Last week, rather than weeding the garden, doing laundry and writing my blog, I traveled to Quebec City with my husband. He for golf, me for an outing. There were many “firsts.” First time in an airport and on a plane in 17 months. First time visiting the house I lived in from birth to age three. First time spending two days wandering in and out of shops and buying nothing. And the first time, I endured food poisoning in a beautiful black-and-white tiled hotel ensuite.
My mother had a saying: “Time to spare – go by air.” These words ran circles in my brain as we desperately tried to find the end of the line for the kiosk to print the bag tags, before moving to the crush of people by the conveyor belt for the suitcase drop. The oversize luggage queue was a comical mix of frustrated travelers with car seats, paddleboards, golf clubs and dog crates. Parents were doing their best to corral children from behind masks and steamed-up eyeglasses. At a point of time in our wait, we made the strategic call that I join the accordioned mass of people congregated in front of the three open doors leading into the security screening area. My husband would join me once his golf clubs were dispatched.
The minutes passed by, departure time crept closer. I stood alone, having to guzzle two bottles of water before getting to the lady who confiscates all fluids and firearms. I’m wondering what could possibly be taking so long in the big bag area. With only one more turn left before the straight line into security, my husband appears beside me. The cage for the fluffy dog ahead of him got stuck going through the X-ray machine. We made it to the gate in time to board – barely.
Setting eyes on my family home brought back no memories. I was three when we moved away. The recollections I have are from the stories told by my parents and brothers. As I gazed at the small white stucco bungalow, I imagined the hallway from the living room to the bedrooms. My mother used to tell the story of our dachshund Maxie running after me, catching his canine tooth in my ruffle-bottomed pants, so that the lace unraveled, leaving a white cotton path behind my giggles. This is the house where the picture of me lying in a quilted basket, shrouded in pink, with my two brothers in their navy blazers and grey flannel shorts crouched on either side looking down at me, was taken. Apparently, they were worried that I would only be able to speak French.
We stayed at a lovely hotel in the lower town. Close to the river, a short walk up to the iconic Chateau Frontenac and boardwalk. It was in the centre of the boutiques, galleries and restaurants that define Quebec history and culture. Armed with friends, a clean mask, and a credit card I went hunting for treasures: one-of-a-kind things that would bring me joy. Doing my best to stay above the weight of the fourth wave. Conjuring up images and events requiring a new dress, fancy shoes, perhaps a purse. I found some cute egg cups. And quickly realized that French chickens lay much smaller eggs than those west of Cornwall. At the end of Day Two of the wander, ponder, and pass, my credit card balance hadn’t changed. On a late afternoon stroll with my husband, I found a sweater that was different enough. And provided me with happy anticipation of wearing it once the weather turned. I presented my credit card and uttered a masked merci.
I lost the final day to my toxic cleanse. Instead of a road trip and hike, I lay prone on 700 thread count sheets, trying to make my way through a tin of warm gingerale. Despite a headache, likely from dehydration, I managed to finish my book and watch a large container ship maneuver down the St. Lawrence. I was certain it was full of single-use plastic crap from far eastern factories.
The experiences of last week have reminded me that being double vaccinated has failed to return my life to anything resembling what used to be considered normal. The due diligence and processes for the privilege of being on a plane, masked and sanitized, have complicated and slowed down all aspects of travel. My usual happy anticipation of finding pretty new things was a practice of fantastical skepticism. I felt the reality of the rift between magazine pictures and how I now live and work. Massively dehydrated from six hours of retching, going to the hospital, as the case numbers are rising, was not an option.
Perhaps hoping to feel a tether to my roots, seeing my family home only magnified the need for stories to fill my memory bank. Sadly, my raconteurs are now silent.
And despite the headwinds, I know that engaging in as much of life as possible, with an open mind, patience, and gratitude is the only way forward.
At least, that is my experience.