The evening we were supposed to fly out to New Orleans turned out to be a stormy one. But — my experience taking off in a blizzard some years ago gave me the falsehood that we would be alright.
The early evening flight ended up being canceled — cruelly dashing my hopes that after weeks of preparation — we would be treated to smooth sailing from beginning to end.
On an usually warm late-winter day — I decided to treat my parents to a long overdue family trip. It hit me that I couldn’t recall the last time we had done something like that — and then slight panic set in when I realized that decades have passed since I boarded a plane with my parents in tow.
I chose The Big Easy because I needed a do-over.
The last time I was there things took a turn for the worst after my best intentions of settling in as a writer — inspired by the elements of beauty and history — became a lesson in what it happens when you unknowingly move in with a hoarder and deplete your savings account in the process.
Four years later — I’m miraculously sober and somewhat healthier in mind and body — and so to celebrate my ability to rise up at dawn without a splitting headache and bloated tummy — I felt it was appropriate to thank the two people who welcomed me back with open arms.
Our departure date arrived sooner than we could believe — and even as the uber driver maneuvered through the lanes — the bloated clouds were hovering with menacing authority. And by the time we were all checked in and ready to go — the darkness was starting to overwhelm the tarmac.
So — it was no surprise when minutes after the sudden gate change — the announcement we had been bracing for — blared through the speakers — summoning the weary crowd to their feet.
The anger and frustration rose from the concern for my parents who weren’t strong enough for the challenge ahead — or so I thought. Turns out that they were quite capable of “hanging in there” — until I was able to sort out the mess we didn’t make.
We left the airport and headed home around 2:15 am and returned two days later to try our luck.
This time — the rainy night was no match for the sheer determination of Spirit airlines and its precious cargo — and before the night was over — we made the safe landing into the city that would host us for three blissfully sweltering days.
The Westin on Canal Street turned out to be the perfect choice due to its proximity to the French Quarter — and other channels of interests that are linked to the convenience of streetcars. It’s also a stoically gorgeous hotel — and as luck would have it — we were on the 25th floor — with a spacious room that boasted views of the Mississippi River and the vibrancy of NOLA — that embraced us the moment the swiped key unlocked the door.
The excitement that sparkled in the eyes of my father was something that left a permanent smile on my face. He was a kid again — rushing to the window with flighty giddiness and plastering himself against the nightly reflections of a landscape that was just as honored to receive him.
The following morning began with a luxuriously sluggish wakeup call that included an impromptu discussion about my younger brother’s almost ten year marriage to a woman who still wasn’t a member of the family.
We managed to get showered and ready for the boozy and jazzy brunch at Maison on Frenchmen Street — and the occasion revealed how committed my mother is to documenting everything. I wasn’t aware of how well she’s adapted to the tools of recording and uploading — and it almost made me feel ancient in my reluctance to disrupt the moment with poised gadgets.
After platters of omelettes — shrimp and grits — plus a deceiving cocktail that took advantage of my fragile tolerance — we headed into the heart of the neighborhood — as I facilitated a proper introduction between my parents and my favorite things.
The humidity showed no mercy and after blocks of exploration — followed by the generosity of a tipsy stranger who offered to take our photo — my parents were ready to head back to our air-conditioned haven.
As we slowly walked towards the block where the uber driver would meet us — I noticed how my father’s limping seemed even more exaggerated than before. His right knee is obviously getting worse — despite his insistence that the pain was ebbing away. And as the trip progressed — it was hard for him to hide his discomfort — and once the secret was out — his irritation increased.
That was evident when we visited The National WW II Museum — which ended up being a monumental undertaking that involved walking through the installed rooms — filled with enough eye candy to keep you engrossed for the entire day.
I was given the opportunity to observe my father’s resiliency as he did his best to keep up with my mom and I — but then offered to wait for us outside to escape the frigid air. He changed his mind when I recommended that we watch the short film about how the Japanese were forced into detention camps after Pearl Harbor.
After the film — I was so blown away that I forgot my parents and made my way to the next room that contained materials that supported what we just witnessed. As I started snapping away — my mother woke me up and reminded me that my dad was waiting outside.
As we headed out to meet up with him — it occurred to me that traveling with my parents required a level of patience and flexibility that I had anticipated — but in a different way.
I knew that I had to ace the living arrangements and the food category because older people are quite particular about where they sleep and what they eat. When it comes to other activities — they tend to tire easily or lose interest quickly because their energy level isn’t as high — and so those ambitious plans you made — that involved the streetcar ride along the St. Charles route — eventually becomes an afternoon fiesta.
But — this isn’t an opportunity to shame anyone over the age of sixty-five. It’s just a lesson in adjustment that happens when you go from attacking the nightlife of South Beach to spending the evening with Southern-inspired takeout — and the medication of a local drink aptly name — Hurricane.
My mother turned out to be the walking companion I relished — as we enjoyed the exploits of the French Quarter — right after a passing rainstorm. And I was pleased that her pace kept up with mine — as we later explored the Oyster Festival across the street from our hotel — and then happily walked back in the sunshine — carrying cups of beer and margaritas.
I discovered that when on vacation — my mother and I enjoy the same things and her zest for life is fueled by her ability to be well-traveled and culturally inquisitive. I also inherited some of my dad’s sensibilities — and those traits have kept me out of trouble during those periods of ceremonious rambunctiousness.
The greatest gift of all was the reassurance that despite the strife and distance of all these years — there was still an ease with my parents that even my younger brothers who have been closer and more accessible haven’t managed to amass.
Maybe being the only girl and the oldest has something to do with it — or perhaps it’s the fact my maternal instincts have kicked into high gear — making me assume the role of caretaker.
During the trip — I had to be alert for all of us when we crossed the street — and there was that time when I scolded my dad for approaching a drunk streetwalker — in an attempt to ask for directions. And at our last sit down dinner — my mother’s newly-minted diet made it almost impossible for her to order in a timely fashion — and I still remained admirably restrained.
The last night was a bit sobering as we contemplated going back to regular routines with the memories that would torment us into missing what we had.
Cafe Du Monde provided the sugary confetti that ushered our exit — and the following morning while I silently cursed the decision to use Expedia for our packaged excursion — my parents dutifully waited.
As it turns out — booking with a third party leaves you vulnerable to the possibility of being charged for what you already paid for — as punishment for not booking directly with the hotel.
It would take at least a week for the extra charges to drop off — but in the meantime we had a complimentary breakfast to devour before heading for the airport.
The flight back was painless and the uber driver who took us home was very talkative — and that usually drives me bonkers — but this time I was delighted to share details of what I dub “the trip of a lifetime.”
Once we pulled up — I noticed the silence and turned around to see my parents — passed out. The driver and I burst out laughing as he joked about how I had worn them out with fun.
My laughter relaxed into a smile as I quietly acknowledged that my parents had succeeded in teaching me how to have a good time. And now I get to show them how well I’ve learned.