Thursday, May 21, 2009




Theme Thursday - Vacation

Picture it: The week after Christmas, some time in the 1980s - a last-minute holiday package, a mother and young son traveling together to South Padre Island, Texas.

It was snowing in Toronto when we left, but we didn't care. We were on our way to the warm. We boarded the plane and found ourselves seated across from a very jolly woman - let's call her Helene - with a purse full of little airplane booze bottles. She was traveling with her friend Carol, but they hadn't been able to get seats together. Carol was at the other end of the plane. Helene was not prepared to wait for the flight attendants to make their rounds, passing out drinks. She rummaged through her purse, brought out a handful of bottles, and passed them out to all the passengers in her vicinity.

When at last we were in the air and the flight attendant came by, Helene buttonholed her.

"Can you do me a big favour?" she asked.

"What can I do for you?"

"Well, do you see my friend Carol back there? The blonde in the aisle seat - the one who's laughing?"

"Yes."

"Well, it's Carol's birthday. Do you think you could ask the captain to wish her a happy birthday over the PA?"

"I'll see what I can do."

A few minutes later, the captain's voice filled the cabin. He thanked us all for trusting ourselves to him to fly the plane, then said,

"I hear we have a birthday girl aboard. On behalf of (mumble mumble) Airlines, Carol, I want to wish you a happy birthday. The flight attendants will be bringing you a complimentary champagne."

"That was nice of you," I said to Helene.

"Oh, I do that every time we fly together. It isn't really her birthday."

That was Helene. She was incorrigible. Over the next week, I came to appreciate that quality, as watching Helene's antics was pretty well all there was to do on South Padre Island. (I should point out that this was a long time ago. I passed through there a couple of years ago, and found that the place was buzzing.)

Anyway, back to the eighties. We stopped for fuel in Memphis, then proceeded to Harlingen, Texas, where we were picked up and driven by bus to our very unsatisfactory hotel on South Padre.

When we landed at Harlingen, the temperature was 34 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was raining. During the week that we were in Texas, the temperature never went any higher, and it never stopped raining. We spent most of our days in the hotel, which didn't even have a bar. Some time in the afternoon, while my son played chess with the young daughter of another passenger (or so they said), we three women - Helene, Carol and I - would scamper along the beach in the near-freezing rain, trying not to step on any of the thousands of dead jellyfish littering the sand. Ten minutes or so down the beach, we would pop into the Hilton for a drink. One day, having had an extra drink, Helene donned three green garbage bags (one for each leg, one more for the rest of her) and hitch-hiked home. Carol and I opted to make the beach run, figuring Helene would end up being carted off to a padded room. She did make it home, though.

The high point of the vacation was Wednesday, when we all boarded a bus and went to Matamoros, across the border in Mexico. I bought a serape at the market, so I could finally get a little warm. I still have the serape. The day was made really special by the fact that it wasn't raining in Matamoros. The rain was waiting for us, back in Texas.

At last, it ended. The holiday, not the rain. Come Saturday morning, we all had to be out of our rooms by 11 o'clock - but the bus back to Harlingen wasn't coming for us until 3:00 in the afternoon, so for four hours, we all milled around in the lobby. From time to time, somebody would pop out to the local liquor store and buy a very large bottle of something or other (mostly gin), upon which the assembled inmates would leap with an eagerness born of desperation. I heard somebody say:

"They're going to let us go home today."

And they did. Shortly after we got back to Canada, (We did not kiss the ground when we got home, but only because our lips would have frozen to it) there was a story in the papers about a religious cult in Matamoros that had been kidnapping children and killing them. My son capped the whole vacation experience with his request:

"Mom, the next time we go on holiday, can we go somewhere that they don't practise human sacrifice?"

28 comments:

Brian Miller said...

love the last question...i chuckled.

Reya Mellicker said...

Bad vacations make the best stories, don't they? That's so unfair!

mouse (aka kimy) said...

great story!

did you ever stay in touch with helene? what a character!!

subtorp77 said...

Oh the rain! Was nice and sunny the whole drive out to New Mexico; even in Texas (but I came through the panhandle ). Coming back tho'...rained from Oklahoma City 'til we got back to New England. Then continued to rain for three more days. Nice ending to our vacation. And Helene sound s like a fun person to hang round with. Cool story, Sandra!

