Thursday, May 22, 2008

My History in Planes

When Une Femme recently described her love of flying and her memories of childhood flights, I commented that she had again anticipated a post I'd been planning. That woman really picks up the zeitgeist.

On my way to several weeks in Europe, I thought I'd regale you with my memory of a flight I made, unaccompanied, in 1967, to visit my relatives in England. We'd visited once, when I was two and my brother was ten months, but that time we'd driven cross-country to Montreal and taken a boat. Indeed, I was the first family member to fly to England. When you're adding a child to the family almost every year, there's not much budget for travel, Nevertheless, my dad did manage to fly his mom out in 1966. Loving her, and having long idealized my English heritage, I started saving babysitting money -- 35 cents an hour -- for a ticket (about $170 for the charter flight, I think). I also picked berries, then beans, all summer long, and somehow reached the goal. We'd laughed at Grandma's letter recollecting a return flight so bumpy that she got on her knees to pray (can you imagine the stewardess who had to get the sweet little terrified lady back into her seatbelt?), and I was not deterred, but excited about the adventure.

1967 was Canada's Centennial year -- 100th anniversary of Confederation. Not only was there a jingoistic pop anthem composed specially for the occasion and played regularly on the radio, but there was the Montreal Expo. While the "summer of love" had people not much older than me tuning in, turning on, and dropping out, back in my little provincial city, my parents had a tailor make me up a suit in the special tartan designed for Canada's Centennial. There are photos somewhere, and I do hope they remain hidden: the only time I ever had a custom-made suit and it was in a blue-green tartan! That was what I wore on the plane as I headed off to be family ambassador.

I don't remember much about that first plane ride beyond its length. The history of aviation clearly shows that jets flew commercially long before 1967, but with economy as my guide, my ticket was for a charter flight available through dad's work. The plane chartered was a turbo-prop, and the flight was 18 hours long, broken by a re-fuelling stop in what was then Frobisher Bay and is now Iqaluit. I don't remember an in-flight movie although there may have been one. I do remember organized games -- bingo, I vaguely recall, among others. I do remember marvelling at the snow still melting on the ground (in June!) in Frobisher Bay while we walked around, stretching our legs.

Our flight to Paris will be less taxing, although the security demands are much more stringent now. Of course, I won't have a suitcase packed with canned salmon, cigarettes, and Wonderbread to declare at customs. Yes, at fourteen, I carried a suitcase stocked with Wonderbread to England, my dad's treat for the relatives who would be hosting me. Apparently, my grandma had exclaimed and exclaimed over how soft and tasty it was and how she'd never had anything like it at home. Unfortunately, while the 18 hours in the air were nothing to the preservative chemicals of this treat, the days it took me to overcome my shyness were, and the bread probably puzzled more than one auntie.

Perhaps I remember so little of this flight because it's eclipsed by the one I took four years later, the trip when I missed my return flight by mistaking the date on the ticket. But that's another story. . .


  1. Do you know your comments brought that Canadian centennial song back to my mind and I've been humming it in my head. I was 5 in 1967, living in Montreal, and we went to Expo as often as my parents could afford to take us. I remember the tartan too, and as my family is Scottish, we were all quite taken with it, but being poor as church mice, I never got a skirt or dress, nor did my sisters or mother. I think my father was given a polyester tie of the tartan and I would imagine it was the only piece of clothing new to our house that year.

    I was so young but remember that summer as pivotal in my Canadian identity, as least to a five year old. Of course, the events in Montreal over the next few years are clearer and less innocent.

    Enjoy your trip and thanks for the memories!


  2. We were actually in Victoria during the Canadian Centennial! I was 10 years old and had travelled with my family and another by car from San Francisco. I remember a huge cake with what seemed like sparklers on top in the lobby of the Empress Hotel, and people in fancy dress arriving for a party in the ballroom. Can I tell you that the Empress Hotel was the most magical place I'd seen at that point in my life?

    Hope your flight this time was smooth and that you were maybe able to catch a snooze to counter the jet lag.

  3. Thanks for the inspiring post.Overcoming shyness is not that tough. If you think that it's time to let go of the "shy side" , seek help from It has interesting guides. Thought that I might share with you.


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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