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Charlotte Juarez's Going Home
Dundee Diary – Phoenix to Dundee


Friday, March 7, 2003
Phoenix, Arizona
On the Tarmac, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

Well, here we are – made it to the first leg of our airplane travel via US Airways Phoenix-Philadelphia-Gatwick, London. But not without a few adventures on the way.

Last night I finished my packing for my three week trip home and my three daughters and their three children’s first trips to their mother’s and grandmother’s homeland. I must have moved things around from big suitcase to little suitcase to carryon bag to my "personal item" bagpack at least three times before things seemed just right. My daughter, Stephanie who’s joining us in a week, along with her 9 year old son, Nathan, had made a nice going away pre-birthday meal for me (since I’ll turn 56 while in Dundee) and another daughter, Xochitl, and her fiancé and their two year old son spent a nice evening with us while I ran around like a crazy person – packing, unpacking, repacking, and making sure my tickets, passport, travelers’ cheques and the paperwork needed to get my mother’s asks on the plane were really and truly safely packed into those bags.

My mother died last October, and since she never told us her wishes for funeral – "a pine box" she said as well as "donate my body to science so I can do some good for someday" – we, her family, had the chance to make these decisions for her.

My mum was born in Dundee, 9 November, 1917. Her father, a Welsh submariner, was killed just ten days before the end of the First, or Great, War when his submarine was destroyed and sunk by what we now call "friendly fire" of another British sub up in Scapa Flow where they were hunting German submarines.

She was born and lived in the house her mother, Charlotte Beat McIntosh, had lived in almost all her life with her father, Alexander McIntosh. My grandmother’s mother, Agnes Edwards, had lived there, too, until a few years before my Granny’s twentieth birthday, when "she ran away to England" according to my Granny. My grandfather subsequently divorced her, an unusual action in 1920’s Scotland. And that was all my Granny ever said about her mother.

So, my mum grew up one of Scotland’s children semi orphaned by that First World War. Caroline Bett Thomas – named for her Welsh grandmother and her Scottish grandmother’s maiden name of Beat, with a change in the spelling. She lived in Scotland all her life with a visit once to Llanelli, Wales, "to our Welsh people" and a short stay in England in the Hythe and Romsey March areas during the Second World War after she joined the ATS and served in the NAAFI – British version of American’s USO.

She met my father there, an American serving in a Scottish Canadian commando regiment, the Essex Scottish, out of Windsor, Ontario, and married Jerome Gerard Alvoet, leaving active service and coming home to Dundee as a war bride. Shortly after my brother was born at Dundee’s Royal Infirmary, my father was captured at the disastrous rehearsal for D-Day known as the Dieppe Raid and spent the rest of World War II in a German stalag near Leipzig.

After the war, my mother came through Windsor, Ontario traveling shipboard with my brother as a Canadian war bride, then over to Detroit Michigan, to join my father whose American citizenship (which he gained from his naturalized Belgian father before he, his mother, brother and sister came through Ellis Island as immigrants like his father had a few years earlier) had been restored.

But my mother’s heart was always in Dundee, and in Scotland. Towards the end of 1946, Caroline Bett Thomas Alvoet sailed home with my brother, Jerome Victor Eric Alvoet, to her home in Dundee to live once again in the family home with her mother and her brother at 7 Hill Street in the Hilltown. My father did not come with my mother and brother when they sailed back to Scotland on the Queen Mary, and their separation began at that time.

I was born a few months later in the same bed, in the same room, in the same house where my grandmother had birthed my mother. And I lived there, in Dundee, until 1965 when I was 18 and left Dundee, and Scotland, and my mother, and my grandmother to, as my mother and grandmother had before me, marry my serviceman, in a time of war, and to live in America.

I brought my mother to American in 1980 to live with my children and me after my Grandmother died and we no longer had family in Dundee. My husband, John, had said we would take care of my mother. He had died in California where we were then living a few years earlier and I hoped that this time my mother would be able to be happy in America.

