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Monday, October 15, 2012

Life, Death And Travel

Grandmommy’s 90th birthday party was a long-overdue family reunion on a happy occasion, kind of like Thanksgiving, but warmer, and with relatives coming from much farther away.  My cousin Honor presented the two-volume quilt/memory book which she and I had been working on for months—I harassed everyone in the family to send in pictures and stories, and she did the real work, assembling everything that was emailed to me into a beautifully-laid-out scrapbook, 88 pages in all.  Furthermore, she scanned the completed project and posted it online, so that we all could enjoy it.  She’s not a rocket scientist for nothing!  Her husband, who has requested the blogonym Didymus (I think I will refer to him as “Diddy” for short), was a huge help and encouragement in the effort.  They are awesome.  Honor did all the photography for the party—she’s phenomenally talented.  She and my friend Rachel would be instant friends if they ever were to get the chance to meet, I believe, but as Diddy and Honor live in Colorado, I don’t know that this will happen anytime soon.

Grandmommy got the one birthday present from the whole family, but she gave each and every person who came an individual gift!  That is Grandmommy in a nutshell, writing some almost twenty  individual notes telling each person what they meant to her, not neglecting the four great-grands or the two non-family members who came as guests of guests. 

My brother Bob had picked me up at the Columbia, SC, airport Friday night, and he was in a rare conversational mood on the ride home and late-night larder-raiding that followed.  He regaled me with tales of autopsies—one suicide, one murder, and one natural death, all with their own peculiarities.  It seems that pathologists compare everything to food (“pre-mortem clotting looks like [edible substance], while post-mortem clotting looks like [a different edible substance]”]. He had a great time, and actually got to participate.  It’s really remarkable what pathologists can figure out from examining a corpse, and how some things you’d think would kill you won’t while others will.  For instance, the autopsy on the stabbing victim showed he had a terminal auto-immune disease which was attacking his organs—although his family might think his life was cut drastically short by violence, it was in fact not that long before he would have died of undiagnosed natural causes.  The heart of the man who’d suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism had two sets of scarring, one old, one new, showing that he’d had a heart attack sometime in the distant past, then another in the time immediately preceding his death—from the latter the pathologist deduced that there had been a “shower” of tiny clots which had caused a minor attack a bit before the big one had broken off and killed him.  The last autopsy was that of a woman—apparently a fairly common method of female suicide is to make up one’s face nicely and shoot oneself in the chest.  Bob was interested to see that aside from the traditional “v” cut to open the chest cavity, the pathologist also cut out the tongue, roots and all, to examine it.  All the internal organs, once extracted and tested, were tossed into a large orange biohazard bag, and then the whole, in the bag, were dumped back into the abdominal cavity.  I didn’t think that the organs would necessarily be placed back in order, but, like my brother, I was a little boggled by the fact that they are deposited, chopped up and bagged, in an autopsied body.  Well, we are all only so much offal, anyway.

My travels back to DC were as eventful as the trip from, but in a much more pleasant way.  Mums sped me to the airport in her little silver convertible, and I was through security and at the gate in plenty of time.  Then they announced that they had oversold the flight, and they were looking for a volunteer to give up a seat in exchange for a $450 certificate.  I thought for about twenty seconds and then volunteered.  The certificate is good for the purchase of any one ticket on US Airways, domestic or international; I have to use it within a calendar year.  They got me on a later flight with a layover in Charlotte.  First, the plane was late, so we were late boarding.  When we were seated the pilot apologized for the lack of air conditioning and said that the issue that was keeping the AC from working on the ground was also preventing the engines from self-starting, and we were going to hear a loud noise as we were essentially given a jump from an external power source.  The flight attendant went through the safety procedures, the pilots attempted to start the engines, and then they made the announcement that there had been a major electrical failure during the attempted jump, and we might want to deplane because of the heat while they were consulting a mechanic.  Some people were grousing, but I really appreciated that the pilot was prompt, and upfront, with telling us what was amiss and ensuring our comfort.  We all filed back indoors (I had gate-checked my suitcase, with my computer inside, and so was sans K-dramas for this unexpected interlude) and waited for the verdict.  I could see the silhouette of a mechanic in the open door of the aircraft, as it was dark out by this point, and I wondered what was being decided.  My connecting flight to DC was supposed to board at 9:40 and it was 8 pm by this point.  Happily, after only twenty minutes or so, they announced we were good to go, and we all went back across the tarmac and climbed aboard.  The pilot told us what they’d done—they’d just turned the whole thing off and back on again, rebooting the system, like a recalcitrant computer or balky copy machine.  And everything worked, even the AC.  He assured us they’d checked and rechecked everything, and they were confident all was in order.  We made it to Charlotte without trouble, the one fly in the ointment being that we arrived at a gate at the end of the “E” terminal, and my connecting flight was leaving out of a gate in the “B” terminal, which was clear the other side of the airport.  Even without a sprained ankle, that’s a hike.  I made it to the “B” gate just as the connection was starting to board, so I didn’t get a chance to grab anything to eat.  During the flight to DC, I distracted myself from my empty stomach by talking to the nice young newlywed National Guardsman in the exit row seat next to me.  Good conversationalists have been the norm in my seatmates this weekend, a boon when one is without internet access in a place where the only reading material is the quarterly airline magazine and a couple of duty-free catalogues.

Parking for the two-days-plus-a-fraction cost $60, but with the $450 ticket voucher I feel like I came out on top, expense-wise.  I think I also may write a note to the airline telling them what a good job the first crew this evening did.  So many inconveniences and mechanical challenges are endurable if you are told (like we were) exactly what is going on, and are permitted to wait out the resolution in relative comfort.  The courtesy of this crew on Sunday more than made up for the lack thereof in the customer service agent Friday.

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