Friday, May 14, 2010

AND THE WINNER IS . . .

The summer of 1970, a monumental event occurred in the life of the Rendall family. We were off to Great Britain and Europe for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. This was no ordinary holiday and we were to be there for eight full weeks. Mom had been saving for ten years for this adventure and we were excited beyond description. The plan called for us to visit my Grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends in a trek which involved cars, busses, boats, trains and planes. There were several rules for the trip, the main one being that because we couldn't afford porters and didn't have a personal valet, each of us had to carry our own luggage. We needed to be responsible to see that it got loaded and unloaded at each destination. For a seven and nine year old, this seemed like a lot of responsibility. Little did I know how valuable that training would be when I started road managing bands in later years!

We flew out of Calgary on a special charter flight on July 1st, Canada Day. Even though Dad was not in the teachers union per se, he was a teacher and Mom had been able to find tickets at a good price. The airplane was filled with educators and they were in a great celebratory mood as the school year had just wrapped up for the summer. We flew direct from Calgary, Alberta to Heathrow Airport in London, England. The flight followed what is termed the "polar route". Flying over Alberta, Northern Saskatchewan, the North West Territories, Greenland, Iceland and then down in to England, the flight time was about 8 hours. This was considerably shorter than flying through Toronto and then east over to Britain.

Mom had been planning and preparing for this trip since she and Dad had traveled there in 1960. Scheduling, lining up where we were going to stay, who we would visit and what we were going to see involved a lot of work and Mom took to it with great vigor. Long before email and cell phones she did everything by typewritten letter.

Along with all these details there was the matter of wardrobe. Mom was resolved that her little family was going to be dressed for the occasion. After all, this was a chance to represent the Canadian west in all of it's splendor. Some of our relatives were convinced that Dad had gone off into the wild blue yonder and I think Mom set out to disprove these notions.

A very accomplished seamstress, she set about creating the ultimate vacation wardrobe. There wasn't much that my Mother couldn't sew and she was game to tackle just about anything from suit coats to pants, dresses, and upholstery.

For the trip she created a brand new wardrobe. She fancied herself a bit of a conservative fashion diva and emulated clothing in the style of Jackie O, the wife of slain President Kennedy. Fancy suits, dresses and even special hats were crafted for the big event.

Bless my mother's heart, but the wardrobe she created for my brother and me was something out of a TV comedy show. A cross between the Urban Cowboy and a circus clown, we each had a little pair of black cowboy boots with red stitching. These were perhaps the most uncomfortable footwear known to mankind, especially for a trip that involved a great deal of walking. We each had wide leather belts with big brass and faux mother of pearl buckles featuring small guns and horses. Formal looking cowboy shirts with mother of pearl buttons, a choice of string tie or white cloth bow tie and white, ten gallon cowboy hats rounded out our attire. To top it all off we each had a big brown leather trucker's wallet attached by a brass chain to our belt. This was to keep us from being pick-pocketed, although in retrospect, I'm not sure if anyone would have been brave enough to have approached our motley crew. For Sunday dress, Mom had sewn Dad, my brother and I matching plaid tartan suit coats. Talk about blending in! I can't even imagine what our friends and relatives must have thought when we disembarked from that airplane. I'm certain that today we would have been arrested under some type of Homeland Security initiative. But soldier on we did, for eight solid weeks, representing the Great Canadian West.





Back in the day, Air Canada was considered by many to be one of the premier airlines in the world. Along with JAL, KLM and Quantas, Canada's flagship airline, with it's symbol of the red maple leaf in the circle, stood for quality service and first class treatment of it's passengers and staff.

Once we were at cruising altitude the flight crew served up an incredible meal of steak and lobster with all the trimmings. Presented on fine china with real silverware and cloth linens, every passenger was treated to first class service. For the drinkers on the flight, there was an open bar and so the party began. This was quite different from the current level of service on most airlines today. If you are lucky you get a sample pack of nuts and half a glass of pop filled mostly with ice. As far as creature comforts are concerned, if you happen to get a free pillow, it is not much of an improvement on an oversized cotton ball. The blankets, should you receive one, are not much larger than a face cloth.

