On Mother’s Day weekend, the Morley Inn was full to the brim with guests from western New York and Virginia. It was perfect timing, planned for a return to the Ottawa Tulip Festival — one of my favorite spring activities. This is the second year running of four-generation tulip adventuring — last year with my chids, my mom and my grandboys and this year, for my sister and her family. My Buick was loaded near to capacity with 2 sisters + a great-nephew + my mom + me, of course, behind the wheel: designated driver and tour guide.
We’d planned on departing at 9:00 a.m. but by 9:30 I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever leave the driveway. I enjoyed a visit with two grandchildren over a late breakfast. Then made a trip into town to borrow a baby stroller. My younger sister needed to use an ATM. I picked up some bottled water while we were there. We returned to find that my older sister had packed our picnic lunch. At least one of us was ready to go!
Meanwhile, the others continued to fuss about jackets and shoes and umbrellas, in and out of the house, rustling around in their cars as my exasperation grew. I hate being late! Finally, they each settled into a seat — forty-five minutes past due for our rendezvous with my daughter-in-law, grandgirl Rosie, and her maternal grandmother. Finally!
But as it turned out, our progress was short-lived…
We drove toward the international bridge. I paid the toll and reminded everyone to get their passports out for Canadian customs and immigration. Immediately, a look of panic crossed my older sister’s face: no passport on her person! I wheeled into the duty free shop before the bridge to discuss our situation. Should we try to cross into Canada anyway? Should we spin around and return to the toll booth? Should we work our way into the returning US customs lane? Currently a dozen cars deep, this last was the least inviting option.
My sister leapt out of the car and proceeded to pace the parking lot as she called her husband, telling him to come and get her. She intended to wait in the parking lot until he did. Or maybe she could walk back over — surely they’d understand? For some reason I couldn’t immediately articulate, her plan made me very anxious. I told her we weren’t leaving without her so she’d better tell him to stay put and get back in the car! Later, I realized he had neither her passport nor his own, and neither of them had an enhanced NYS license, so there was nothing to gain by bringing him into the situation.
Meanwhile, I called some friends familiar with border crossing protocol. They advised that entering Canada was inevitable. If the Canadian immigration officer didn’t send us back immediately, we may as well carry on with our plans for Ottawa and deal with the U.S. entry issues later in the day. So that is what we did.
Our visit to Ottawa was quite mundane, by comparison with other events of the day — bright, blue cotton candy notwithstanding. We ate a quick lunch in the parking lot and then strolled past bed after bed of artfully arranged tulips at Dows Lake. The displays change annually and are always a treat. This year they were absolutely stunning, full blooms even more dramatic on a cloudy, gray day. We walked back to the car, beating the rain by just a smidgin before heading back home. Perfect timing, indeed.
I think we were all a little bit nervous when we got to the border, praying that we wouldn’t have a hard time. There was no line, which took us all by surprise and resulted in a scramble to locate documentation. I passed the pile off to the officer, who asked us where we’d been and if we’d purchased anything. Standard stuff. He seemed very congenial, thankfully.
Then he asked, “How many are in your vehicle?” I turned to look over my shoulder and he said, “You don’t know? You need to count?” My sister whispered, “Six,” but I still wasn’t sure. “Does that include the baby?” I asked. The officer said, “I need to figure out who everyone is.” “I’m the driver,” I said, rather unhelpfully. “Oh, really? You’re the driver? I wouldn’t have figured that out — with you behind the wheel and all,” he responded — with just a hint of a smile. And then, “Have you been drinking?” I think he knew better but quickly said, “No!” to confirm. By then, of course, all I could do was laugh. I’m not sure how it conveys in retelling but it was quite comical at the time.
He immediately noted the problematic documentation and returned to question my sister. But he was able to verify through the system that she did have passport and sent us happily on our way — without even a word of the lecture we’d anticipated. Home again, home again, jiggety jig. Then it was time for a glass of wine!