Mother on the Orient Express: Part One

While I was eating dinner tonight “Sentimental Journey” played over the restaurant’s speakers. I’m well aware that I probably heard it more because I was sensitive to hearing it, but I still think it was a gentle reminder that I needed to get my ass in gear and write up these stories.

I love these stories, what happened on our Orient Express trip. Ten days with my mother for her sixtieth anniversary? Obviously, some things I’ll forever treasure. So I want to make sure I get this down before the alleged “Myth of Pam” takes over and mutates the past into stories I’d much rather remember. Before I have an excuse that it’s just too late to write them down.

I’m sure it’s taken longer to write these entries than you were expecting. Me too. Originally it was because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this experience. I don’t like to think it was an excuse I was making when I pondered over whether or not there was a larger story in here, like a book or a screenplay. I still think there is one. But maybe I have to get this story out in little spurts, style, while I figure out what to do with the lessons I learned in taking my mother on the European vacation that was her life-long dream. Not everybody gets to do this. I still can’t believe we got to do this.

My mom asks periodically if I’ll write these stories up. Mostly I think because she wants me to release my pictures from Flickr so she can send links to friends. But the truth is, I’ve come to look at these stories a little differently than I thought I would. See, once I got home and people asked how the trip went, my answer was almost always the same:

“It was fun. It was good. Well, mostly. We haven’t spoken in three weeks.”

I’m pretty sure I know where it fell apart (Paris), and just how much blame I have in its falling apart (a lot). And I will say that the happy-ending of this is that I think enough time has passed that my mom only thinks of this trip as a fond memory, of a life-long dream come true. But that’s because my mom is good at selective memories. I do not know how to do that.

Much of the problems I had on the trip have to do with the difference in how I perceive myself to be compared to the actual person that I am. I like to think of myself as a patient person. Open-minded. One who rolls with the punches and doesn’t get hung up on the trivial.

After spending ten days with my mother, I can tell you, unequivocally, that I am not that person.

What I am, it seems… and I am not bragging about this in any way… is my father.

Okay, but before I take all the blame on why I turned into my dad on this trip, you need to know the following things about my mom:

1. She once missed her flight sitting at the gate, reading a book.
2. She once missed her flight sitting at the gate, asleep.
3. Despite having FIVE YEARS WARNING that this trip was happening, she did not learn one word of a foreign language, nor did she get herself prepped to walk a few miles a day.
4. This second part of that last fact? I didn’t learn about it until we got to Europe.
5. If there is an opposite of a “foodie,” it is my mother. If you ask me to use words I already know to label that condition, I might offer up “stubborn” or “toddler-esque.” My frustration with this comes from the fact that when I was little she MADE ME try new foods. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it,” she’d always say. But I had to try it. If I could have told little me that my mom would one day make vomit sounds at the word “guacamole,” I might have saved myself a few miserable nights of being trapped behind a plate of green beans.
6. Mom has never been outside the US.
6a. Mom would point out here that she has been to Canada and Mexico.
6ai. “Canada” was an amusement park just outside of Michigan, on a tiny island you took a ferry to that was technically Canadian land, but I don’t think there were actual Canadians on Boblo Island.
6aii. “Mexico” was a three-hour catastrophe where my father thought it would be fun to see Mexico, got all of one mile beyond the Tijuana border and said, “Well… all these signs are in Spanish! How am I supposed to know where I’m going?” He immediately turned the car around and we spent the next three hours crawling through traffic to cross back into California.
6b. So I say they don’t count.
7. Mom doesn’t know how to text. I don’t think her phone actually receives texts.
8. Remember the time we lost my mom while she was up in the air on a plane because she had sent me her arrival information in what turned out to be a blank email? I do.
9. My mother considers two places when she thinks about the word “vacation”: Palm Springs and Las Vegas. If my mom could play video poker in a swimming pool, she would truly do nothing else her entire life. She’d look like Tandoori Lady and be so freaking happy about it.
10. I think I’ve made my point.

I had mom meet me at the Newark airport, giving her a departure time that was a good two hours before it actually was. I flew from LAX to Newark and waited in a restaurant named Oyster, frantically gobbling up the last Internet access I was to have for a while.

That phone Mom’s holding in that above picture I took when she sat down. It’s her phone. You may remember phones like that from the ‘90s. The other interesting fact about the phone is that seconds before that picture was taken, the phone died and she had no way of charging it. Which means there was no way to contact my mom if we were to somehow become separated during our trip.

Which means from that moment, sitting at a table at Oyster before we’d even taken off toward Europe, before we’d even made it to the gate, we had to become literally inseparable.

But, I mean, it’s ten days with your mom. Who’d ever need a little alone time in the middle of that?

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