Several years ago, my extremely practical mother decided to visit me in Philadelphia. Although she was scared that her inability to understand English might leave her stranded in Phoenix or Washington D.C. as she navigated connecting flights, she made the trek east.
Because she is practical, my mom decided to pack the 15-pound holiday turkey she’d been given as a morale boost earlier in the week by the hotel where she worked as a housekeeper. She figured that since the turkey was too big for her to eat on her own, and I wouldn’t have one in Philadelphia (I don’t normally like turkey, but I’ll eat some of it if with others), an eight-hour long flight was justified for the bird.
But, baggage handling being what it is, my mother did not want the bird to get lost. So, she packed the frozen bird into her bowling bag-style carry-on purse. Because my mother doesn’t ever travel without packing and repacking often, she packed and repacked the turkey to determine how to best carry it onto the plane. However, because she is a little clueless about the reaction of those around her to her oh-so-practical ideas, she gave remarkably little thought to the reaction an airport screener might have to the sight of a skeleton appearing on the baggage x-ray machine.
At the airport on the day of her travel, the screener waited until my mom had gone through the security line and put on her Keds, jacket, scarf, and mittens (she was, after all, going to the East Coast) before calling her over with his index finger.
“What is that?” he said as he pointed to the skeleton splayed out on the screen before him.
“Toor-kee,” my mother responded, in the one word she knew for sure she could say and which would suffice as a full explanation.
He looked at her standing there, an elderly Mexican woman with salt and pepper hair, with complete confidence in the propriety of carrying a frozen turkey onto a plane, and no clue that it was a bit odd. And then, he shrugged while he laughed through an “ok” and waved her on through the line.
She recounted the story later that day when I picked her up in Philadelphia and was a little sheepish when she figured out that he was shocked because bones in a bag might not look so safe. She worried about what this man, who’d never seen her before and who would never see her again, might think about what it said about her that she carried bones cross country.
Fortunately for my mother, the embarrassment only lasted a few hours. Her sense of knowing right from wrong and not having to be born here to learn it was confirmed when, several hours into cooking the turkey at my house, we discovered that in my haste to clean for my mother, I’d returned the knob controlling the oven’s temperature onto the stove incorrectly. Rather than cooking at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for hours, the turkey had only been cooking at 250 degrees.
And that’s when the head shaking “Ay, mija!” moment, that always seemed to follow a head shaking “Ay, mom!” moment, appeared. My mom had forgotten her retrospective embarrassment and moved onto things that she knew were real and eternal—her American-born journalist daughter might be more educated and well-traveled than she was, but she would never be as wise.