Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 1, 2010

I'll be home for Christmas

We stayed close to home during Christmas week, but two nephews were driving from Texas to Kansas and one niece was flying from Paris, France to La Paz, Bolivia so I knew my siblings would be worried. And I worried along with them.

Nephew Paul and his family arrived in Salina from Dallas about a week before Christmas so they missed all the bad weather. Paul's brother Michael and his family, also from the Dallas area, were planning on arriving the evening of Dec. 23. But after hearing the weather reports predicting a major winter snowstorm here, they left the night before and arrived in the early morning hours of Dec. 23 instead.

Compared to niece Gabriela, however, their travel was a piece of cake. She had spent the fall semester studying in France. Her holiday travel itinerary started in Paris with stops in Dublin, New York and Miami on her way to her family's home in La Paz.

She started out at 4 a.m. Monday, Dec. 21, in the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris. Five hours before, she had received an e-mail message saying her flight from Dublin to New York had been cancelled, but when her mother - my sister Gaila - called the Dublin airport from La Paz, she was told that the flight was still on. When Gabs arrived, she was informed that her flight to New York had, indeed, been canceled. She received no food or hotel vouchers because "the flight was canceled due to climate," according to airline personnel. She booked a hotel in Dublin for the night. Husband Art suggested she take advantage of the situation and see the city, but Gabs was too focused on getting home to do that.

The next day, she arrived at the Dublin airport at 4 a.m. for her 11 a.m. flight. But her flight didn't take off until 3 p.m.

After arriving in New York at about 5:30 p.m., she stood in line at the airline ticket counter for an hour. When she finally got to the front of the line, she was told her only hope was to get out of New York and fly to Miami before more snow came. Oh, but by the way, there were no more flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Miami!

But there was a flight from La Guardia Airport leaving at 8 that evening. Gabriela asked the airline attendant to book her on that flight and then she rushed out to hail a cab. She couldn't find one, but some men in a passing van said they'd take her. She accepted the risk and discovered the two were from the Dominican Republic. They said they enjoyed helping fellow Latinos and they even ended up showing her photos of their families.

Gabs arrived at La Guardia in 10 minutes and checked in. She was the last one to board the flight to Miami.

She arrived in Miami around midnight, spent the night at a hotel and returned to the airport where she spent the entire next day waiting for her flight to La Paz.

Gaila sent me the following e-mail on Christmas Eve:

"The plane arrived at 6:55 this morning . . . We wanted to put on Santa or elf hats, but figured that would embarrass Gabriela too much. She's the BEST Christmas present ever!"

Gabriela's experience reminded me of my Christmas visit home after my first year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador back in 1976. My flight left Ecuador seven hours later than scheduled, putting me into Bogotá, Colombia too late to catch my flight to Miami. I spent the night in a hotel, thinking I had a confirmed flight the next day, which was just a couple of days before Christmas. But at the airport I discovered to my dismay that I was on standby.

"But I have to be home for Christmas," I said to the ticket agent as the tears welled up.

A group of men who had been marlin fishing off the coast of Ecuador with Harold Ensley of the TV show, "The Sportsman's Friend," kept my spirits up. They nicknamed me "Wichita" since that was my destination.

"Come on, Wichita, you can make it," they said.

I ended up getting the last seat to Miami - just like Gabriela. As I boarded, the men cheered for me. I had it pretty good as my seat happened to be in first class. I ate lobster and steak and drank champagne all the way to the States.

At the time, it seemed imperative I get home by Christmas, just as it did to Gabriela and her family. But looking back, it's the adventure on the way to my destination that I recall. Years from now, I'll bet that's what Gabriela will remember, too.

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