The following is a story from my recent trip to Cuba that recounts an event that happened at the end of the trip, on the flight back home. I’ve chosen to publish this post today since it’s my son’s 20th birthday, and this story celebrates a good deed of his and how he was rewarded with a burger.
We had been in Cuba for six days when homesickness struck Keller. Though we had both fallen ill because of drinking tap water, the trip had been a complete success up until that point. Keller was completely enamored with Cuba and made fast friends with the cousins. He even spoke of coming back with friends to show them around the island. But on the morning of day six—our first full day in Havana and without the ongoing presence of extended family—he was in a bit of a funk.
I know my son well enough not to press him too much when he gets in a mood. While he had been chatty and in good spirits throughout the trip, he was quiet and a bit lethargic that morning in Havana. By lunchtime, I had to confirm my suspicion.
“You’re not homesick, are you?” I asked.
“Yes, I am, and I hate it,” he was quick to reply. As homesick as he was, he did love to travel.
“I miss Nicole. I miss Wi-Fi access. I miss having seats on the toilets. I miss being able to drink,” he lamented.
The stomach bug had caused Keller to lose his taste for liquor. It’s really sad for a 19-year-old kid who is visiting a country where the drinking age is 18.
“And the first thing I’m going to do when I get back to the states is eat a hamburger,” said Keller, finishing his litany of woes.
The closing remark caught me off guard for half a second. In the days following our illness, Keller and I were both left with diminished appetites. We found ourselves sharing single entrees between the two of us. It was a shame too since the food we were encountering was absolutely delicious and just as good as any Cuban we could have had back at home. (Over the years, I’ve heard stories that Cuban food is not as good in Cuba as it is in Miami, New Jersey or other parts of the U.S.—to be discussed at a later date.) Also, Keller has loved Cuban food since my father first introduced him to black beans and rice as a toddler. I then remembered that Keller had wanted a burger upon returning from a tour of Europe with the American Music Abroad band. Clearly for Keller a hamburger symbolizes home to him, a comfort food of sorts.
Several days later, as we sat at the airport gate waiting to board our plane back to the U.S. Keller again repeated his wish for a burger upon landing.
“As soon as I get off this plane, I am going to McDonald’s,” stated Keller.
“Well you can’t get any more American than McDonald’s,” I thought to myself.
The flight to the states started uneventful. Keller and I settled into our seats across the aisle from each other. I focused on reading a magazine while Keller took advantage of the plane’s access to Wi-Fi. Surely that burger was not far from his mind. Seated next to Keller was an elderly Cuban woman who didn’t speak a word of English. I would later find out that she was traveling on her own to join her daughter in Las Vegas. She was not in good health and her daughter wanted her mother to receive medical care in the U.S. Midflight the woman needed to go to the bathroom but was hindered by her language barrier and her immobility issues. (She has difficulty walking.) She became anxious as she tried to communicate her need, which is when Keller sprang into action.
Keller may not be able to form a complete sentence in Spanish, but he understands it completely. Upon hearing the woman’s urgent pleas, Keller got up from his seat and sought the help of a flight attendant for the woman. The flight crew quickly assessed the problem and promptly worked to assemble a portable wheelchair to move her the down the aisle to the bathroom. Keller offered to help with the chair’s assembly when the crew was struggling to put the chair together and assisted the crew in moving the woman down the aisle in the wheelchair to get her to the restroom.
I don’t think I could have been prouder of Keller in that moment. I’ve always thought of my son as a compassionate individual—more so than me or his father. These last few years have been tough with the changes we’ve had in our family. I can see how hard it has been on Keller, who at times seems distant from us. But I also see a glimmer of the boy I raised when I watch him serve as his little sister’s protector and loyal confidant to his friends. The young man who helped the elderly lady and the flight crew is the man I raised.
Keller made such an impression on the flight crew that he was rewarded with a voucher for a free meal at the airport. After eight days in Cuba and one good deed, Keller got to enjoy a burger compliments of the American Airlines flight crew.
Over a burger and a salad (mine), we reviewed the events of that afternoon. Keller, in an attempt to downplay his actions, claims he acted out of boredom on the flight, but I know better. I raised a Cuban gentleman who calls America his home.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have a meal, something you have to have after a trip abroad to welcome you home? Please share it in the comments below.