General

Coming To The USA

We had planned a visit to the Catskills in August and bought our airline tickets several months ago. All good to go. Aside from discovering since then from the friend who keeps an eye on our house there that our normally reliable Subaru (sitting in the garage) won’t start (the battery must have gone low), all otherwise seems well.

It was going to be a routine visit: check on the house, see my dad, maybe take a side trip somewhere…

[Rainbow over the Catskills. Photo by me, 2012.]

…until a couple of days ago. On the spur of the moment long-time friends here in Britain asked if they could join us. We were surprised.

Why they asked was as a consequence of a sad happening. Their six year old Black Labrador they adored died unexpectedly – the vet suggested a heart attack – after his usual morning walk about two weeks ago; and the husband is particularly gutted to have lost him. But they are now also free to travel before they get a new dog and the wife told my wife they wanted to go to see our house at last and hopefully meet my dad. After we said of course they were welcome to come, they went so far as to pay over the top to get tickets on the same British Airways flight we are booked on.

The wife last visited the US I believe in the 1990s. But the husband has never visited the country: Never. So this should be interesting.

I find trips like this are often the best sorts of visits to the US. I have always loved showing non-Americans around. I especially enjoy getting “reactions” from those who had never been there before:

[Excerpt from Passports: Atlantic Lives, 1994-1995. On Kindle for iPad. Click to expand.]

Indeed and speaking more recently of the Empire State Building…

[View towards 1 World Trade Center from the Empire State Building, New York City. Photo by me, 2013.]

…one of the most memorable visitor events for us in the last few years was amidst while I was also writing that first novel. It was with my then 15 year old English niece, who traveled with us to the US during July-August 2013. A few years before, as a “little kid,” she had been to Disney World with her parents and brothers, but had not been to anywhere else in the States.

We had been prepped by my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. They warned she might cry some now and then and/or be “moody.” So we braced ourselves for some “bad” moments over the coming weeks.

Was it was parental hopes, maybe, that she would be terribly homesick? For from the instant my brother-in-law said goodbye to us at Heathrow, she was absolutely fine. In fact we had never seen her behave like such an “adult”… and I suspected that her parents had never either.

On our arrival at Newark Airport, even US immigration was pleasant with her. After I explained (I even had a letter from her parents that she was traveling with us with their knowledge), the passport officer, who happened to be a woman, asked her a couple of gentle questions: “Dear, have you been to the United States before? … Once to Disney? … Okay. You are with your aunt and uncle here and are going home in a month? You have a nice vacation, sweetheart.”

Afterwards I drove us all to my parents’ house an hour and a half away in Pennsylvania for a night before we headed off to our Catskills house and our holiday plans for her. My mother fell for her to the point Mom announced that she wanted to keep her. My mom saw her again a few weeks later as well while visiting in the Catskills with us. Those meetings are all the more poignant to me now as my mother died two years later, in October 2015. We had naturally watched my niece growing up in England, and my mother had heard all about her over those years but had never met her in person.

[Florida Gulf Coast, sunset. Photo by me, 2013.]

We flew with her down to Florida as well. There we rented a beach house for a week. We had a wonderful time – which included her sweeping up Florida shopping bargains: “That top can’t be only five dollars? Do you know what this would be in England? And look at these Converses! I have to have a pair!”

She also posted tons of pictures on Facebook aiming to generate a bit of fun “jealousy” out of her friends back at home. When I asked what she was telling them, she threw her head back and declared faux snootily: “I wrote that I shall be in Florida a week, and then that we shall fly back to New York before returning to upstate. Oh, my jet-setting life.”

And there are those laugher moments you always recall. One was the three of us on the local beach. Some guy I suspected was at least 21, walking past us, obviously noticed her in her beach chair as she sunbathed alongside us. Clearly he thought he would try his luck, approached her and asked something like, “A very nice afternoon, isn’t it?”

His accent immediately made it plain he wasn’t an American. And his demeanor, too, was not what one usually gets out of an American guy around that age. He was apparently vacationing as well.

After she acknowledged him and revealed she was from England, and clearly seeking to find something in common in order to keep their chat going, he replied: “Oh, you aren’t American? You are English? I’m from Denmark…”

And I also wasn’t born yesterday, sport, I thought as I rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses.

“I’m visiting here with my aunt and uncle,” I recall her also remarking amidst the bland back and forth.

In her beach chair to my left my wife was looking on as well from behind her own sunglasses, while I was reclined next to my niece who was on my right and closest to him. I pretended to continue to read some book. However, like a good uncle I began the countdown in my head: “5, 4, 3… until I put a halt to this cr-p and tell Hans Christian Andersen to move along…”

Yet I kinda also felt sorry for him: he was giving it his best shot. I sensed that he may have thought – at least initially from a distance – that she was older than she actually was. Whatever the reason, facing her polite, but short and unenthusiastic answers, and perhaps sensing my wife and I (both of us were stone silent) weren’t exactly thrilled, suddenly he wished her a happy holiday and continued on down the beach.

“Why do I attract weird guys like him?” she sighed with a chuckle as we watched him walking away.

I had had no idea that she felt she did? She was 15? But I didn’t ask what she meant by that because, frankly, I just didn’t want to know.

[Kaaterskill Falls, Catskills, 2013. Photo by me.]

A month or so after the holiday ended, my mother told me our niece would never forget that first adventure in America alone with us without her brothers – one older, one younger – and her parents. “It was very, very special what you did for her,” my mom declared. “She will remember it the rest of her life.”

I will always remember it, too. πŸ™‚