Monday, June 21, 2010


Grey. If our vacation to Philadelphia had a color—and a feeling—it would be grey.

A weekend in the historic city seemed like a good idea. My kids would take their first airplane ride. We would visit my sister-in-law. Tour the Liberty Bell. Catch a Phillies game.

What do they say about the best-laid plans?

First, the weather. We experienced a string of rainy July days. The hotel sofa beckoned, but with two young children and no Disney Channel, relaxing in the room with a stack of books proved unrealistic. So we stood outside the Liberty Bell in the rain. We walked the historic areas in the rain. And we visited the King of Prussia mall many times. . .one of the few bright spots for me.

At least it didn’t rain in the mall.

Visiting my sister-in-law was another bright spot. One evening she prepared a lovely dinner for us. Unfortunately, dinner congealed while we wandered around Philadelphia, lost. We were often lost in Philly. In the car. On the trains. Walking. The city map made no sense to this Michigander family.

On one ‘lost’ adventure, my husband stopped at a red light. Sadly, the truck behind us did not stop. The impact stunned me. When I turned to take stock of my children, they stared back, unharmed. “Mom, I still have to go to the bathroom,” my son whispered. He’d been asking for half an hour, but since we drove in an uncertain part of town, I’d begged him to wait half a dozen times already.

Post-accident mental fog crept in. Getting my son to the bathroom became the Most Important Thing in the Universe. While my husband called the rental car company, I left with our kids to fulfill my quest.

We hustled past store after store, each posting a “No restroom” sign. Rounding a corner, I spotted a medical clinic. We rushed in. A kind-looking man and woman approached. The man said, “You can’t be here unless you’re a client. Everything here is confidential. . .we don’t. . .you shouldn’t. . .”

They cast nervous glances at my children.


That kind of clinic.

My son whimpered. A swell of panic overtook me. My words tumbled, “We were just in a car accident we’re from Michigan we don’t know anyone here my son is going to wet his pants can you please let us use your bathroom we won’t—”

They hurried us down the hallway, their faces full of sympathy. While my son used the facilities, I stared at framed pictures of Jesus. God bless those Christians for taking care of their clients—and overwrought travelers.

Bad vacations have turning points—the moment you know things will improve, or the moment you wish you’d never come. The car accident was our Philadelphia Waterloo. The next morning, we packed, ecstatic at the prospect of going home. Amazingly, we managed not to get lost on the way to the airport.

Did I mention my insane fear of flying? No? Well, while we waited for the flight home, I employed every trick known to paranoid flyer: I recited the reassuring statistics on airline fatalities. Distracted myself with magazines. And of course, prayed.

I managed to stay calm until the airline agent made an announcement: due to thunderstorms, our flight was delayed. The delay stretched into the afternoon. When we finally boarded at dinnertime, I prayed for a smooth flight.

Thank God, it was smooth. I know because I watched our plane navigate every thunderhead between Pennsylvania and Michigan, my forehead pressed to the airplane window and my eyes a wide, petrified brown.

I feel sorry for the poor flight attendant who poured my diet soda. She heard the pilot say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re waiting for a line of thunderstorms to pass. We’ll circle Detroit and let you know when we’re clear to land.” I heard the pilot say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the thunderstorms over Detroit will surely cause your untimely death, since I have no idea how to land in these conditions. Rest in peace.” The flight attendant must have passed by six times to check on me, the trembling lady trying to act brave for her kids but death-gripping the armrests.

After landing, I resisted the impulse to kiss the airport carpet. On the drive home, we tried not to discuss the Vacation of Grey. But, feeling distraught, I opened that can o’worms: “You know, if we would have driven to Philadelphia like I suggested, we would have been home an hour ago.”

My husband’s response was downtrodden. . .you might even say colorless. But as we pulled into our subdivision, the clouds parted, revealing a beautiful sunset ablaze in the kind of rich, vibrant colors only God’s imagination can conjure.
We shook our heads and laughed. After the stress and uncertainty, God provided the perfect, sun-drenched ending to a grey, rain-drenched vacation.

And we felt a new appreciation for home, sweet home.


  1. Hi, Gwen. So glad to see you back.

  2. Ha! The bright side to grey vacations is that it's a relief to get back to work!

  3. Thanks, Dina.

    Lisa, you are SO right. The Monday after this weekend trip, believe me, hubby and I were glad to return to the daily grind. :)

  4. I love your description of the flight home! I can't tell you how many times I've heard a pilot say the same thing!

  5. Will you ever give Philly another try?


    I think you topped any bad vacation story I can think of Gwen. Thanks for starting our week off right!

  6. Gwen, wow. I think you had the same pilot I had on MY last flight back into Denver. My high point: we hit turbulence, every passenger sucked in an audible breath - silence - and my then-10-year-old son shot a fist up in the air (he was in the front of the plane) and shouts "YEAH!" It released the tension.
    Good to see you back!

  7. So glad to have you back, Gwen! Thanks for the post. What a great start to our week!

    What a trip you had. We were in DC once with torrential rain and it affected me, too. I glanced at the White House -- a place I'd long dreamed of seeing -- and thought, yep, I'm done. I need a dry pair of jeans and a cup of tea.

    Home Sweet Home, wahoo!

  8. Sounds like quite an adventure. Yikes.

  9. Thank you all for your warm welcome and kind words.

    Debra, a year after this trip, we did indeed return to Philly. It was on our drive there that my agent called, offering to represent me. So Philly worked its way into my heart--despite the adventures of one unfortuate vacation.

    That second trip was lovely. ;)

  10. Welcome back, Gwen.

    And even after all that, you flew to Denver last year. And then, under grey skies, went up into the Rockies.

    You're a lot braver than you think.



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