It’s always the things you don’t expect…

Yesterday’s heavy snow had disturbed me. I’d needed the help of my neighbour to get both up and down the mountain, and the snow was still falling as I went to bed last night. Would we actually make it to the airport tomorrow? Would we be snowbound for our departure?

But this morning, the day dawned clear. The snowplough had cleared the road and, while there was still a bit of snow in patches, it was going to be a manageable drive down the mountain. Doubly so because I’d arranged to drive down right behind my neighbour, secure in the car tracks of his heavy Volvo. It would have been the perfect end to our stay. But I wasn’t actually going to the airport.

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A few days ago, Delphine had arrived at school and promptly thrown up. We’d battled the snow back home and she’d spent the day with a mounting fever. We passed the night badly. Delphine had squirmed beside me in my bed as we waited for the panadol to kick in. It wasn’t looking any better in the morning. Yesterday, as the snow fell more heavily, I took her to the doctor.

“We’re booked on a flight to Australia tomorrow night,” I explained after I’d given the doctor a run down of her symptoms. Do you think we’ll be able to make it?”

“With the medication I’m prescribing, we usually say they can go back to school in 48 hours. So if you start it now, you should probably be able to catch the flight.”

So with script in hand, we slugged through the driving snow, heavy even in the valley, to the pharmacy. As I paid for the multiple bottles, I noticed how much the snow was accumulating even down here in the valley. I knew I’d need help to navigate the top of the mountain road. So I called the man who’s become my knight in shining armour – my neighbour. He came to my aid immediately, and bringing his girlfriend with him to drive my car back up the mountain behind his. The snow continued to fall, but Delphine had started to show some signs of improvement. So I prayed that the forecast for the following day was correct – snow being replaced by clouds – and felt like we were back on the homeward track.

It was 9:30pm. One last check of the email before turning in for an early night ahead of our big day. Email from British Airways (BA):

“Your flight has been cancelled.”

Thus began hours of painful communication.

I tried to call the customer service number for Europe provided in the email. Wrong number. I tried the UK number. Skype wouldn’t ring it. I tried calling the number from my phone. It ran out of credit. I used Skype to call Qantas, with whom we were flying from Heathrow to Sydney. “You need to talk to BA.” I tried to recharge my phone’s credit online. The system froze. I battled through the French language automated over-the-phone recharging system. Success. I finally got through to BA. One and a half hours later and we finally had replacement flights. It was 1.30am. For the last hour of flight negotiations I’d had the still feverish Delphine in my arms who’d been awoken by the sound of my exasperated voice.

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I finally lay down in my bed, exhausted. We wouldn’t be leaving for two more days. I’d written a list of all the cancelation, postponements and extensions I’d need to get onto the following day. I was too wiped out to think any further.

I had just four short hours of sleep before I was up and getting the children ready for school this morning. I looked out with chagrin at the clear day dawning. Just outside my front door, I saw my knight with his shining spade. He was completing his usual morning service of digging a path from our door, up the stairs to the car.

I poked my head out the door: “I’ve got some news…” I explained the whole sorry story. He reassured me that we could stay another day and asked whether I still wanted to follow along behind him to descend into the valley that morning. I nodded and half an hour later was waiting out on the road, engine running, ready for him to take the lead. He tapped on my window.

“I’ve forgotten my jacket,” he said, “I’ll just duck back and get it.”

Five minutes later he appeared again at my window. A big box of French chocolates in his hands. “I thought you might need this.”

My heart turned over. How do people become this kind? I felt so battle wearied from the last few days. This tender offering took away some of the sting.

The heartening helpfulness continued when we arrived at school.

“Oh Nancy,” said Delphine’s teacher, “that’s awful.” “Let me take Delphine all day tomorrow as well and I’ll organise for Silas to go to afterschool care too.”

“Don’t bother booking a hotel,” said another “I can put you up at my house.”

The grinding fatigue was still there as I drove off to get started on my long list of phone calls, but my heart felt a little lighter.

This is not what I’d meticulously planned. But the gaps between the itinerary and reality have left room for the best of human compassion to shine through. I still wish we were going to be on that flight tonight. But I know that when I look back on my time in Alsace, it will be these memories of being helped in my moments of vulnerability that will make my memories of this time so golden.

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