The best my mother could do to be able to be happy in America was to say she had "to make the best of it." In the 21 years or so my mother lived in America I think she was happy with such circumstances as the friends she made, learning about Arizona Indians, visiting San Francisco, and knowing her eight great grandchildren and their parents, her seven grandchildren. But her happiest moments, and when I saw my mother content, were when she was able to go to the Highland Games, especially the Modesto Gathering in Northern California, and be able to associate with the people there. Her face would light up as she would tell stories about the cielidhs the night before the Gathering, the friends she saw each year, and being made a fuss over and feeling specially when Alex Beaton, the Scottish singer, would sing, she was convinced just for her, "The Dundee Weaver."

That’s how my mother saw herself – a Hilltown girl and Dundee weaver, born and bred, through and through. She is going to her grave with her Dundee accent and the attitude on life she learned at Hill Street School, from the Rechabites, from going to Bonnethill Church and taking part in the cantatas there, and from being sent by her mother to Highland dancing class: then growing older, from leaving school at fourteen to work in the mill and, as I remember, from the mill to caring for me while my grandmother worked outside the home in the Palace Variety Theatre box office: then from washing dishes at St Andrew’s University Student Union, to the Burndebt battery factory and then retiring disabled from lung disease from inhaling fumes from the bitumen tank into which she dipped batteries day after day, finally to caring for my aging grandmother who died in 1980 aged 90.

This trip is the result of my family’s decision – every adult child and the grandchild able to understand the situation and say, "Granny doesn’t belong buried in the United States" – to "take her home" to burial in the family plot I just learned we own, alongside her brother and grandfather and a few others. We are going to lay this Dundee Lass to rest in her home, with those she loved, and in the good earth of the country where her heart belongs.

What a great privilege this is. What a wonderful blessing my mother has given us in this gift from the end of her life on this earth. My mother and grandmother taught me to love Scotland and the pride I have in my country is learned from them. And this has been passed on two more generations who wasted no time in telling me in response to my calls to them telling them their Granny had died, "She doesn’t belong here. We can’t bury her here in America. We have to take her home to Scotland."

Now, here we are – the first shift of seven – we three: Adriana, my 18 year old daughter, the child of my heart, my youngest and my "Benjamin"; Xylia, my eleven year old granddaughter, whose imagination and world she lives in her heart is much like the one I knew as a child, and myself, taking, as they call her, "Old Granny" home.

***

A Few More Thoughts –

We had adventures checking at the airport. The ticket agent didn’t understand we were a party of three, so my luggage is going on to Edinburgh – hopefully – but the girls’ isn’t: they have to collect theirs at Gatwick. We breezed the security checkpoint with my mother’s ashes in my carryon. I’m halfway disappointed that nobody checked my bag or even looked at all the paperwork I had to gather to be able to get my Mum on the plane – death certificate, authorization to transport, letter from the funeral home certifying that the contained is sealed with only the appropriate contents. The security people said if the container had been metal all sorts of craziness would have happened, though. Seems I made the right choice of casket/urn – a beautiful deep red solid mahogany casket type urn - a memory of the great beautiful pride of place deep red mahogany sideboard of my Granny’s – with an inlaid stone Celtic cross on top that makes a statement about Scotland and our faith in Christ and the resurrection.

I’ve shed a few tears in this plane trip today. Gratitude to my mother and the life and future and past and present that she and my grandmother have given me; appreciation to my mother for her several small insurance policies – including a "Penny Policy" from Prudential, that allows us to take care of her in this way’; respect to my line of Scottish grandmothers and grandfathers stretching back to McIntoshes at Culloden, to Bannockburn, to the American Revolution (where we fought on the "wrong" side if I’m thinking as an American!), for their highland courage and loyalty; and a deep and abiding love and pride in our children who are willing to be with me in this journey of remembrance.

Same Day
US Airways Transatlantic Airbus
6:00 p.m. Arizona/8:00 p.m. Philadelphia

Well, here I am – not, "we are" because although I made these reservations in October and requested three seats together, we didn’t get them then or every month I called US Airways asking for seats together, so I’m in Row 19 and the girls are way back behind me in Row 35 or some such thing.

Actually, I’m in row 20 because this plan seems to be full of college students headed to London for long weekends. The sweet young thing next to me in Row 19 asked me to trade with her boyfriend here in 20; then the sweet young thing in 20 asked if I’d let her out to transfer back – almost to my girls – to be with her equally sweet young thing friend.

