In my old airline days it was our duty to search for items that passengers left behind. I don't know what the procedure is today, but back then the last thing a tired flight crew did before deplaning was complete a quick lost article check. We checked the overhead bins, the lavatories, the floor and the seats. We didn't search seatback pockets, but we naturally retrieved the paperbacks, rattles, and stuffed dinosaurs that were tucked in there. Gradually I learned to apply the same thoroughness to my layover hotel rooms, but not before leaving a few nightgowns hanging on the back of the bathroom doors.
Nowadays, I realize that my organized searches were all a matter of repetitive training because I seem to have slipped back to my genetic forgetful state . . . and along the way it seems that I passed on the gene.
The leavings from the recent family visit were pretty typical a toy plane, a book, a few Legos and a five inch Polly Pockets cowgirl doll. Fortunately, nothing earth shattering. My daughter, Alix is getting better at the last minute search as every year goes by . . . which is amazing when I think of all the stuff that's involved. It seems as though the task required for happy family visits is to take a microcosm of your entire household, put it in the van and empty it at the other end. The grandchildren have no idea what tactical skills their mother possesses by packing everything they could possibly need or want and moving it across state lines. She learned her skills the hard way.
The summer we decided to take "the history vacation," beginning in Gettysburg and ending at Monticello, her lost article gene failed her on the first day. She was fourteenish. I thought both kids were responsible enough to haul their luggage to the station wagon. My mistake.
After checking into the hotel in Gettysburg, we decided to go someplace nice for dinner and that's when we discovered that her stuffed garment bag was lying on her bed. In Warren.
Her father was grumpy at dinner that night after Alix and I spent an hour at the nearby mall. But the following year he left his garment bag in a hotel in central North Carolina. We realized it was missing just before dressing for dinner . . . in eastern North Carolina. Come to think of it, he was grumpy that night too.
When the children were small we visited my mother in Massachusetts during the summer. I'm pretty sure we managed to leave small collections of belongings each year. Then, like now, we determined together what needed emergency shipping and what could wait until the next visit. For a while I thought we were a line item of the post office's profit center.
The summer that Bart was four, he took his stuffed bear to Massachusetts. Bruin was a very important member of the family back then, and quite distinguished because he wore a grosgrain bow tie at all times. Re-tying Bruin's brown and white polka-dotted ribbon was a routine part of most of my days. When we left Nanny's house heading for a stop in the Catskills, Bruin was with us, nattily bow-tied as usual
On top of a particularly winding mountain road we found a charming motel to spend the night. The next morning it took twenty minutes of careful maneuvering to descend that treacherous mountain road. I was just beginning to relax at the wheel when a loud screech came from the back of the wagon. "Bruin's tie is gone!" was the frantic wail . . . and it continued inconsolably. I pulled off the side of the road with a silent plea that I wouldn't have to head beack up that mountain. With traffic whizzing by, we went through every suitcase, tote and shopping bag looking for the polka-dotted ribbon. Coming up empty handed, I finally located a pay phone (remember those?) to call the motel. I thought all was well when they found it and asked them to mail it to us, thinking that a few days would be survivable.
Often the victim of faulty thinking, I was met with prolonged and ever-louder sobs until the trip back up the mountain seemed the easier solution. I guess a smile on the tear-stained face of a four-year-old towhead is its own reward.
I've managed to avoid mountain-top hostelries in the 32 years since. Oh, and just this summer, I found Bruin in the upstairs storage closet - lonely and tie-less.
The worst thing we ever left behind though, the one incident that is most discussed in family lore, is when we left Alix somewhere near Schenectady. Honestly, we didn't mean to.
As usual, we were returning from Massachusetts and I think the kids were five and nine years old. We got off the thruway to get gas before we headed south to Binghamton. All four of us climbed out for potty stops, drinks and leg stretching. We all piled back in the wagon about the same time, the doors slamming one, two, three, four. Four slams yup we're all here.
Fifteen minutes later we were going through the tolls at Route 88 when Bart piped up, "Aren't we going to take Alix home with us?" My head whipped around to discover only one child in the back seat - my heart almost stopped in the front seat. It seems that one of those door slams was a repeat when Bart didn't close it on the first try.
"OmiGod, OmiGod," as we turned around at the toll barrier. The worst parents who ever lived somehow survived the guilty race back to the gas station. I've only felt that squeezed feeling in my chest a few times in my whole life and I'd be grateful never to experience it again.
One of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen was our girl standing out by the pumps in that unnamed little town. She wasn't panicked and she wasn't afraid. She was mad.
When we drove up she stood with her arms crossed, her jaw clenched and one foot impatiently tapped the ground. We were just grateful she wasn't stuffed into the back of some pedophile's van.
Somehow a lifetime of Episcopalian guilt didn't measure up to what I felt that day. It took her a while to thaw out and eventually free me from what I thought might be a lifetime of servitude. I cooked all her favorite food and did her laundry first when we got home.
We did use the incident to teach the children about their personal safety. We didn't need to discuss what would top our departure checklist in the future.
Now when we leave things behind, we simply nod, smile, and pay for the shipping. No excesses of feeling stupid or neglectful. The heart-wrenching experience of leaving our oldest prize possession stranded, alone and penniless in a strange place put every other forgotten item into perspective . . . forever. Things are only things after all.
If an O'Brien visits you and leaves something behind, be kind. We have our priorities right, we're just lacking in short term memory. It's in the genes.
Marcy O'Brien writes from her home in Glade Township. She can be reached at Moby.firstname.lastname@example.org.