Wings said...

Sounds like a bad vacation that became a great memory! And I am glad you got to keep your son! hahaha

Sandra Leigh said...

Good morning, Brian, Reya. Yes, we're so busy having fun on the good holidays, they pass in a blur.

Kimy and subtorp 77 (do you have a nickname?), no, I lost touch with Helene - and I regret it, Helene was hilarious, if exhausting.

Wings, I'm glad I got to keep him, too!

subtorp77 said...

Sandra, Subby( or subby, or ST ) is fine! That's actually my nick-name at work! More on that later...

Poetikat said...

Ha ha! You lived in T.O.? I'm in K-W. Do you still have the serape?

Well, it may have been unfortunate at the time, but it sure makes a great story!

At least you had the gin and Helene to keep your spirits up.

Kat

Sandra Leigh said...

Subby - glad to hear it. Subtorp77 was so formal.

Kat - yes, the serape is my emergency warmer-upper to this day.

John Hayes said...

What a great tale! The garbage bag story is hilarious & surreal, but it's all great fun.

I, too, miss some of my more "exhausting" friends a lot sometimes...

subtorp77 said...

Sandra, heh, never thought of it that way( ponders ). And a few of the guys did bring back some wonderful textiles from Peru! Okay, that's a bit further south but...

tony said...

Cliff !!!!!!

Sandra Leigh said...

Morning, John. She looked so silly. I could hardly believe somebody actually picked her up.

Subby, I'm afraid my serape isn't a thing of beauty. But it's warm.

Tony, um, hello.

Leah said...

Just an excellent punch line!!!

I was on Padre Island a few years ago. It was a thousand and one degrees and muggy. Not to mention the Spring Break-ers. But still and all, it's kind of a cool place...

Ronda Laveen said...

It sounds as if Helene made an otherwise dismal vacation the memory of a lifetime. Your son's point of view is priceless! Funny post.

Sandra Leigh said...

Yes, Leah and Ronda, my son has a way with words. btw, I did adjust my holiday choices to accommodate him.

Oh, and it was 1001 degrees in S. Padre the last time I was there, too (in March, a couple of years ago). I spent that whole visit in the swimming pool.

Jaime said...

i'd probably die of embarrassment if i had the pilot wishing me a happy birthday...especially if it wasn't my birthday. i embarrass easily in case you couldn't tell

Sandra Leigh said...

Jaime, I got the impression that Carol was used to it. She just enjoyed the free champagne and kept her mouth shut. ;>)

kimmirich said...

Wnderful post and cute ending question.

hugs

Sandra Leigh said...

hugs right back, Kim, and thanks.

The Silver Fox said...

I love Helene...

As much as I enjoyed your words, here, I have to add my voice to the chorus saying (or implying) that your son had the best line!

Thanks for this.

Sandra Leigh said...

Heh. You are absolutely right.

Kris said...

Do turtles live in grottos?

Sandra Leigh said...

Only the very wealthy ones.

Marianna said...

That was quite a vacation story! It was so funny what your friend did in the plane, heh heh!

xoxo

Liza said...

I guess it wasn't a coincidence that the word Matamoros literally means to kill (and in this case) moors in spanish. Glad to see that your son was spared. What a great line!

Sandra Leigh said...

Marianna and Liza, welcome aboard.

I do wish I had stayed in touch with Helene. She was quite the character.

You know, it hadn't even occurred to me that Matamoros meant 'kill the Moors'. Of course it does. I googled 'Matamoros definition' to see if I could get the history of the name, and all I could find was this: Founded in 1700 as San Juan de los Esteros, the city was renamed in 1851 in honor of the leader for Mexican independence Mariano Matamoros. Source: http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Matamoros - It seems it will take a bit more research to come up with the derivation of the surname. Thanks for the inspiration.

C.M. Jackson said...

nothing better than a rainy beach vacation with children to make you forget what type of cocktail you prefer--anything will do at the end of a day filled with trying to find ways to keep everyone happy. Sounds like your son weathered the storm though and has some good stories to tell his buddies--best c

Blog Archive