August 24, 2022

CHICAGO, IL – MAY 16: Passengers at O’Hare International Airport wait in line to be screened at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint on May 16, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Waiting times at the checkpoints today have been reported to be as long 2 hours. The long lines have been blamed for flight delays and a large number of passengers missing flights completely. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

I am back in the Southeast but haven’t quite made it back to Birmingham. I’m getting older and wiser so when I had a flight from Seattle that didn’t get in until 8 pm, I decided it was best to spend the night in Atlanta and drive back today rather than to brave I-20 after a travel day. I looked forward to sleeping in, but my biological clock is a bit screwed up so I woke up at 5:30 AM local time, but that doesn’t mean I have to get out of bed at an early hour. So here I lie, listening to the muffled sounds of an Atlanta freeway outside the window. I am not getting on the road until after morning rush hour which, knowing traffic in the ATL, should be around 10 am.

Yesterday was a travel day that once again showed the lingering effects of the pandemic on society. I got up relatively early, had breakfast with my father, and headed out the door about 8:15 to catch the light rail to the airport, about a five minute walk. Due to construction, only every other train runs through downtown to Sea-Tac so it was a bit of a wait but I ended up at the airport at 9:30 AM, plenty of time one would think for a 11:30 AM flight on a Tuesday. The departure terminal was a zoo. A lack of Delta baggage and ticket agents meant that the line to drop off bags snaked 100 yards down the concourse. Only two of six stations were manned (and I seem to have been behind a large number of extended families who spoke little English ) so nearly 45 minutes to accomplish that chore. Then into the TSA line, another 45 minutes due to a shortage of TSA agents. I made it to my gate just as my boarding group was called. It’s a good thing there were no transit delays. I was worried about ATL this trip. SEA was the problem.

It’s going to be quite some time before all of the issues with services recover from pandemic related effects. And it’s not going to sit well with a population used to instant gratification. I don’t know what all of the causes of the current bottlenecks are but I can guess. Workers who have died or become disabled from Covid and its complications. Workers who are not seriously ill but who are continuing to quarantine as they should when infected. Workers who have had to leave jobs as the caregivers for children or the elderly within their family systems died and they have had to step up into those responsibilities. Corporations that have not adjusted salary scales for new realities making some jobs simply unattractive. Early retirements. Vacancies in better paying jobs and workers moving up leaving the more menial positions open with fewer entry level employees available due to demographics and anti-immigrant sentiment. Workers unwilling to face the public day after day given the decline in civility and increasing abuse they have to face. The same trends are leading to airport lines (inconvenient but bearable) and the inability of me to get services lined up in a timely fashion for my patients (which will lead to people getting sick and dying when they need not).

For some reason, while waiting in yet another queue, I was inexplicably reminded of my grandfather. John Bertrand de Cusance Morant Saunders was a man of short temper who had no time for the inconveniences of the world. When faced with something like a delay in travel, he would bluster and look around for someone to blame and then let them have it if he could identify a convenient target. He was usually polite but between his imposing physical size, his British colonial accent, and his force of personality, he usually got what he wanted. He mellowed a bit late in life, especially after driving his car into a ravine at the age of 83 in what, given my personal experiences with him behind the wheel, was likely a fit of road rage. He was not seriously injured and he continued on for another five years after that particular incident. When he finally did pass on of natural causes at the age of 88, he left instructions that he be cremated and his ashes interred with my grandmother.

Melrose Abbey

There was a slight problem with this. No one in the family was quite sure where my grandmother was. She was a Scot from Dumfries who grew up and spent most of her young life in Edinburgh, which is where she had met my grandfather (he was in medical school, she a practicing physician). When she died, my grandfather made arrangements for her cremains to be returned to Scotland and buried there. He would not let the rest of the family in on the details but let us know that he had her buried in a cemetery in Melrose. Melrose is a lovely little town, site of the ruins of Melrose Abbey (mainly destroyed in the 16th century wars between England and Scotland). Why he would put her there, we do not know as there were no family connections to the town. Her family were buried in Dumfries, on the opposite side of the country.

She died and was interred in 1976. In 1983, my cousin Jenny, while on her semester abroad made her wat to Melrose and combed the cemeteries looking for our grandmother’s grave. No luck. I followed on my European jaunt in 1984. I too checked every cemetery in town and inquired at the town hall. Still no luck. My parents and my aunt and uncle, on various trips to the British Isles in the late 80s also had no luck. My grandfather was approached but didn’t want to talk about it (he had since remarried). He died in December of 1991 and Steve and I headed up to Seattle for the Christmas holidays that year. While we were there at my parents house, UPS rang the bell and handed me the box with my grandfather’s ashes in it. All I could think of was to call over my shoulder to Steve ‘Grandad’s home’. He wasn’t amused.

Grandad’s box lived in my mother’s shoe closet for the next year or so while my mother and aunt tried to figure out just what had happened to my grandmother so that he could be sent to join her. This involved a number of letters to local authorities inquiring where human cremains sent internationally some sixteen years before might have ended up. We did find out that she had indeed been buried in a cemetery in Melrose. The reason none of the family expeditions had been able to find it was that my grandfather had neglected to purchase and install the headstone as he had claimed. My grandfather was eventually sent over and laid to rest with my grandmother. My mother and aunt had the last laugh though. In Scottish tradition, a woman, when she marries, does not lose her own identity to her husband and family so the marker that was erected reads ‘Sacred to the memory of Alison Jean Maxwell-Wood MD and to her husband John Bertrand de Cusance Morant Saunders MD’. I haven’t been back to Scotland since it was erected but I will eventually go and pay homage. They, for better or worse, are part of what made me who I am.

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