After the meal was served, the captain came on the intercom and announced that they would be holding a contest for those on the flight and prizes would be awarded to the winners. He then posed two questions for us to answer. The first one was to guess the combined weights of the steward and the stewardesses (now called flight attendants). The second question was to guess how many pounds (not gallons) of jet fuel we took on in Calgary for our flight to London. I am not sure of the political correctness of the first question, but it didn't seem to be an issue in those days.

Our family loved contests and it seemed that as long as you didn't have to pay to enter something it was permissable. As a kid I entered all sorts of contests. In the special comic insert that came in the Calgary Herald every Saturday there were several contests such as Cappy Dick and Tell Me Why. I would enter most of them, diligently mailing in my answers and sometimes even winning. I also entered art, speech and essay contests and occasionally won those as well. Truth be told, I was even excited with the prizes in a box of crackerjacks or cereal! Mom and Dad loved contests, and I remember them winning five small appliances in a Kraft Foods contest. This was for naming a red and white decorated cake for the centennial celebrations of Canada. I think the name they came up with was Snow Flame. I entered a draw in High School and won a pair of goalie skates. Our family was primed and ready for this contest and so we each set to work on our answers. These were collected and we waited anxiously for the announcement of the winners.

After half an hour or so, the captain came on and announced the winners. "On the combined weights question in row 12 seat A, the winner is . . . Ted Rendall." He announced another winner for the fuel question, and then said that they would also be awarding a booby prize for that question as well. "That winner is . . . row 12, seat C . . . Stevie Rendall." My answer wouldn't even have gotten us off the ground. So much for my math skills! After a bit a steward and stewardess came down the aisle to hand out the prizes. I received a very nice Air Canada gift bag with puzzles, books, a little plastic DC 10 model, lifesavers, stickers and other memorabilia. Also included were a set of small plastic Air Canada wings similar to the ones that the Captain and crew wore on their lapels. This set me on the course of collecting wings and I have a nice little collections of wings from many of the airlines I have flown on.

The steward then stepped forward and announced to Dad that the prize he had won was a case of champagne. Dad, a little surprised, informed the attendant that he didn't drink. "Well," said the steward, "Give it to your wife." "My wife doesn't drink either," Dad replied. The guy, looking a little exasperated, then said, "Well then, give it your friends." Dad said, " I don't have any friends!" - just kidding. He said, " I don't have any friends that drink." I think the steward thought because we were all on a charter flight of teachers, a lot of the people on the flight would be friends and could all enjoy Dad's winnings. Such was not the case with us. We didn't know a single soul on the flight. The attendant explained with some urgency that they were required to get rid of the champagne as it had been listed on the plane's manifest and they were not allowed to land with it still in the possession of Air Canada. Dad, not wishing to cause any problems and in the spirit of generous Christian giving, made the attendant an offer. "Why don't I give it to you and your flight crew?" This seemed to satisfy the steward and back down the aisle he went.

Several hours later when it came time to make our exit from the plane we observed the crew looking somewhat worse for the wear. The entire bunch of them had partaken of the complimentary sauce and were barely able to hold themselves together to disembark.

Turns out Dad had a few friends that drank after all!

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© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

3 comments:

  1. This is classic STEVE RENDALL!
    Could we love it more?
    Laughing in Indiana and now cheered UP!
    ~Vanessa

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  2. Oh my, that costume is something else, and you both look properly miserable. I loved that story, Steven. Well told. I knew and loved both your mother and dad. I liked his classes as all his notes were alliterated so that they were easily remembered points. Your Aunt Rachel was in my class in school from Grade School through Bible School. I loved her too.

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  3. I LOVE this story! And I love the fact that your dear mother made the vacation wardrobe. It is totally something my mom would have done as well. Only she probably would have made us girls plaid underwear...I'm not kidding.
    Great read, SJR.

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