I don’t travel often. It’s one of my future dreams to go on long trips where I can see the world and learn about other places and cultures, first hand. I had just a taste of it when I was a teenager and my dad took me half way around the world where we spent a month traversing the continent and country of Australia. Since that time, I have always thought that someday I’d do a lot more of that of that sort of thing. But, for a common guy like me, a family man, the limited time and means requires that some dreams have to wait in line behind more pressing responsibilities. So since that May in 1977, my traveling away from home has mostly been on business.
Like I said, travel doesn’t happen often for me. Corporate wants to keep me in the processing plant as much as possible, minding the day to day details of our business. But every year or two, I am sent on a pilgrimage back to corporate headquarters, along with all the other processing managers, for recalibration in our company’s way of doing business. This isn’t a blog about those meetings I just returned from. It’s about my thoughts and impressions while traveling to and from my corporate meetings.
Since I love “people watching”, airports are cool places to hang out. As I sat in the terminal, at my gate, waiting for the call to board, my people watching skills quickly sharpened.
The amalgamation of language and looks, customs and culture, features and facial expressions, complexion and countenance, hats and hairdos, habits and habitats, soon began to describe to my eyes how diverse the population in airports really are. As I sat, with book in lap, pretending to read, those around me portrayed little pieces of their lives for me.
A cute couple sat across, facing me. It appeared many years of living together had given them a similar manner and dress. Even their physic was now blended to the point that they looked almost like brother and sister rather than husband and wife. They were slumped onto each others shoulders as they peacefully slept.
I loved watching the children, of all ages, who were traveling with their parents. Whether they were four years old or fourteen, they seemed to reveal more of their family life then their parents would want.
A lady quickly stepped into our row of chairs and scanned the floor along the adjoining wall. She turned back to her husband and said, “There’s one here.” I knew they wanted the rare power outlet next to my seat. I offered to give up the seat to them. It was a chance to change positions for more people watching anyway. Soon three children were huddled on the floor in front of my old chair watching a movie on a portable DVD player.
An Asian couple was my new subject. Each time the PA system sounded, they both looked skyward like God had just spoken from the heavens. Between themselves, their language was something oriental. I wondered if they understood the English which bombarded them. I wondered the purpose of their travel. Now days, most traveled on vacation or business. They didn’t seem to fit either category.
As I sat there pondering the many mini human dramas before me, I had a glimpse of yesteryear. In my mind’s eye, I could see my widowed 2 great’s grandma, Inger, traveling with her small family into everything unfamiliar. In June of 1876 they sailed from Kragero, Norway for Denmark. They then crossed the North Sea to Hull, England and crossed England by train, and then boarded the Steamer, “Idaho” for crossing the Atlantic Ocean. For most of this trip, language was a barrier. No one in the family spoke English. This made things even more terrifying for the small Norwegian family who were huddled in a cattle car, on display like a freak show slowly crossing England. My great grandpa, Christian, was just a boy. He told of how they were gawked at them and jeered. Some of the Englishmen spit on them and poked and prodded them. Since they couldn’t understand their English yet, they didn’t understand the meaning of the unruly catcalls which were thrown down at them. From this experience, Christian hated the English for the rest of his life.
Over the PA, boarding my flight was announced. I watched this Asian couple looking around at the sudden shuffle of people. As I passed by them, I hoped their American experience didn’t feel like my Norwegian family’s experience in England.
While boarding the plane, I passed through 1st class which had already boarded. In the corner of my eye, I caught glimpse of an important looking business man leaning over his laptop computer. As I glanced back, I noticed instead of business, he was really playing the same computer game I had seen my teenaged son playing at home. I moved back to coach, found my seat, stowed my bag in the overhead, and slid into my seat.
Then my mind caught a glimpse of Inger and her little family on her voyage. Several levels below main deck, as a tall woman, likely she couldn’t even stand up straight on the steerage deck. I realized that by comparison, I was traveling 1st class. Inger was very sea sick for her voyage.
Soon after we reached cruising altitude, the flight attendants moved through the cabin passing out snacks and offering drinks. I thought of the sea biscuits which Inger received as part of her rations. These were mostly saved for their rail travel across the American continent to the West. They made this crossing during the 100 year celebration of American independence. I wonder what they saw on July 4th, 1876?
As we landed in Atlanta, Georgia, a little over three hours after leaving Salt Lake City, Utah, our pilot joked that we were early but that we had to pay full fare anyway.
My next mental glimpse was of Inger, with her little family, standing at the side of the new railroad line. Some one was supposed to meet her there to bring her the final 20 miles to town. But this was July 24th. A territory holiday celebrating the first arrival of the religious pioneers twenty-nine years earlier had distracted her wagon taxi. She sat on the side of that rail line that day and cried.
As I sat in my taxi, traveling to my fancy hotel room, anticipating the extravagance lavished on us over worked managers for a few days every year or two, I was somber… thinking of Inger, and what she went though so life could be so good for her children… for me.
I don’t mind putting off seeing the world a few more years while my Beautiful Wife and I strive to give our children the best start in life possible. I wonder… in a generation or two will one of them will look back at us, thinking that we had made a sacrifice for their benefit. Did Inger think that what she did was some noble sacrifice? I’ll bet she felt just like me. We are not doing anything special. We’re just doing what we think is best for our family. But, I love Inger for what she did for me.