhile present for my mother and sister that has the following qualification:
1)Meaningful (as in, it's something they'll use and appreciate)
2)Not junk (won't sit gathering dust)
3)Won't bankrupt me (I just don't want my mother fretting about how careless I am with my
Once I find such an item that fills all requirements I realise that I must now find, at least, 2 more.
This year we decided to focus on just stockings. My mother had just bought a house, I had
just bought a plane ticket, and Kirsty had booked us rooms at Emerald Lake Lodge. Spending
Christmas together would be our Christmas presents; but to be a little festive we would cram
each other's stockings with little goodies.
Wow, that took so much pressure off me!
I ordered a box of little trinkets from my favourite stores and then downloaded a pattern to craft
some nifty things for them both. My bag was finally packed around 11:30 the night before we
were supposed to leave.
The day dawned with gorgeous weather. It was unseasonably warm in fact. We had breakfast at
the Poughkeepsie Diner and I got a thrill from telling the cook that I was headed to Canada with
my boyfriend.
Around 11:00 we got into the car and started driving to New Jersey. We had three hours on our
side, we had parking figured out, we were relaxed and confident.
Fast forward to about two hours later when we're in the seaport town of Elizabeth, N.J. just
minutes outside of Newark, boxed in by a dozen 8-wheeler trucks. The directions we had printed
out to our parking lot had told us to make all sorts of turns and I couldn't shake the feeling that
we were actually nowhere near a parking lot, but en route to a shipping yard.
To add to the situation were at least three cop cars with the police officers conversing very
seriously with security personnel and a gigantic plume of smoke billowing off in the distance.
Every 3 seconds there would be a lurch from a truck followed by the squeal of brakes. I rolled
down my window and asked the cop if we were on the right road.
"No," he shook his head, "You gotta get out of here." And he walked into the street to give us an
opening to turn around.
"Can you call these people and ask them for directions?" Dan asked me as we started driving
I just want to briefly describe the situation regarding this parking situation: Longterm parking
at airports is very expensive. It's the main reason why I try to hire a driver to drop me off or
navigate train and bus systems. Dan, however, had done some research and found a parking lot 2
miles outside the airport called EWR Parking and they would charge us $100.00 for the whole 10
days we would be there. That, Dear Reader, is a bargain.
But let me just state for the record that is it definitely too good to be true. Talking to them on
the phone it became clear to me that even the staff didn't really know where they were located.
We called on three seperate occasions while driving around the Garden state (not exactly a rip-
roaring good time in itself), and each time they gave us a different set of instructions. Usually it
would start with "Go South on the 1-9..." But a few times they suggested going North on the 1-
9. I'm sure if East and West had been an option they would have recommended that too. Then
they'd suggest that when we got to a light, or saw a Burger King to make a right, no, a left, or do
a zigg-zagg.
I've decided that EWR parking does not actually exist. In the span of 2.5 hours we were in
Newark, NJ, Jersey City, NJ and at one point we were horrified to find ourselves crossing into
At first I wasn't worried. After all, we had that extra hour. But when I saw the clock read 2:30,
with our flight leaving at 4:00 I said to Dan, "I'm not missing this flight. Let's find the Economy
lot for Newark and I'll pay for it and just give up this goose chase."
In all my experience of travelling, and it is quite a bit of experience, I have never missed a flight
due to arriving late. I've cut it pretty close sometimes, but my prioritising comfort has always made me arrive very early for my flights. I literally didn't know what to do if
we missed this plane, and I didn't want to find out.
So, at 3:00 we were finally on a shuttle from the economy lot to the airport. My hands were
shaking, and my breathing was quite ragged. I had to keep holding back tears and force myself
not to think about what would happen if we were just a little too late, or if there was a huge line
for security.
At Terminal B we scanned the line for check-in and decided Self-check in would be the fastest
route. Ha.
Usually I avoid self-anything like the plague. Whether it's self-check out at Stop'n'Shop or
depositing checques at the ATM; call me old fashioned or a techno-phobe but frequently
something goes wrong that delays and frustrates me and I end up needing a human representative
Case in point: Dan was having a very frustrating time scanning his passport. I had some
difficulty also, and, looking around, so did a number of people. So we started asking for some
help. My right hand to God, three Delta reps just stood around looking at us blankly before
shuffling off. Finally a man with braces in a red jacket took Dan's passport.
He flipped it open, perused a few pages and for what felt like hours said nothing. We were
practically vibrating with agitation.
At last he asked, "Why are there holes punched in your passport?"
You know when your passport expires and you send for a new one and they return your old
one with holes punched in it to prevent any mistaking the two? That's what happened to Dan's
passport. Except it wasn't expired. That will happen in March of this year.
Dan last traveled internationally 9 years ago and so he certainly doesn't remember why his
passport was defaced.
I kept trying to point out that it shouldn't matter: The passport should still be considered valid.
After all I had made the reservation with it, so if there was a problem it should've come up then.
Dan mentioned that he did have his Social Security card on him and his driver's license as other
forms of i.d.
"Those aren't acceptable," they responded. "Do you have your birth certificate?"
I'm sorry? Who travels with their birth certificate? And how is a license or SS Card not
acceptable forms of i.d.?
In the meantime I had already checked a bag (Dan's, in fact, through a mix up). Although I
desperately wanted to hear that they would let us through, I had a sinking feeling that statement
wasn't coming. Dan clearly felt the same way because he turned to me and said, "You may as
well go on ahead."
Let's just pause a moment and recap, shall we?
My mother and sister were expecting me in Calgary. It would be one of the two, maybe three,
times I'd see them during the year. I hadn't seen my mother since June. They had big plans for us
this Christmas, and Kirsty was already sad about the thought of us leaving (before we had even
arrived). There was now less than an hour to get on this motivating plane.
I looked at him and said, "I'm not getting on that plane without you."
So we argued a little more with Delta but I knew it was a lost cause.
"You have to look at it from our perspective," the woman said. "If you get deported we get
fined." She had the same flat tone that made it clear she could not give a crap that it was
Christmas, or that the passport wasn't expired, or that we were both on the verge of tears. It's the
tone of voice one uses when there is no argument, when trying to shut down discussion. I know,
because I use it all the time to clients seeking financial assistance on the phone. When I use that voice I'm trying to communicate that I have no opinion on the situation, no feeling about it, and these are simply facts.
"Well then, take me off the plane, and give me my bag back," I said.
Dan and I went down to the luggage claim area, where I promptly sat down on the floor and
tried to call my sister. She was supposed to be picking us up from Calgary airport and I certainly
didn't want her driving to the airport to find no one there. I got her voicemail and asked her to
call me back.
12/22/11 The Saddest Place in Newark Airport: The Luggage Carousel.

