I know it is un-American, but I do not like orange juice. The pulp in it clings to my tongue and doesn’t go down easily. The acid churns my stomach. And it’s just so orangey.
I also don’t like to travel during the holidays. I started being responsible for my Thanksgiving and Christmas travels when I was seventeen and went to college three-thousand miles from home. Ever since then, I’ve lived far away from at least part of my family and have had to fly frequently on holiday weekends.
Once my husband and I started working, we tended to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with his parents, who lived just ninety miles from our house. Those car trips weren’t too bad, unless the weather was dreadful.
But every third year we traveled to the Pacific Northwest for Christmas with my parents. Once we had children, we had to schlep their belongings—including all presents—halfway across the country. I usually shipped boxes in advance and hoped they arrived before we did.
Christmas 1989 was one of our years to travel west. My parents lived in Richland, Washington, at the time, which required two airplanes from Kansas City. My children that year were four and seven.
I had shipped our presents—wrapped and unwrapped—to my parents ahead of time. I only needed to pack clothes for myself and the kids. My husband was responsible for packing for himself. (He usually was, and we often had to go to Wal-Mart the day after we arrived to buy socks or underwear.)
Packing our clothes was a complicated endeavor. I had to decide on the appropriate garments for church, dinners at fancy restaurants, and everyday activities in the middle of winter. I had to limit myself to the number of suitcases that two adults could carry, because our children were not big enough to provide much assistance. One result of my logistical calculations was that I decided I would make do with one raincoat with a zip-out lining.
December 1989 was the coldest month on record in Kansas City. On the morning we left, the temperature was minus 22 degrees. We had to leave our house at 6:00am to get to the airport in time for our first flight.
The taxi arrived to pick us up at the appointed hour. The kids and I were ready. My husband and I carried the bags to the taxi, and the kids and I got in the back seat.
“I’m going to turn off the water,” my husband said.
I understood why he was turning it off. I didn’t want the pipes to burst while we were away any more than he did. But couldn’t he have done it BEFORE we were in the frigid taxi? I shivered in my coat, even with its zip-out lining.
Finally, hubby climbed in the cab, and off we went.
Check-in at the airport went smoothly. My husband announced he wanted breakfast before boarding. Our seven-year-old son chimed in, “I’m starved!” He was always starved, from birth until age 25. Maybe longer.
We entered the airport cafeteria restaurant, put food on our trays, paid, and found a table. I took coats off the kids and then myself, piled them on a nearby chair, and we sat down to eat. I was exhausted. Not particularly hungry, but exhausted with the effort of preparing for the trip, rising early in the morning, and getting myself and two children ready for a week-long cross-country trip.
“Be careful with that,” I said to my husband when he picked up his bottle of orange juice. He had a habit of shaking drink bottles before he opened them.
“It’s okay,” he said in that placating tone he uses when he thinks I’m being silly.
“You’ll spill it,” I said, as he starting shaking the orange juice bottle.
“Nah,” he said.
The cap flew off the bottle, and half the juice landed on my coat. Mostly on the outside, but some on the zipped-in zip-out lining.
I didn’t swear, because of the children, but I was damn angry. “That’s the only coat I brought!” I yelled. I grabbed some napkins and tried to blot the juice off my coat.
“Let me do that.” My husband tried to take the napkins from me.
“You’ve done enough,” I said through my teeth.
The kids’ eyes were wide, their mouths gaping. Dad had clearly screwed up, even worse than THEY usually did. What would Mom do now? They’d seen her go ballistic over smaller things.
I did my best to salvage the coat. We ate our food in silence, except for my caustic comments toward my husband, such as “Did you think I wanted to smell like orange juice all week?” and “I told you not to shake the bottle” and “You’ve done this before, you know. Why didn’t you listen to me?”
Then we went to use the restrooms before the flight. I took my four-year-old daughter into the women’s room with me. As we washed our hands, I dabbed at my coat again with water and paper towels, still fuming about “stupid man” and “thinks he knows everything” and “it’ll be sticky the whole vacation.”
My four-year-old sidled toward the exit.
“Where do you think you’re going?” I yelled.
She started to cry, huge tears welling out of her eyes. Many years later, she told me all she wanted was to get away from me.
But, of course, I couldn’t let a four-year-old loose in the airport. “Get back here!” She took one step closer to me, but still sobbed.
That’s how we boarded the plane—me reeking of orange juice, my daughter crying, and my husband and son silent.
The only good news is that I got the single seat, and my husband had the children in the row of three across from me. And the dry cleaners was open on Christmas Eve, so my coat got cleaned.
For the quarter-century since that Christmas, this has been known in our family as the Orange Juice Incident.
What problems have you incurred during holiday travels?