Bluffton Boy Gene Cashman III,
recalls one Thanksgiving
t was the day before Thanksgiving. Outside the weather was overcast and drizzled rain, inside I was snug in my bed. My wife, Betsy, and I planned to hit the highway for Bluffton by noon. That should get us through Atlanta before rush hour and to Bluffton by dinner.
It’s 6:30AM and my eyes barely adjust to the dim, fall morning light. The shower cycles from steaming hot, to lukewarm to cold as I stand and stare listlessly at the tiles. I contemplate the upcoming long weekend and whether I should even attempt to go in to work. I should just wake Betsy up and hit the road. The plan was to spend a long Thanksgiving weekend in Bluffton. Betsy and I were extremely burned out from work and long overdue for some downtime by the May River.
The conundrum I pondered in the shower was if I do go in I will more than likely get snagged into some ridiculous assignment and be late getting on the road. It never fails when I am leaving town to get stuck with some insidious task only a workaholic could love. I should call in sick because no one should work the day before or after Thanksgiving. Despite the history and against better judgment, not to mention the loud protests of Betsy, I decide to go in. As I walk through the front office door I mistakenly make eye contact with my boss.
“How are you doing?” he panned as if he knew he was about to ruin my day.
Thinking I need to beat him to the punch, to let him know he should just leave me alone, I wittingly reply “Well sir, not too good. My pants are too tight, I have bad breath, and I think I am coming down with the flu. (cough, cough)”
Without even blinking he demonstratively stated what I feared in the shower, “Uh, sure but I’m going to need that report by noon.”
My spine shuddered as those words rolled off his tongue. Now we were definitely going to be late leaving and would definitely get snagged in Atlanta holiday traffic. I can image us somewhere between Macon and I-95, our own personal interstate nightmare, around midnight wishing we were anywhere but in that car.
As I pondered these things, I realize that I am not feeling very thankful. I realize how much the past year of my life had been a whirlwind of work, rushed vacation and more work. This was self-loathing at its finest, the day before thanksgiving, at work, doing a dumb report thinking about all the perceived disasters of the year. Finishing the report, I leave the office in a huff at a quarter of one. I arrive home to Betsy sitting on the front porch ready to go. There is nothing like rushing out of town hours past when you wanted to leave. Just days before Betsy told me to value this time away from work, and she was right.
I had placed work before arriving early to be with family; once again I placed work before my wife. I had allowed my priorities to be distorted by all the white noise in my life. I was distracted from what was important. That’s when I decided we needed a detour, a drastic and foolishly fun change of pace. I veered off the interstate and in the direction of the airport; I called work and told them I was taking the next week off for family reasons. We were flying to Bluffton and staying a week.
“You’re insane, this will cost a fortune” Betsy fumed, “just drive, we’ll make it by midnight.”
Her protest fell on deaf ears. USAIR was offering a great ‘give us your first born child rate’ which in my tunnel vision of enthusiasm actually sounded reasonable. So, for $1,054.67 we purchased two non-refundable, round trip tickets to Hilton Head. I was trying to make up for a year of missed opportunity in one fell swoop. I had officially lost my mind. Betsy looked a little shell shocked, but I reassured her it would be worth the money.
“You know”, she panned, “we could have flown to Italy and stayed in a 4-star hotel for that kind of money. The next time you think about being spontaneous, stick to flowers and chocolate covered strawberries.”
It was too late, the tickets printed and we were off. There was just enough time to check-in and clear security before the flight left. As we jogged down the concourse Betsy yelled, “are we having fun yet?”
A rhetorical question intended to tease me for acting so bizarre. We boarded the plane and quickly realized she was sitting in 5C and I was in 20C. It’s a slammed flight. The cabin is stuffy and hot. There are at least six babies. It smells like a locker room and no one was interested in swapping seats, “Yes, my dear we are about to be having a whole lot of up close and personal fun.” I was stating the obvious but the fact was this could be a long flight to paradise.
Skeptical and definitely not amused, she plopped down next to what can only be defined as a “talker,” or someone who incessantly talks for the entire flight about things you probably wouldn’t dare admit under oath. She stared me down in the hope I will at least try one more time to switch seats with someone. The back of the plane is a tough sell and no one took the offer. I don’t think she was feeling thankful either. Defeated, I inch back to my seat in the tail, next to the restroom. Perfect, I think, three hours of “excuse me, excuse me, oh I am sorry, was that your knee, your elbow, your face?” I too am next to an in-flight disaster. A wide shouldered, 250 pound man with allergies. I call him Goliath. I have now begun to seriously doubt my decision to be spontaneous. Perhaps the lonely stretch of road from Macon to Pooler Georgia isn’t so bad. Somehow I manage to drift off to sleep and dream of oysters, the May River’s salty air, and Papa’s Thanksgiving fried turkey. It must have been a great dream because when the loud ding of the captain’s message woke me my head was resting on Goliath’s shoulder. I awkwardly played it off and listened to the pilot.
“Ladies and gentlemen” the nasal voice squawked, “it appears there is a severe weather delay in Charlotte, we are being rerouted to Cincinnati.” I can see Betsy’s head distinctly pop up and whip around trying to make eye contact with me. I give her the “we are having fun” smile and curse our fortune under my breath. If we had driven we would be in Dalton by now.
The plane lands in chilly Cincinnati and we de-plane for a two hour delay. I call Bluffton and Yaya answers the phone “You through Atlanta yet, sweet boy?”
I pause, not wanting to convey my frustration, “No Yaya, we decided to fly and are stuck in Cincinnati.”
Sensing her confusion I tell her not to worry and to set a place for us at dinner. The two hour delay stretched into four. If we had driven we would have been through Macon and only hours from Bluffton. However, we are in Cincinnati and I am not feeling very thankful again. Around the second hour of the delay I began to complain to Betsy about work, my pay, our hectic schedule, pretty much everything under the sun. My bad mood is now spreading.
Finally at 9PM we get back on the plane and lift off for Hilton Head. At 12:01 AM eastern standard time we touch down, pretty much the same time we would arrived if we had driven. We hailed a cab and for an additional $35 dollars got a ride into historic Bluffton. To our amazement, when we arrived there was a huge poster board sign on the door welcoming us. Inside, a very tired but very happy Yaya embraced us and heated up our dinners. I began to feel foolish about all the things I had complained about all day. Papa heard our voices and stumbled out for hugs. The commotion must have stirred my nephew Robert because he, with his baby brother in tow, also popped out. Before long the whole family was awake and in our presence laughing as we recounted our tale of woe.
As I lay in bed and thought about being thankful I realized something important. The amount of money or the time I spend at the office shouldn’t dictate my joy. Delays, short weekends and frustrations should not keep me from appreciating and loving what I have. Expenses, disappointments or not getting my way cannot constantly impact my mood. Yeah, we paid a thousand dollars to make a three hour flight that ended up taking eight, but we were home in a place like no other for a week.
I drifted to sleep with a full heart. I was thankful for family, spouse, and Bluffton. I had so many blessings that I was refusing to see. I vowed to block out the white noise in my life, to quit complaining and instead start appreciating the many gifts that are all around me. I finally started acting thankful.