“We Must Have Been Oblivious . . .”
My Mother and I are talking and she asks “How did you girls do it, coming home from university? Did we send you tickets, or money? I can’t remember, I just know it happened. You were so young! How did you manage?”
I laughed. “Mom, you sent us tickets to Philadelphia, and from there we took buses or shuttles to McGuire. (McGuire Air Force Base, the old home of the Military Air Transport command) At McGuire they would put a couple on this flight, a couple on that flight, until it reached some kind of critical mass and they had a hundred or so students waiting at McGuire, and then they would send us all out on one plane.”
When you’re young, it’s all an adventure. Even though we had terrorists then, too, the Red Brigade and the Baader Meinhof gang setting off bombs, taking hostages, etc. there wasn’t the same kind of anxiety about safety that exists now.
My parents sent tickets. When our last final was over, we packed our suitcases and headed to the airport, usually late at night to fly out space-A on one of the red-eyes to Philadelphia. We didn’t need a lot of sleep.
Airplanes were different then, too. My first year, I flew overnight sitting in a lounge, where people had seat belts, but not really seats. It was a curved sitting area with a table. Drinks were served all night, and people were smoking. All that mattered to us was to be headed in the right direction.
The plane would land and we would go to the USO or something – someone would point us to a bus or shuttle going to the air base, we would pile in, and upon arrival at the MAC terminal, we would sign in to the Space-Available list. We were like category zero – we had the very lowest travel priority.
And then – the fun began! You’d think it would be boring sitting in an airport waiting for a flight and you don’t even know that there will be a flight – but it wasn’t. This was a major gathering of Third Culture Kids, military kids, state department kids all headed to wherever home is this month, this year. It was like the biggest, most fun party anywhere. You’d see friends you hadn’t seen since their family moved, and you’d meet friends of friends headed to your own family post. There was always music, always talk about overseas adventures, and always an endless hearts game in one area and the serious bridge players in another.
You shared food. You shared rooms. You shared books. You shared transistor radios. You shared playing cards, and chess sets. You shared memories and made plans. You often napped on a pile of baggage (we were all post-finals, and exhausted.)
These friends would pop in and out of our lives the whole summer, it was all “when you come to Heidelberg/Stuttgart/Nuremberg/ Munich/Tripoli / Asmara (!), you can stay with us”. Our friends would usually arrive in town and call around dinner time and my parents always found a way to be sure there was enough for everyone, and an air mattress and clean sleeping bag for our vagabond friends.
Oh Mom. We had such fun.
“But where did you sleep? I know some times you were there for days, waiting for a flight.”
Oh yes. Sometimes, if we thought there was a plane leaving late at night, we just stayed in the terminal. Because my parents sent us some money, my sister and I would often go over early to the Transient Hotel and book a room, then head back to the terminal. If they closed the terminal, we’d take a bunch of people back with us, take the mattress off the beds and we could get eight young college women in one room.
One time they told us around two that there would be no more flights for the day, so we left for the hotel room, got in our swim suits and hit the pool. I stayed a couple hours and then strolled back to the room; when I got there everyone was packing in a panic; a flight was going out and we had to be there in 30 minutes to get on it. I ran back to the pool to alert my sister and the others, ran back to the room carrying towels and shirts, packed in chaos, and we were in the airport and on that flight. I think my sister had her wet bathing suit on under her clothes, she packed so fast. They put us all on a troop carrier. A troop carrier is really fun, no isolated rows of seats going down the length of the plane, but four long webbed seat thingys, two facing two, the length of the plane. Let the party begin🙂
One time, there were over a hundred of us waiting, and they scheduled an extra flight, but it would only hold a certain number, so we had a lottery – and I lost. I was one of only two who didn’t make it on that plane. Somehow, though, after that first flight left, they put the remaining two of us on a plane to a military base in Spain, and from there we hopped another military plane to Germany, beating (I don’t know how) the arrival of the first plane by half an hour.
You couldn’t do these things now. The world has changed; security takes priority. Parents hover to protect their children from very real threats. Our parents had the luxury of letting us fend for ourselves and figure out how to make it work. We made it work. We had fun. There is a whole group of those same people who gather on FaceBook, and meet up in Heidelberg, or Colorado, or Washington DC for a reunion, or even a dinner or a holiday. We stay in touch.
You weren’t oblivious, Mom. It was a different time. But what great adventures we had and what memories your questions bring me!