Thursday, October 20, 2011

Quasimodo Then and Now

A little over a couple of decades ago, my eldest daughter Sabrina and I did a three week tromp around England together. She needed to be sprung from school, which was being pretty toxic for her at the time. We stayed with family and at hostels, and she entertained all and sundry with impromptu violin concerts – a thrill for the other hostel patrons who hailed from all over the world. She also collected rocks.

She was ten years old at the time, and we had a deal that she would carry all her own stuff, including these rocks. As the days passed, her rock collection grew. After all, the rocks from the lanes of Smugglers Close in Norfolk were so very different from the rocks of the Isle of Man, which differed again from the rocks found in the mucky dunes of Lytham St. Annes.

At the end of our trip, when we checked in at Heathrow Airport, I took her rock pile – by now a good twenty pounds worth – and lashed it into the top section of my own 60 pound pack. Back then, the weight restrictions were generous, so a pack that now weighed about 80 pounds was no problem, outside of hernias for the handlers.

After touching down in Vancouver, we waited our turn at the baggage carousel. Bags tumbled down and were retrieved, until finally there were no more bags to be seen. The lady at the service desk was extremely concerned for us. She understood the irreplaceable nature of a rock collection, but said that it may be that they were gone for good. She got me to fill out the forms relating to our insurance policy. As I read the fine print, I could hardly contain my glee. The remuneration for our loss would be based on total poundage, and I had a stamped record of the heft of what we had checked in.

A few days passed, and I was getting more and more convinced that I was about to see dollar signs in my future. The clothes that I would have to replace were like all my clothes – not worth much. The rocks, well, I hoped that their loss would not be too traumatic. We would after all, have a story. And money.

The following week, I was sitting in Council Chambers in Mission City where I served as an Alderman, when the Municipal Clerk Don West entered the room. He whispered something in my ear that I didn’t immediately catch. I followed him out into the hallway, where he once again said: Quasimodo. He then pointed to a poor courier bent double under the combined weight of my pack and Sabrina’s rocks.

Two decades and change later, I have once again returned from an overseas trip, this time to Ireland and Boston. No rocks were in my belongings this time, but as is often the case, I more than made up for it in books – as well as with the weight of the things that my husband had asked me to pick up en route because they were such good deals: Binoculars; Motorcycle raingear; Water filters. You have to know him to understand this mix. It does make sense.

When I got home, I decided to weigh all the various bits that I had been carting around. The checked wheelie bag came to 50.5 lbs. That was close to reasonable, but I am abashed to confess that the two carry-on bags vastly exceeded their ten pound maximum. In truth, the sum total of everything that I had been carting around from pillar to post came to close to 90 pounds. Without intending to, I had become my own Quasimodo. This actually left me feeling a wee bit proud that at age 65, I could still pull this off.

Most of the weight that I brought home in my various bags included maps, documents, and books. Always, books. I doubt that I will ever wise up on this score, although there is method in my madness. In the next few weeks, my plan is to assemble what I have learned from my most recent foray to Ireland, and then I will share the results either in this blog or on my web site.

In time, all this baggage – which in this case is non-metaphoric - will be transformed into story, truth and reflection.  Unlike Quasimodo, I don’t plan to swing down the bell rope of Notre Dame. At least, not just yet.

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