I have a big family on my mom’s side. I’m one of 23 first cousins and grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Almost everyone lived within 20 minutes of each other and holidays were big! Especially Thanksgiving. We started with Pie Night on Wednesday when we’d go to my Aunt Susie’s to bake desserts and eat pizza. On Thanksgiving, there was normally a football game to watch (go, Packers!) and then the amazing three-hour meal. When I was little, we all sat at one meandering table and everything was passed back and forth. As the family grew, one table couldn’t hold us. So you’d instead find a seat wherever you could and call “Saved” to try to keep it when you got up for seconds. I always got up for seconds! And finally on Friday, we’d go bowling and out for Fish Fry.
I love my family’s Thanksgiving, and I fully indoctrinated my husband and two daughters to love it as well.
Of course, Covid crushed our getting together. But finally, this year, we were back on! Pie night at Auntie Susie’s. Thanksgiving dinner. Fish Fry on Friday. It was back! We decided to take the girls out of school early so we could fly and get there in time to be there for all of it.
Yes, fly. At Thanksgiving time. What could go wrong?
Surprisingly, driving to the airport, parking, check-in, bag drop – they were all flawless. We were relaxing in the lounge when I saw an email from our doctor responding to my appointment request for the next week. My daughter, Shelby, was having something weird going on with her eyes; they had been flickering back and forth when she was reading. The email said,
SHELBY CAN’T GET ON THE PLANE.
From here out, it was like watching a movie, in slow motion, with a narrator in my head. The narrator’s name was Blanche. She’s a three-pack/day smoker who has lived a lot of life and doesn’t have many good things to say about it.
Blanche’s response to the email? Ignore it.
Obviously, I couldn’t ignore it. That was crazy. My husband and I miraculously got the doctor on the phone, and she strongly reiterated that Shelby COULD NOT get on the plane. There was a risk that any cabin pressure changes could severely affect her retina. She said we had to get Shelby to an ER, have a neuro evaluation, and if she was cleared, she could get on a plane.
Blanche urged me to argue with the doctor but how could I argue with the doctor about my daughter’s eyes? No way. Instead, I got Shelby and calmly told her, “You know how your eyes have been bothering you? It is probably nothing, but the doctor wants it checked out before you get on a plane. So, you and Dad are just going to go to an ER somewhere close by and get it checked out and then you’ll come back and get on the next flight. Tatum and I are still going on this flight because it’ll be easier to rebook two people rather than four. And I love you. And I know this stinks, but we can do this.”
Blanche was laughing loudly: Are you high? It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. You think there are neurologists hanging out in whatever ER there is out here? That they are just waiting to take care of your daughter? And even if that works, which it won’t, you think Shelby and Steve are really going to just hop on the next flight? Sure! Of course! Because airlines are never overbooked, especially on the day before Thanksgiving!
Thankfully, Shelby couldn’t hear Blanche. Only I could. So with all of us crying a little, we ran to the now empty gate as they called out our names: Heather Campbell, Shelby Birnhak, Steve… and I yelled, “Sorry, we are here!”
Blanche kicked in: Look at the Gate Agent glaring at you! She hates you. This is NEVER going to work.
I agreed with Blanche, but I continued.
“I’m sorry, but we’re having a medical emergency. Two of us are still going and two will hopefully be getting on your next flight.”
Blanche edged her way back into my head: Get ready for it! The guy behind the desk is going to blow.
But instead, there was silence. The man’s face softened and he reached across the desk and gently started rubbing my arm. “I’m very sorry. I hope everything is okay.”
Blanche looked sideways and chimed: Whoa, I did NOT see that coming. Kindness?
When the agent continued with, “Who’s going and who’s staying?” I replied, “I’m going with that daughter and my husband and this daughter are going to the ER and then hopefully getting on your next flight.”
His hand was still on my arm. He continued calmly and quietly, “Okay mom. Sounds like you have a plan. And it’s a good plan. But I’m going to need you to get on the plane right now, and then I’ll take care of your husband and daughter. I promise I’ll take good care of them, but I really, really need you to get on the plane right now.”
I took Shelby’s face in my hands and told her I loved her and then quickly kissed my husband while the gate agent hugged me onto the plane with my other daughter Tatum following close behind me. We got in our seats, the airplane door closed, and Blanche started screaming in my head about why I’d made a terrible decision. She was adamant that I was the worst mom ever. She was sure that this was never going to work. She taunted me with the fact that Shelby might be really sick and I had left her. Thanksgiving was ruined.
And I finally told Blanche to shut up.
I turned to Tatum and said, “I love you and I’m pretty sure Shelby is fine, but this has been a lot to get through. A lot, a lot. And I need to cry now.” Tatum took my hand and I bawled. Sobbed.
One of the flight attendants was at my side in seconds asking what I needed and if was there anything she could do.
Blanche popped back up: First Class? First Class might be helpful.
I admit I was tempted to ask for First, but instead I just asked for tissues. I texted back and forth with Shelby and my husband the entire flight and by the time we touched down, Shelby had actually been cleared to fly. I couldn’t believe it.
This was when my husband’s internal narrator clicked in. He thought there was no way the airline was going to get them on the next flight. He said the agent had given him a piece of paper and said he should just show up at the counter back at the airport. That was it. But that sounded impossibly too easy. I found a baggage agent and explained that we had had a medical emergency and only part of my party made the flight we just arrived on. I said I needed to check to see if there was actually room on the next flight for my daughter and husband.
Again – this is the day before Thanksgiving. And this guy is not at home getting a turkey ready or enjoying a Brandy Slush, he’s working on one of the hardest travel days of the year in the baggage area. And even on the easiest of days, getting someone seats on a flight definitely isn’t his job. His response to me?
“I’m so sorry. I hope everything is okay.”
Again, human kindness.
My lip trembled as I said that yes, actually, all was fine medically, but I was concerned that my family wouldn’t be able to get here in time to enjoy Thanksgiving. He looked up their info and said they were already booked on the flight. The seats were all set. They just need to go to the airport.
A few hours later, Tatum and I piled into the biggest car available so we could go with cousins and an uncle to pick up Shelby and Steve. It was kind of like that scene in Love Actually when they are all at the airport. Lots of hugs and kisses and jumping. Most of Pie Night was over, but there was plenty of Thanksgiving to still enjoy. Had I listened to Blanche’s fear and anger, I may have made the worse case scenarios come true. But instead, we received kindness and care and had a great Thanksgiving.
And – as I know you, my reader as kind as all of the people we encountered on this adventure, I’ll answer the two questions that I am sure you have in your head from this story.
#1 – Shelby is thankfully fine. She has to do eye exercises, that’s it.
#2 – Delta. That’s the airline.
Image by Cor Gaasbeek from Pixabay