I was born in the late ’50s and grew up in an average, middle-class family on Long Island. Both of my parents worked full time — unusual because most mothers were full-time homemakers back then.
My mother worked because of her love for “seeing the world.” My father was a Con Ed man for all of his working years. His paycheck went to cover all of the household bills and the mortgage on our $16,000 house in Elmont.
My mother’s salary as a secretary-typist went to her addictive habit: the habit of travel. My father would get four to six weeks vacation a year. To get her “fix,” Mom would do everything possible to stretch out long weekends. If my mother couldn’t get vacation time, she sometimes would resign from a job only to start a new one when she returned. The savings would start all over again. Travel had become a habit that rubbed off on my father and trickled down to all three children, and eventually, to their grandchildren.
It was the ’60s when my parents planned their first cross-Atlantic flight. I was so upset because they drew up a will beforehand. I couldn’t imagine how something so dangerous could be so exciting for them. The planning and the anticipation lasted for months.
On the day of the flight, my father wore his best suit and tie; my mother dressed in her Easter best, with hat and gloves. They were booked on a charter flight leaving from some out-of-the-way hangar, somewhere way in the back of what was then Idlewild Airport. My sister and I bought them a corsage and boutonniere for this very special occasion. We sat and waited with them in the boarding area of this enormous airplane hangar. Everyone around us was so thrilled; the place was buzzing. I didn’t get what everyone was so excited about.
We gave them a big hug and kiss goodbye at the bottom of the stairs on the tarmac. My older sister, Jill, tried to console me all the way home and reassure me that everything would be OK. All I could think about was how I was going to survive being raised by my teenage sister once my parents perished on this enormous thing of steel. I really thought I would never see them again.
Of course, they returned home safely with a suitcase full of film canisters, souvenirs and dreams of their next adventure. On so many occasions, we would sit through countless trays of slides shown on my father’s screen (a white sheet tacked on the wall). They wanted friends and family to know there was so much more beyond Long Island.
After my father caught the travel bug, he soon made me a believer. Every Sunday night after “The Lawrence Welk Show,” he and I would drive my grandmother back to Brooklyn. On the way home, we would detour to the Pan Am rooftop parking at the airport. We had a wonderful view of the lights and the runways without fences or security. We would watch the planes take off and land and make up stories of adventure and imaginary travels to distant places. We would talk about the exotic food, the people and their customs. At home, we watched every National Geographic show or Jacques Cousteau Calypso dive on TV.
My mother eventually realized she could travel to countries most people had never heard of by working for Sky Chef, food caterer to the airlines, when passengers were actually fed on planes. She could get free travel passes for her and her family. After a couple of years of limited free travel, she encouraged her children to get airline jobs. Imagine the possibilities of unlimited free standby flights? Most mothers would be pushing their kids to become doctors or lawyers. Our mom wanted bragging rights of a child who worked for an airline and discovered faraway places.
My older brother eventually got a job with TWA in reservations at the renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport. Soon after, my sister got a job at a restaurant in the American Airlines terminal, which qualified her and my parents for free airfare. I became a Pan Am flight attendant with full travel benefits for my family, including my parents. One of their proudest moments was flying first class on a nonstop flight to Tokyo, with me working the flight.
Pan Am went out of business in 1991, the day after my son was born. Now that was postpartum blues — finding out your flying career is over the day after giving birth.
My mother passed away in 1994. She knew she was probably dying of cancer at the time, but had to complete one last adventure — a cruise to the Caribbean. With no more free airfare from any of her children, she learned to discover the world in a new way, by ship.
I’m sure she still gets to see many new places with all the unlimited free flights she would ever need and without work ever getting in the way again.
Tracy Bergemann Rosing,
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