Thursday, April 9, 2009
Today is my 50th Anniversary. On this day, in 1959, I arrived at LAX with one suitcase containing four sets of clothes, a dictionary and one dollar. At the airport, I was told I'd be met by an uncle and an aunt who had promised my father they would take could care of me while I studied for the next four years. The TWA jet was late at LAX. It had stopped in Canada for fueling and was delayed because of weather. The stewardess, who spoke Italian and English didn't bother with the only two passengers on board. I assumed I had arrived at my destination and was about to get off the plane when she shouted something. Actually, I didn't understand much of what she said; I understood her gestures and her expression. It was the other passenger, an old woman who boarded the plane with me in Rome, who came to sit by me and translated the message.
She sat with me until we landed in Los Angeles. From Canada to Los Angeles she reassured me that in just a few weeks I would be able to understand everything. Believe me, she said, it will come to you, just as it came to me. She told me about herself, her shuttling back and forth from Italy to Los Angeles, spending winter in one place, summer in another. She had children all over the world. "You'll get used to everything, don't worry." Her words were reassuring. I imagined my life would be a bit like hers for the next few years; I could go to school for nine months and then return home in the summers.
When we landed, there was nobody to meet me. The kind lady asked if she could help. I told her not to worry, I was not scared. But I was. She handed me a piece of paper with her name and telephone number before she disappeared with a brood of children and adults who had met her. What a lovely family, I thought.
Two hours later, my uncle and aunt arrived. They had been on time, they explained; but the airline told them the plane was delayed; they left to get a bite to eat. It was late; I was sleepy and exhausted. We stopped at a drive-in and I had my first burger, fries and coke. I liked the coke.
Every time I have a coke I think of that first taste, the bubbles in my nose, the body aching, the fear of having been abandoned surfacing in my veins. That coke calmed me down that night. And it made that first summer bearable, when I realized that I was not going back home. It still does.
Coca Cola ought to pay me for this advertising!