As promised, part of the first chapter of the GRADUATION PRESENT
I was halfway to Germany on a wide-bodied plane when all the wires in my brain fizzled into mush. Below lay snow and ice infinitum. Ahead, the veil of darkness called night. Soon we would pass through it, a silver arrow rounding the curve of the earth, that is, if the plane didn’t crash in the frozen wasteland of northern Canada, as I suspected it would. Then we’d be lost forever, for it was too vast a white nothingness for any search and recovery team to ever find us. We’d have to eat each other to survive, like the Donner party. That is, if the plane landed intact, which it wouldn’t. It would tumble across the tundra, our bodies mangled in the wreckage. I imagined a hungry polar bear, wandering about and coming upon mounds of steaming, freshly roasted flesh, thanking God for sending down such succulent manna from heaven, if indeed, bears prayed.
I closed the shade and turned on the overhead light. I’d been staring at the vast whiteness for way too long and it had gotten to me in the worst way. The plane will not fall from the sky, I told myself. Bears will not eat your roasted liver. Uncle Bob will get the telegram. He will meet you at the airport. Focus on these happy thoughts: The storybook castles. The quaint medieval villages. The Alps! All those await you, Riley Anne O’Tannen! All those things and more.
The plane shook violently. The seat belt lights flashed. “Air turbulence,” the pilot announced in English, then German, then French. He’d been making that same claim for the last hour but I knew he was lying. We’d lost an engine, sucked in a goose, or ruptured a gas line. We were going down.
“Was ist los?” Frau Schwimmer demanded. All the other passengers were nesting comfortably in their seats, trying to catch a few hours of sleep before we landed on the other side of the world. But not her seatmate. Oh no. When not fretting over every minor vibration of the plane, I wrestled with the map on my lap as though my life depended on it.
“Nichts,” I claimed. Nothing is wrong. She unfortunately spoke no English and although I thought (after three whole years of high school German) I’d be able to communicate with her, our early conversations had been labored and futile. About the only thing I learned was that she was returning from a visit with her daughter in San Francisco.
She noted my crumpled map. “Wo gehen sie?”
“Gunthersblum?” She echoed. She was a little older than my mother but not as old as my grandmother, stout but not overweight. Her curly brown hair tightly framed a kindly face but her woolen suit was severe. “Ich weiss es nicht.”
“Nein.” She hadn’t heard of the town of Gunthersblum which was worrisome indeed as I had not been able to find it on my map. How could I relax if I didn’t know where I was going? However she was not a woman to allow panic on her watch. She patted my hand. “Not to have angst!” She ordered, rooting through a massive carpetbag purse for her map. “We will find.”
But we didn’t. We scoured every inch of her much more comprehensive map, top to bottom, bottom to top, the border towns, the mountain towns, the seaside towns—searching for Gunthersblum, Guntherstown, Gunthersville, Saint Gunthers, even Lake Gunthers—with no luck. Of course I was no help. Was it North or South? She asked but I had no idea. It was just a town in Germany I was being sent to for reasons alien to the Frau Schwimmers of the world. Women like her, with their ordered lives, could never in a million years understand my family.
If you want to read the rest, it’s on sale on Amazon.
Next – favorite sections from early readers…