“I’d love to go and see my newest great-grandson,” my mother was saying. It was Christmas morning in 1998, and we had been invited to join a friend’s family for drinks at their pub near my home.
This was our first Christmas without my dad who had passed away around Easter time. None of us could face one of our traditional Christmases, gathered around my sister’s table. She lived near our parents and always invited us to join them. But that year, she and her husband had gone to a hotel, and I had collected Mum to come and stay with us about 100 miles away.
We were pleased to be able to start the day away from home with friends, and not have the time to reminisce and grow even more sad. Everyone made a fuss of Mum. She had made a real effort, dressing herself in a pleated black skirt and lacy top, and putting on a little make-up. She didn’t really look her 81 years.
“So why can’t you go and see the new baby?” someone said.
“Well, they live in Germany, you see. I’d have to go on a plane,” was Mum’s reply.
“But you could do that. It’s not far and wouldn’t take long, really.”
“But I’ve never been on a plane before.”
Photo by aka Kath
My parents were essentially home birds and Mum had never been out of Britain. Dad especially had never wanted to go far. I’d been still a baby and my sister hadn’t been born when he’d been spared the horrors of overseas in the war, because of a serious medical condition that nearly carried him off anyway. Once he recovered he spent the war years in Northern Ireland, the Scillies and Plymouth, which was horrific enough in the blitz. Many of the lads in his regiment never came home from the front. He lived until his 88th year and we were lucky to have him with us as long as we did.
The conversation I was eavesdropping on was continuing.
“Well, you shouldn’t let that stop you.”
“But I’m over 80 you know. I couldn’t go on my own.”
At this point, I stepped in.
“I’ll take you, Mum.” And I did.
My nephew, Brian, and his German wife, Heike, were more than happy for us to visit them, but advised us to wait till later in the year. I set about organising everything. First there was a passport needed and for that we had to have Mum’s birth certificate, which was nowhere to be found. Getting a copy entailed a 200 mile round trip to Newton Abbot register office. Mum’s doctor signed a photo and acquiring the passport was quite simple after that. Insurance wasn’t quite so easy and doctors’ letters were required before that was finally agreed.
The airline was happy to provide wheelchair access to the flight to Basle where we were to be met by the family. When we presented ourselves at Heathrow on a breezy Saturday in May, we were treated like VIPs. The facilities for wheelchair passengers and their companions far exceeded my expectations. No waiting in line to check in. We had comfortable seats and the staff came to us. When the time came to board, a bright young man with a reassuring smile brought the wheelchair and whisked us through all the formalities in no time. We reached our seats ahead of everyone else.
Mum was nervous. I had to hold her hand. But she was excited as well and giggled like a teenager, until the safety procedure demo had her worrying that she wouldn’t be able to remember it all. She held on tightly to my hand at take-off, then gazed through the little window at the receding earth, pointing out things she recognised. I was a pretty seasoned traveller, but I found I was seeing everything differently and felt as excited as she seemed to be.
When the clouds obscured the view below, she wondered how the pilot could find the way, and she marvelled indeed when we broke through to the brilliant sunshine above. Before long, the pilot was telling us that we should be able to glimpse Paris down to our left, and she bemoaned the fact that we were sitting on the wrong side of the aircraft.
She was even thrilled when I reminded her that we were flying to an airport in Switzerland, and we’d have to drive through a tiny part of France to reach Weil am Rein in Germany, where our family lived. Her first overseas trip and she’d experience three different countries.
Photo by jsbarrie
A couple of hours later we landed at Basle. A stewardess asked us to wait in our seats while the other passengers disembarked. When she came back, Mum thanked her shyly and told her that she’d just had her 82nd birthday and she had never flown before.
“Well, fancy that! This should be a double celebration. I won’t be a minute.” The stewardess rushed off and came back with four small bottles of champagne in a bag for me to carry away.
We hadn’t told her about the other reason to celebrate. But I’ll never forget the joy on my mother’s face as Brian stepped back from her embrace and lifted his six month old second son, Freddie, out of the car seat, holding him up for her to see. Her brilliant smile shone through tears as she spoke to him.
“Hello darling. Isn’t this wonderful. I thought I might never get to meet you at all.”
That evening, when Freddie and four year old Rudi were asleep, Brian, Heike, Mum and I sat in comfy chairs on the balcony of their first floor living room. We lifted our champagne glasses to Dad, who would have loved to witness this get-together with a new member of the family. Perhaps he was aware of it; we hoped so.
Mum lived another six years, and she did get to see Freddie again, and all of them, when they visited England a couple of times in the intervening years. But there had been no guarantees of that. She was frail after she lost Dad. And now that she’s gone, I have lovely memories of our trip together to the Rhine Country
There is, of course, a moral to this story. We should never give up on our dreams, no matter how old or frail we get. It’s never too late for opportunity to knock.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JEAN KNILL has two successful blogs to her name , Jean's Musings
and Jak's Blog. She is also a noted writer of Constant Content where she has discussed a variety of topics from The Infectious Romp that is Mamma Mia to Legends of The Three Gorges. She has this to say for herself:
"I started freelance writing in the early 1980s and have been been published in many UK magazines and newspapers, as well as in writing and travel e-zines. Until recently, I had to slot the writing in beside teaching and marketing projects. Now I have retired from these sidelines and am revelling in the freedom to write as much as I want."
Thanks Jean for this touching story. It brings forth happy memories and precious times with my family too.