America at Last – Part 1
By Parson Thru
On 21 March 2011 my dad died after a steady decline that had acquired visual contact with the runway in late January. On 4 April we committed him to the flames. On 30 April we were standing outside the shiny new Terminal 5 at Heathrow enjoying the spring sunshine – Natasha sitting on the floor, me leaning against the wall smoking and thinking about what was to come.
Just getting to this point had been a nightmare. We had bought the tickets the previous May, with a view to flying in September 2010 - then came the visa application. The electronic visa application is a breeze, providing you meet all the requirements which, of course, I didn’t.
Back in the days of my youth – my 21st birthday to be precise – I had committed a criminal act. I stole three oranges, valued at 39 pence, property of William Jackson Supermarkets. Well I was a little drunk at the time. Of course, the case came to court and I was convicted. Why wouldn’t I be? I did it – fair and square. But twenty-eight years later I was a reformed character. I hadn’t stolen a single orange since. I was rehabilitated, in fact. No longer a felon - in Britain. From the point of view of the United States Immigration Service, however, I was a felon. A criminal. End of. If I could steal an orange in the UK in 1983, I could just as easily steal one in the US in 2010. Fair enough, I suppose.
So I needed to apply for a full-fat United States Tourist Visa, providing evidence of my conviction from police records and filling in the mother of all forms, before visiting the US Embassy in person to seek an interview. Trouble was, not being a master criminal worthy of the black museum, the police hadn’t kept my record on their database. Cue the Courts Records service. My Magistrate’s Court had been closed down. Cue the County Records Office, and all this takes time. By September, I had only got as far as sending off my stuff to the US Immigration Service. We slipped the flight to 30 April 2011.
Following a nerve-wracking visit to the US Embassy in London, where I didn’t expect my photo to scan – sometimes it’s the simple things – I was suddenly presented with a ten year Tourist Visa for the United States of America. Sometimes, it takes all that uncertainty to realise how much you want something. I never realised just how much I wanted to go to the US. Just how much was riding on it. We love to criticise America from this side of the Atlantic but, oh boy, do we share something. Well, that’s how it seemed to me anyway. I had to go. And now, finally, I was.
I visited my parents in York over Christmas 2010. My dad was fairly quiet and less steady on his feet than he had been, but he was 82. Early in January, my mam rang to tell me that he was sick. I spoke to his doctor and asked him to take a look as he had been misdiagnosed in the past and suffered heart-failure as a result. They had him admitted straight into hospital. It was obvious that he was pretty sick, but it wasn’t until March that the medical team spoke to me and told me that my dad would die in their care.
The world kind of stops spinning, around about then. But, God help me, I suddenly thought about those tickets to JFK. We just had to shrug and see what happened. Our family has seen some ups and downs, but my parents come first. My dad didn’t get any better and endured what I would say was a lingering death, but not a bad one. We live 250 miles away from their home in York and drove hard up and down that motorway so many times, but when he finally died we were not there. I will always regret that.
The funeral was arranged for two weeks after and we had the winding up of his estate underway in a flurry of visits and telephone calls over the next few weeks. We helped my mother to find the reserves that she didn’t think she had after 55 years of my dad being around. With her blessing, we packed our cases on 30 April, made a last check of those precious documents and caught a bus to London Heathrow.
At 4pm we were crowded into the overheating tail-end of a 747 en route to New York JFK. I used to really hate flying. Scared of it, I mean. But, as that baby left the runway and the UK behind, I could have wept with joy. We really were heading to the States.