Months after booking it, a trip home is imminent. We go on Tuesday. We're all getting excited making lists of foods we're going to eat, things we're going to do when we touch down on Carolina soil.
Never mind that we must catch a 3:35am train to Manchester Airport. This journey will be easy compared to those in past years when I made the crossing solo with three toddlers. Not only do I not have to schlep a diaper bag full of formula powder and boiled water (it was allowed back then) these days my son will be carrying his own golf clubs. That's progress.
One memorable year we travelled through Atlanta where we had an encounter with a local sniffer dog, another experience I can guarantee I won't be repeating. There he was with his earnest little beagle face, his perky ears, that efficient nose, wearing his dayglo doggy coat emblazoned with "U.S. Customs," snuffling amongst the hand luggage of those of us waiting by the baggage carousel. He was cute until he stopped by my diaper bag and did the beagle version of pointing, which indicated to the very polite customs lady holding his leash that there was something forbidden in my bag.
I couldn't believe it. It had been at least fifteen years since I had last touched an illegal substance, yet I had a ridiculous moment where I felt like that canine was onto me. He was so sure of himself. I had to be guilty of something. I recall the customs lady was impeccably polite, calling me "Ma'am." ( Nobody calls anybody but the queen Ma'am in England.) She asked me if I had any food in my bag.
Of course, I said I didn't, having fed the boys the last bribe bag of teddy grahams somewhere out over the Atlantic. She looked at me with some scepticism, was that my final answer? Did I not have any food for the children in the bag? Then I realized that I did have two things that the boys had deemed unworthy of consumption: an apple and a banana.
I confessed, feeling oddly relieved to have figured out that I was guilty and why. (Catholic school) As my eyes flicked towards a nearby trash receptacle she had to advise me not to dispose of the contraband. If I did she would have to "detain" me. Thoughts of rubber gloves snapping and other horrors related to a full body cavity search flashed through my mind (Catholic school again) as I assured her I would not. Instead, I handed over the apple and the banana, as requested to the man at the customs desk. Then I waited with my three sons who were beginning to lose interest in me being arrested and wanted to go find the customs dog again.
After a suitably nerve-wracking wait, the lady and her dog returned. She handed me the banana, "You can keep this." Apparently the apple would have to be destroyed.
On subsequent trips I knew to leave any uneaten apples on the plane. Eventually I gave up on packing anything like fruit for the boys in the first place.
© Julia Barr 2010
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