We were about thirty miles from the border when I remembered we had left our passports in the hotel.
“Crap,” I exclaimed, or perhaps shouted. My almost dozing husband asked sleepily what was up. I told him, and he bolted upright. We were in Canada, returning to Maine from Quebec, and neither one of us had removed the dark red nylon pouch holding our passports from the cupboard in our hotel room.
“Turn around,” he said. Forty minutes back to the hotel, and then another forty to retrace our route did not appeal. I wanted to call the hotel to make sure the passports were there first, but our cell phones do not work in Quebec. This has frequently been a cause of annoyance, this time it made me mutter totally useless threats against our cell phone carrier.
“Let’s ask the police to help,” I suggested, and we pulled up to a store to ask the way to the nearest police station. It was a small snack shop, dim and dusty inside. The owner understandably did not speak English. This is Quebec. Normally I would be delighted by the chance to practice my hopeful French, but communication now was critical. I struggled, and must have made our predicament clear, because the sympathetic dismay was unmistakable. I headed back to the car with happy smiles exchanged, a “bonne chance,” and directions to the police station, described as a brick building on our left another 20 miles towards the border.
We found it easily and drove in and parked. The Canadian flag was waving, and we followed the walkway to the front door. It was locked. This was on a Sunday, and the police station was closed. Closed? That was unexpected. We circled the building. There were other cars in the lot, but no signs of life. The back door was locked, and the stretch of hallway we could see through the glass was dark. Inconvenient, but darn, I like this country.
Across the street was a shopping mall with a large grocery store. We went in, and again I got to use my French. The manager did not speak English, and she did not understand me, which was a bit deflating, but she called a young cashier to aid us. This woman did understand me, and quickly stretched the cord of a phone over a display of candy, and I leaned close over the Mars Bars and gummy bears to get my ear close to the receiver.
We stay at the same hotel whenever we visit, and are always impressed with the level of service and courtesy. This was no exception. I explained we had left our passports tucked in the cupboard to the left of the safe. We had done this because we could not figure out how to work the thing—it was too high tech for us. The concierge stayed on the line and sent someone to look for the passports. A few minutes later, which seemed like hours because the woman behind the counter would look at me, the phone and her watch in turn, she was back on the line.
With apologies, she told us there was nothing there. Gulp. The packet included my birth certificate, social security card, a wad of cash, and the outline of my novel. The concierge said her boss had looked, and questioned the person cleaning the room. No passports. Our only choice was continue on, which is good, because that’s what I wanted to do anyway. I asked her to please look one more time, and she agreed to do that, and call us on our cell phone.
My husband had gone back to the car, and I pressed a generous handful of bills to the woman who seemed to be in charge but did not like my French. She scowled but took them, the young cashier smiled and waved, and I turned to wave back. My coat swung around, and caught the corner of the candy display. A few foil wrapped Cadbury eggs tipped out of the cardboard holder and scattered across the floor. I scrambled to pick them up, balancing myself carefully to replace them in the tall display. But I teetered, leaned against the rickety display, and it toppled over. There was candy everywhere.
I crouched, picking them up, but the woman who really did not like me rejected my offers of help. Language was no longer a barrier. “Terminé, terminé,” she insisted, pushing me away. I have not looked it up, but am pretty sure it means stop.
At the border I handed over our driver’s licenses, explaining we’d lost our passports. The customs officer raised an eyebrow, but he proceeded with the usual questions. He asked how our trip was, and then added, “Until you realized you’d lost your passports, that is.” He ran our licenses, but was very helpful and non-critical. He told us how to proceed if we got new passports, and the old ones turned up. So, instead of two minutes at customs, it was five. I think my husband had been worried, and frowned at me when I was cheerful and chatty instead of remorseful, but I never had a doubt we’d get back in. I’d done this trip with my daughter, before we got her passport, and was told, “We cannot stop an American citizen from entering his or her own country.” Still, they could have made it painful.
We were back in the USA! During the obligatory stop at Bishop’s in Jackman, Maine, we realized that not only could we not call Canada, Canada could not call us. Passport news would have to wait. We decided to deal with all the possible repercussions of this loss only when we could no longer deny it. For now, we wanted to enjoy the glow of the trip.
We had met my cousin and her husband for a weekend in old Quebec. We had tobogganed, ate rabbit, snails and blood pudding, observed from the observatory, bought a fur hat (not for me, I have enough), soaked in a hot tub, gotten lost in the Frontenac, and viewed the oldest kernel of corn in North America. This small blackened bit of unrecognizable matter is in a secure glass display box on a pedestal, in a place of honor near the entry to the rooms at Maison Chevalier. This house was built in 1752 of sandstone and limestone, and is furnished like a timeline, each room progressively depicting live in Quebec from the 1750′s to late 1800′s. I do not go there every time we visit Quebec, but I was sharing some of my favorite features of the city, and the corn kernel is one of them.
We did not fret on the way home, and it turns out there was no need to.
We called the St. Antoine when were back in Otter Creek. The third search was successful. They had found the pouch, with our passports, our cash, my birth certificate and social security card.
Less than twenty-four hours later they were delivered to my office.
The chocolate egg display at the grocery across the border may never be the same, but our identities are once again intact.
This is blog seventeen of thirty-one, part of a blog a day for the month of March challenge. Will I be a better blogger when it is done? I hope so. But please don’t do a drop-in visit, a few things have fallen by the wayside, and housecleaning was the first one to go. My husband suspects I took up the challenge for that very reason.