Then I called my mother at work and weepily told her the situation.
"I'm so sorry, Dan has my full sympathy," she said. Mum has had her own passport woes through the years.
We got the suitcase back, had a scotch in the airport bar and then got back on the shuttle to the
economy lot (the bill for parking there for about two hours, by the way, was $18.00).
I've never felt more defeated in my life. The drive back from Newark to Poughkeepsie was
terrible for the traffic and also the utter despair we were both feeling. You could tell a child that
Christmas has been canceled and I doubt he would be more upset than we were at that moment. I
don't really know what to compare it to.
When we finally arrived back at out apartment I felt numb. Our apartment is gorgeous with high
ceilings, bamboo floor, granite counter top and stainless steel appliances. But walking through
that front door I hated it. I wanted to be anywhere but there. Mum, in her phone call, had advised
us to go to Cafe Sbarksy at the Neue Gallery in Manhattan; or do something special for ourselves
as a cheer-up. But all I could think about, when she said that, was how broke we were, having
wasted $1,240.00 cumulatively.
During the trip home I had called Kirsty three more times, getting her voicemail on each one,
and on the last one I finally laid out the situation.
Then I called Delta and explained the situation to them. "Are there any flights available tomorrow for Calgary?" I asked. I thought, now that Dan and I were at home we could think this through more calmly and it would be like I was just ditching him at the airport in a rush, we could say a proper goodbye and look forward to Christmas together next year.
"Yes, there's a flight leaving from Newark at 6:00PM that has 13 seat available," the rep answered.
"Okay, I'd like to book a seat."
"Sure, that will be an additional $550.00" she cheerfully reported.
"I'm sorry, how much?"
"In addition to the $620.00 I already paid?"
There was a wild moment where I was tempted to say screw it and just book the damn seat. But my finances are very carefully balanced like a house of cards. I would not recover that extra $550 easily.
"I can't afford that," I admitted to the rep on the phone. "So there's no way I can get on this flight?"
"Well, there is, for $550.00" she pointed out.
"Right. Well, thank you for looking."
"Merry Christmas."
I hung up.
Dan called his parents in Monroe and told them to set two extra places at the table, so
we definitely had something pleasant to look forward to.
It was now about 7:00 in the evening. For four hours I had been running on a high of pure adrenaline and
agitation and then brought to all new low. I had been trying so hard to keep my chin up and look
at the bright side etc,. But when I thought of how excited we had been for the past three months I
just lost it.
Dan gave me a hug and stroked my hair. I murmured something pathetic like, if we could make
it through this disaster without falling apart then the odds for us were pretty good.
At which point he pulled away and said this seemed a pretty good time to give me Christmas
present. He rummaged in his bag and pulled out a lumpen shape.
"Now close your eyes," he began, "and imagine it's Christmas day and we're in the beautiful
mountains, cross country skiing or something. You're going to have to envision that on your own
because I don't know what that feels like."
I obeyed.
"And then I would give you this."
His build up made it seem this was a pretty important Christmas present and so my heart was
thumping once again as I unwrapped the bundle. In fact, I could barely breathe.
It was a Matroshka. A really pretty one, and I was touched by him thinking of me and getting me
a wee something. It was a touch anti climatic, though.

But I smiled and said thank you and gave him a smooch. I noticed a letter on it that I couldn't
quite understand. It wasn't an "R" or a "D", or even an "F" or a "G."
"Open them!" Dan urged. So I gave him a puzzled look and opened the first one.
The second doll nestled the skirt said "love."

So I figured the first letter was "I". The last and tiniest one said "You."

Once again I was touched and smitten by his sweetness. But I confess I did give the littlest
matroshka a little shake just to make a sure, and to my surprise it rattled.
So I opened it.
There lay a glittering treasure; a diamond ring that was so beautiful and tasteful.

While I looked at it everything sounded as though I were underwater or waking up from a dream. So when Dan asked. "Rosemary, will you marry me?" I couldn't hear him very well.
"Is this seriously happening?" I replied. His face froze into a nervous smile.
"Yes?" his voice broke, a little.
Then I realised the poor guy had asked me an incredibly important question and was waiting on
an answer.
"Of course I'll marry you!" Actually most of that got a little muffled as I flew at him and
wrapped my arms around him, kissing his collar, his shoulder, his neck, anything I could plant
my lips on.
It now was a little more apparent just why Dan was so devastated at not being able to board the
flight and punched everything except human beings. He'd had this whole romantic proposal in
mind that was spoiled.
But I like this one just as much, and it certainly sweetened my Christmas.


  1. Tragic and beautiful. Congrats to you Rosemary! Your fella seems to be a pretty special guy.


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