So, that left two seats next to me. After charming the flight attendant on this busy plan to allow me to bring the girls – and their baggage – down here, Nan has declined my kind offer and is staying in the back with the college kids. Can’t say I blame her.

Granny is still with me, by the way. Even though I had US Airway’s 800# to flag my ticket about my special traveling circumstances, still nobody wants to see my papers, or even keep any of the multiple death certificates I have with me; but just you wait and see, it’ll probably all go to pot going through British customs.

Anyway, back to the girls and their "bag and baggage" – they seem to be ensconced among a bevy of raucous female college students and continue to decline my kind invitation to "come on down."

So, as I said, here I am in the middle four seat row with a nice quiet guy reading his magazine two seats away. I’m next to the lavatory, so I can stretch out with all "mod cons" available to me.

Once we’re on the road as we used to say – hate to say, "up in the air" under the circumstances, my legs are going out and I’m sleeping my way to Gatwick.

***

Oh, Another Wee Note –

Philadelphia airport is like a small town, but since our flight got in late and this one was scheduled to take off 45 minutes after we landed, I led the girls on what seemed to be to be like the hen’s mad march to the midden. It’s a long hike from Terminal C to Terminal A. And the checking in business – seems we didn’t have to because we had our boarding passes among our boarding passes from Phoenix, but I didn’t understand that, so we stood in another line, for no reason. But I think the reason we missed that is because not only did the gate attendance in Phoenix not put the girls luggage through to Edinburgh, I didn’t tell you that in the mad shuffle of passports and tickets and boarding passes while checking at Phoenix, the ticketing agent mislaid my British Air tickets for Gatwick to Edinburgh and return, then blamed me (in a nice way, mind you) for not having them! So, there I go, tearing through my classy carry on backpack, with my mother inside my carry on luggage, retracing my steps through other passengers waiting in line and weaving through them saying, "Have you seen my ticket?" Then, not until I cam back to the counter, almost in despair, did the ticketing agent find these tickets!

I’m convinced the card game she must play the best is 52 Card Pickup the way she had me going in circles.

Birkhill, Angus, Scotland
Joy’s House

We arrived in Gatwick safely. Boarding passes giving way to landing cards, the girls and I were allowed into the country.

It wasn’t too hard getting through customs – in fact we took the "nothing to declare" road and found nobody there to check if these were honest statements or not. Another fairly long walk past all kinds of "duty free" shops and money exchange booths took us to the check in gate for British Air. The ticketing agent checked our tickets and our bags – remember the girls luggage was only checked to Gatwick; mine were supposed to go on to Edinburgh, but lo, and behold, while waiting at the baggage claim for the girls’ luggage, here comes one of my bags sailing along behind the girls’ on the carousel! I asked the porter if I should expect the second also and he told me, "No. Sometimes bags come through by mistake. I’m here to check unclaimed luggage and send it where it’s supposed to go. You can just leave that one there, and we’ll send it on to Edinburgh." Thanks, anyhow, but not having any of his optimism over what was my luggage full of my Scottish weather clothing, I decided to grab it, load in on my carrier art and take it, and its carryon and backpack partners (including my mother’s ashes) and proceed on to British Air check in.

The very nice fellow there ticketed us all together for the hour or so flight up to Edinburgh. I told him where my mother was and that was fine. Then it came time to weigh the baggage – including the carry on with mother in it. "I’m sorry," he tells me, "you’re 6 kilos over and can’t carry this as carry on in the plane because it’s a full flight."

"But what do I do about my Mother?" I semi-wailed

"You can’t carry it on, "he says. "But can you redistribute the weight?"

Now, I’ve tried to redistribute my own weight before, but it’s still in too many places that should be covered and not seen, and I didn’t think this would be any easier or different. "I don’t think I can," I said. "Does this mean we have to send my mother with your regular baggage."

"Oh," said the nice ticket agent, "I don’t want to send her back there."

"Well," trying to be helpful, I said "I think all I can do, since she weights about 7 lbs in her casket, is to take out her little coffin type wooden urn from the carryon suitcase and pack here in my backpack and carry her on that way."

"Ok," says he, "it’s better than her going that way," pointing back in to where the carousel was creakily rolling away with other luggage from his ticketing agent colleagues.

I went to work, right there in front of him and everybody else, agents and passengers, right there and then into my backpack and saying to our agent, "Do you ever watch that show, ‘Airport,’ about passenger troubles at Heather? Bet they never had a repacking like this one."

