Get Right Back to Where We Started From


You meet the most interesting people at 6:00 AM taking off from the Salem airport.

The way I see it, there are two types of seat buddy when it comes to airplane travel.  The surly, quiet type won’t be making any friendly small talk.  They’ll begrudgingly stand as you slide past on your infrequent and intimidating bathroom trips, but don’t try asking where they’re headed if you want to keep that privilege.

Then there’s my buddy on the flight from Salem, OR to Salt Lake City, Utah.  Nothing but the consummate southern gentleman, Mr. Stetson* filled my entire plane ride from start to finish with stories only a man of his drawl could pull off without sounding like a drunk precariously perched on a barstool.  From his cousin in the secret service who played ping pong with Spiro Agnew and went shopping with Jackie O. to his wife who attended Princeton and befriended Brooke Shields, this man dropped more names in under two hours than a deer on an open prairie.

*In lieu of actually asking his name, I instead took the creative license to lock my friend into a solid stereotype for the sake of entertainment value.

The trip from Salt Lake to Colorado Springs was less eventful, with my buddy fitting the first aforementioned profile and not entirely interested in small talk.  I finally cracked the book I’d held on my lap during the majority of my flight with Stetson, a stirring autobiographical account of Michael Gill Gates, son of famed writer for the New Yorker, Brendan Gill, called How Starbucks Saved My Life.  The basic premise involves his working for a large advertising firm for half his working life before getting canned for a younger replacement and finding a job at a Starbucks where he learns basic life tenants such as respect for coworkers and bathroom cleaning.  I hoped to glean a sense of renewal from the reading, but the choppy writing kept getting in the way.

My grandma and great-grandma picked me up from the Colorado Springs, CO airport, a couple of adorable Q-tips in a Buick Le Sabre most likely knocked off the assembly line before I was conceived.  Grammy Kay is one of my favorite people, a strong-willed Red Hat granny with a penchant for Coors and never afraid to laugh at a good fart.  Great-gramma Chartier is 94 years old, which is, quite frankly, the shit in and of itself.  She’s hard of hearing and can crochet a comfy afghan before you can say, “It’s an 80s movie, Gram, their hair is supposed to look like that.”

me, my mom, Grammy Kay, and Grandma Chartier

Four generations of Chartier/Vanderburgh ladies: me, my mom, Grammy Kay, and Grandma Chartier

Living with someone outside one’s generational blinders is an adventure.  Take a trip to Safeway, for example.  I’d never stood in the frozen food aisle with the intention of easing a hot flash before.  This was only after cracking a “Need to restock the condoms, Gram?” at the pharmacy counter.  One of the friendly stockers made an entirely valid comment about three generations being in one place, to which I replied, “Excuse me, sir, but we’re sisters.”

There are more dogs in my grandmas’ neighborhood than in the entire state of Oregon, and Grammy Kay knows them all by name or owner.  Their dog, Fluger, is a gentle giant of German Shepherd origins who’s scared of the kids walking home from school (but an avid hunter of the black squirrel in the back yard).  He also has the unfortunate side effect of covering whatever he touches in a shallow layer of puppy hairs, but it’s a small price to pay for having the big guy on my side.

The best part of staying with my grandmas was the conversation.  You know when you’re in an interview and you walk out feeling like you didn’t get a word in edgewise?  Welcome to the kitchen table with Gram Chartier.  My stint with Stetson was just the warm up I needed to prepare for all the history I’d hear from my elders.  My great-great-grandma, Augusta, hailed from the Midwest where she lost her husband to throat cancer and raised six children on her own.  Gram will be the first one in line to tell you that it couldn’t have been easy, but the kids never wanted for shoes or the occasional nickel ice cream.

Gramma Kay told me about an afternoon matinee she and her sister used to go to where they’d see three movies in a row for that same nickel.  I could travel back in time with the money in my pocket and watch movies for the rest of my young life.

I visited my younger cousins, too, lest I start getting perms and watching the Hallmark channel (love you, Gram, bless you for reading my blog).  9-year-old Ashley was Agent #1 and 7-year-old Joey was Agent #2 for our super secret spy mission.  Yours truly showed up late in the game and settled for Agent #5, which isn’t nearly as fun to call a comrade as “Number Two.”

On a fragility of life note, a passenger across the aisle from me on the plane ride home had a minor stroke and became the single palest human being I’ve ever seen.  He came around with the help of an oxygen tank, a cup of orange juice, and a kind-hearted dental technician who was the closest we had to a doctor on our tuna can plane.

Safely ensconced in a waiting area at the Salt Lake Airport, my laptop charging with Josh Groban playing on iTunes and my Blackberry at my side, I’ve returned to my cocoon of Gen Y bliss, completely in love with my family and planning my next visit back.


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