My mom and I went to Paris for Spring Break my senior year of high school. We lived in West Berlin, Germany, at the time, so we hopped on a flight and found a tiny hotel in Paris where a huge dog greeted visitors at the door and took up most of the lobby with his massive physique and his lolloping tongue.

We visited The Louvre, the Muse D’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, Versailles, Chartres Cathedral, and my favorite cathedral in the whole world, Saint Chappelle. We walked along the Seine and shopped at the art stands. We ate escargot several times in a restaurant that is older than the United States and I nearly got my nose smashed in the closing doors of the Metro (I was rescued by many French hands grabbing me and pulling me backwards). I had espresso for the first time (not a fan), and we watched as a father put dish soap into a fountain and all the children of the neighborhood played and splashed in the bubbling water.

Since my dad was a pilot for Pan American Airlines, we were able to fly for free, but it also meant that we flew standby, meaning we were not guaranteed a seat. Before heading to the airport to go back to Berlin, hours ahead of our hoped-for flight (another requirement of the standby traveler), we stopped off at a patisserie where Mom bought croissants and goose pate. I liked the croissants just fine, but I took one bite of the pate and that was plenty, thank you very much. Mom didn’t mind; she ate both our portions.

By the time we got to the airport, Mom, bless her heart, was not feeling very well. We checked in at the main desk and before we even reached the gate, Mom was forced to vomit in a handy airport garbage can. There is nothing much worse than food poisoning when traveling. On Easter Sunday, no less.

We checked our luggage — Mom still feeling lousy — and then we had to wait and wait to find out if we’d get onto our flight or not. The answer was yes, but only through to Frankfurt. We couldn’t get on the flight to Berlin, as it was full. Oh my goodness, poor Mom. We had to stay at an airport hotel … though our suitcases made the trip all the way to Berlin. Thankfully, by the next morning Mom, felt somewhat better and we returned to the airport in our crumpled clothes to wait, yet again, on standby. Things were looking bad for us getting on the flight, but just then the captain for the flight — a friend of my dad’s — saw us standing there and asked the gate agents how full the flight was.

It was totally full. Everyone was returning to West Berlin after spending Easter out of town. The captain heard the news, turned to us, winked and whispered, “Follow me”. Down the jet bridge we followed him, onto the plane and right into the cockpit, where Mom sat on a folding jump seat and buckled herself in. A stewardess — yes, that’s what they were still called back then — who was deadheading to Berlin, was sitting in the other jump seat, which meant that there was no seat for me.

No problem. I stood. For the entire flight. Squashed into the back of the cockpit, right behind the captain. It wasn’t nearly as cool as it sounds. I was so squished I couldn’t even crane my neck to watch what was going on, and I was too scared of bugging the pilots to say a word. The stewardesses who were working the flight, as well as the deadheading stewardess and the co-pilot and the flight engineer, all kind of pretended that they didn’t see me. Even back then, it was highly illegal.

We had to wait for everyone to disembark before we could leave the cockpit, by which time I’d been standing for hours, my back was hurting, and I was worn out after a week of touring Paris.

Ah, the glamour of international travel.

So that’s how I spent Easter vacation my senior year of high school. I think this Easter will be nicer. Less glamorous? Perhaps. But for me, it’s best to be home, in a town where people whisper “follow me” and help you when you’re down. That’s Biblical, after all.

“A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Proverbs 17:17 NLV

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is