A Lovely Vacation In France

Harold Goldstein

Every man learns the truth of Francis Bacon's remark that he who gets a wife and children giveth hostages to fortune. Some learn it tragically and some trivially; but it is a general experience of the human race.

When our children were little, my wife and I planned summer vacations that were safe and healthy for them, but when they were old enough to go to summer camp, that child-oriented heaven, the opportunity to enjoy an adult vacation opened for us. One summer, with the children scheduled to go to two separate summer camps, we learned that a friend working in Paris wanted to take his family home to Washington for the summer, and was looking for a house that he could have for a month in exchange for an apartment in Paris. What is more, he had a car in Paris and needed one in Washington. It was a deal. We would spend a week in Paris and then tour France, and we planned our trip with great anticipation.

Everything worked out beautifully. The apartment was near the Eiffel Tower, and came complete with a Finnish housekeeper. We enjoyed our week in Paris, rushing from one great site to another with such abandon that my wife got a bruise on her forehead climbing into one of those small Paris taxicabs. We ended the week with dinner at La Mere Michel's restaurant where the specialty was fish with a white butter sauce, sheer delight, and went back to the apartment ready to take off the next morning on our tour of France.

When we got back we got a phone call from a friend n Paris, with the frightening news that my wife's brother, whom we had designated as in loco parentis for the children while we were out of the country, had called with a message that one of our children had had an accident. We called him and learned that our teen-aged daughter, secure in a camp in Vermont, had fallen off a bicycle onto her head, was in a hospital nearby, and was going to be moved to a bigger hospital in New Hampshire. It could be serious. We had better get home.

The earliest plane we could get was in the middle of the next day. We spent a sleepless night going over the various gruesome results of a fall on the head, and the next morning we said goodbye to the apartment, to the Eiffel Tower, and to the car that was poised to take us on a tour of France. The plane trip was short, but made interminable by musings about possible medical outcomes. When we got to a telephone at Kennedy airport (then called Idlewild) we learned that railroad and bus connections to Hanover, NH would take at least another day. Someone suggested an air taxi, and we learned that we could get one immediately, at a price.

The taxi was a tiny plane, parked almost under the wing of an airliner, and we climbed in with some anxiety. There were four seats, two for us, one for the pilot, and one on which he placed his navigation chart, an ordinary gas station road map of New England, which he glanced at from time to time as he swept out of the airport and headed north. As we approached the Hanover airport, I asked whether we, an unscheduled flight, would have any trouble being cleared for landing. The pilot said they'd be glad to have us at this lonely airport.

A taxi took us to the hospital, and when we entered our daughter's room we found her asleep, a fearful sight, with bandages covering her head and face completely, except for the eyes and mouth. We sat there by the bedside, trying to get some reassurance from her regular breathing. Another thousand years passed. Finally she stirred. We leaned closer, holding our breaths. She opened her eyes, slowly looked around the room, and chirped, "Hi, Mom, how'd you get that bruise on your forehead?"

Well, it turned out that the blow on her head had not resulted in an accumulation of blood that could bring pressure on the brain, as the doctors had feared (the ominous name for this is "subdural hematoma"). In another week she was out of the hospital and recovering at a friend's house in nearby Vermont before going back to that safe summer camp. Too late to return to France for that tour we had planned, we dropped in on her sister in another children's camp, and then called the friend occupying our house to ask if it was all right if we came home a few days early; we could sleep in the basement. . So our vacation in France ended in our own basement. Fortune had given this hostage a good shaking up, but no worse, so we got off easy that time. And after some years she had children of her own, and therefore something that she had to worry about. Served her right, horsing around on a bicycle.