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JULY 30, 2010 9:43AM

Coming Home and the Forbidden Fruit

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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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holidays, vacations, home, travel

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I feel so bad for you. I just returned from india day before yesterday and feared the customs officials throughout the flight. The last time they detained me, they got obsessed with a pirated cd my friend gave me. Oh well.

Also, I must say that I love your nom de plume! Rated!
Pranay--Yes, customs officials are not to be trifled with. Hope you're not jet lagged.
I know they havea job but to me there could be a little finesse.
rated with hugs
Dear Dear Reader
Well, I laughed out loud at the line "my three sons . . . beginning to lose interest in me being arrested . . ." Glad you found my ballerina 'cause I'm a Catholic Carolina girl, too. (Though, I ex-communicated myself many decades ago.)
Thanks Linda, will try my best. Standing in customs is one of the places where you do not make jokes of any kind. They have a lot of power!

Me too Harriet but I sometimes feel the mark it's left on me. Loved your ballerina btw.
I'm sorry but I just have to laugh because this is so much like my life. I always feel guilty due to my Catholic upbringing. It's a curse!! -R-
Well, have a safe flight and pleasant officials at the customs. The rest of your vacation is what really matters, and that should be a great thing to remember and write about when you get back. ~R ~ Bon voyage !
Christine--Gotta laugh at the absurdity. How many people have false-bottomed cases full of cocaine and cruise through without a flicker? That would never be me!

FusunA--Thank you I will, though I hope there are no real "incidents" to report!
That's the strangest thing...but I'm sure (sure?) they have their reasons. Hope you have a happy Carolina Homecoming real soon!
Thanks Bellwether. I'm ready for some hot weather, which is probably a good thing.
Enjoy your trip and no fruit smuggling this tine, you hear? :)
Oh, dear! I haven't been through customs for years but I remember that as a teen going back and forth to London every summer, my friends and I would put some unwashed...unmentionables...on top of our packed clothes not to hide much but because we always had lots of new things we didn't know whether to declare or not and because they'd usually take one look...slam the suitcase shut, and let us through quickly.

Today, they love to swab my purse looking for traces of drugs whenever I fly. Black, middle aged woman equals...cocaine mule? I just smile and hand it over...and they smile, too. Embarrassed...but vigilant nonetheless...
Caroline--I'll do my best to resist the temptation!

Keka--I always shudder when I see them swabbing bags. When I think of the places my purse goes and the possibilities of what it could brush up against. I don't think they'd be very understanding either!
I love your "unmentionables" trick! Might have to give it a try.
My favorite line: "I waited with my three sons who were beginning to lose interest in me being arrested." (Still chuckling.) And having grown up Catholic, I can relate to your emotional state. Fun, fun post! (It's amazing what passes for contraband nowadays.)
Steve, ah, so you bear the same scars! No wonder you've got that subversive wit! This time we came through with no problems.