Plane and simple
Deep in the darkest corner of my vault of memories, just before the memory of losing my mother in the women’s wear section of Piggott’s department store, is the one of my first flight. I must have been about three, perched on the lap of great-grandma Hunter. I can’t recall where I was going or where I’d been but no doubt there was no lap belt involved and I’m pretty sure my grandma Beryl would have been sitting nearby, puffing on a cigarette.
Skip ahead to the mid-1970s and my next flight seems extraordinary in hindsight. My family of five is heading off on a camping trip. We’re loading all our gear, not into a four-wheel drive, but into a dinky single-engine plane. Far too soon after take-off from Toowoomba’s little airport it skids to a halt on a pristine beach on Fraser Island, where we go wild for a week, foraging for eugaries to use as fish bait, leaping off sand dunes and befriending a lone mutton bird that later dies under the fly of our tent.
There was no cause, or budget, for me to take to the air again for many years. Then, when I was 18, my father got a job in England and I found myself wrenched from university and on my first long-haul flight. As a freshly fledged adult, I could sit with my dad and order a beer. Imagine! I recall gazing out my window in wonder at the glittering lights of cities and villages below. All those lives, way down there.
And the food. I was so impressed with the in-flight culinary offerings of British Airways that I kept those menu cards for years as souvenirs. Undoubtedly that meal was nothing to write home about but I probably wrote home about it anyway, on flimsy blue airmail paper.
Fast forward a decade or two, and my husband and I are feeling the death stares of fellow passengers as we board a flight to Italy. The object of their distaste? I have a six-month-old baby in my arms. They are expecting the worst but my daughter defies them. She sleeps, surprisingly, like a baby, waking occasionally to feed and coo and gurgle diplomatically at her neighbours before dutifully slumbering again. As we queue to disembark, passengers compliment us on her exemplary behaviour — as if we had anything to do with it.
A couple of years later, on a flight from Japan, those death stares come our way again but this time for good reason. My overtired two-year-old son has a three-hour hissy fit that involves him wailing at top volume and running up and down the aisles. When he finally collapses, exhausted, into the bassinette he can only just squeeze into, I crumple exhausted into my seat. My husband orders me a glass of wine and I sip it, silently wiping away tears of frustration and shame.
These days my teen and tween children board planes with the insouciance of someone going to the supermarket. My daughter refuses to eat plane food but she does sleep, like a baby. My son’s boundless energy is happily contained by the plethora of digital distractions on hand. But when they land at their destination, their faces show the joy of travel is embedded deeply in their genes.