With my mother on my back, halfway to the people check – where we would get our picture taken for at least the second time since landing – I remembered I had left the forms which everybody had been ignoring in my carryon suitcase, now somewhere in the bowels of baggage obliteration. Worrying about getting through the carry on baggage check with Mum in my backpack, I told Adriana I’d forgotten to pull out all that paperwork and forms that nobody was asking to see. "Just don’t say anything," my daughter advised. "Just push her on through. After all, she’s not in anything metal that will set off the alarms.’

So, when we got up to the baggage check, as instructed I, like every other passenger, took of my "outer coat" and placed it in the tub, put my backpack on the belt, and, since I’d already "smiled for the (face identification) camera," walked on through, smiling bravely.

And, there came my backpack with nary a chirp from the baggage screening equipment.

We made our first British purchases at the little coffee kiosk. The girls introduced themselves to British "lemonade" which was really orangeade, and we waited for our gate agents to let us board. The girls napped, and I read all about the British scandal fit to print in the free copy of the Daily Express provided courtesy of British Air.

Just before we were ready to board, the British Air gate rep paged for "Charlotte" – and I thought "Please don’t let this be me" – "Bleh" - "Oh, oh," I thought, it must be me. Then she added, "Juarez" and I knew they were looking for me and wondered if they had figured out about Granny in my back pack and want those papers that I didn’t have. "Please come to the podium."

So, with a little hesitation up I went. "Mrs. Juarez," said the attendant, "we’d like to let you know we will be preboarding you."

"What?" I asked. "Why? What have I done?"

Obviously my guilty conscience speaking – but the attendant kindly and quietly explained that because of our "special circumstances" with my mother, we were being offered that service.

What a nice way to start our trip up North, to Scotland, with a welcome.

I could tell I was in a British airplane, filled with Scots and English from the low murmur of conversations. When the meal cart was pushed around with milk, juice and two big silver teapots prominently on top of the cart there was no doubt left in my mind. Each pouring smelled like a good, strong "cuppa" besides.

My friend, Joy, and her son, Neil, were there to greet us when we landed in Edinburgh. Our luggage was on the carousel minutes after we met. No customs to go through with the bags. Couldn’t have been easier. I wonder if our trip through American customs and immigration will be this simple?

A little rainy. Cold – for us coming from Phoenix’s desert – but not gloomy because my heart is happy.

Joy and I caught up on over 40 year’s worth of old times – 30 years since I’d been back to Scotland, but about 42 years since we had played together in our Butterburn Primary School playground. But it was as though our last chat had been only yesterday.

We chatted and pointed out the sights all the way home to Dundee and told stories to the girls who, I think only wanted to pick up where they had left off in their hour long snoozes on our British Air flight from Gatwick. But we, or really, I must not have thought their snoozes were more important that their first sights of Scottish drystane dykes, sheep grazing, Loch Leven, Bridge of Earn, Kinnoull Hill, the Carse of Gowrie, their first views of the Dundee Law, the wall around Camperdown Park, and the Sidlaws behind Birkhill where we will be staying with Joy for about a week until the rest of the family flies over.

Adriana’s only comment, besides a weary, "yes, Mom," to something I happily pointed out, was shortly after we drove out of the Turnhouse Airport car park, when she uttered a dazed, "I don’t think I have seen so much green in all my life."

We spent our first evening with Joy eating a light meal, and talking, talking, talking. The girls went for a short walk to the nearby shops and by the time they returned I could feel my accent trying to blend with the American tones I’ve picked up after such a long time away from Scottish voices.

And we all slept well under our comforters and the close to the shelter of the Sidlaws.

***

Another Wee Thought –

When I opened my bags to settle in at Joy’s I found a note in my hold baggage that basically said, "In the interests of air travel safety, your bag may have been opened and searched while in transit." I’m still trying to understand the "may" part of that – how did the note get inside my baggage if it wasn’t opened?

Joy and me at Broughty Ferry Beach

Joy and me at Broughty Ferry Beach with the Tay Road Bridge and Dundee in the background. I’m on the right, in the blue "Nanook of the North" coat as I adjust from a Phoenix winter to a Dundee spring.


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