It was 2001, and I couldn’t eat Cheetos. They always stuck in the grooves of my braces, so I swore off of them. When I wasn’t turning down Cheetos, I could be found weeping in the corners of my bedroom, clinging tightly to my NSync posters. This particular year, I was anticipating my German class trip. I, alongside my mom, would tour: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Liechtenstein. Megan O’Neil: “brace face”, “NSync diehard”, and now “world traveler” was added to that list. Planning it for over a year, I envisioned what Europe would be like. I knew I would eat well. There were soft pretzels by the barrel. I also wondered if I’d sneak my first beer. It was legal in Germany. I even imagined running into Prince William. It was quite the romantic meet cue. Running all of these scenarios through my mind, I didn’t imagine the adventure that my mom and I would find in Salzburg.
The class spent its morning at the von Trapp’s estate. I climbed up the gritty fountain, and danced around the circumference of it with my classmates. We skipped and sang “Do-Re-Mi”, while our mothers awkwardly smiled at each other. One mom would glance at the other, shaking her head with a smile. Her smile said, “I love my child,” while her eyes said, “These kids are seriously weird.”
After the von Trapps, the itinerary allowed free time. Mom and I went to the Swarovski crystal shop. Two stories high, we were surrounded by pure twinkle, and it felt like a little piece of Heaven. We walked the floors and gawked at the various trinkets. I pinched the charm of a necklace, twirling the tear drop shaped crystal in the light. Mom bought it for me, along with a heart shaped necklace for herself. As we exited the store, we took turns putting the other’s necklace on for her. She looked down at her watch and said it was time that we headed back for the bus. We started walking.
“Where is the Rosenberger?” She asked me. I didn’t know. We wandered around a bit, trying to retrace our original path. We were walking at increasingly speedy paces. Each of us was equipped with a cross body purse, comfortable sneakers, and a heavy dose of panic. The store fronts were becoming a blur of merchandise. I’m not sure if the blur was from our speedy paces or from the truth that was washing over us. We were lost. “Now’s an opportunity for you to use what you know,” Mom said. I heard anxiety in the undertones of her voice, “You have to ask someone for directions.” I didn’t know how.
As adorable as my Julie Andrews performance was earlier in the day, I didn’t know a whole lot of Deutsch. My muscles were walking the streets of Salzburg with my mother, but inside, I was completely blank, completely frozen. My mind couldn’t muster a single word of German. The faces of strangers passed us. Each one of them seemed to know that we were tourists. Maybe it was the cross body purses. The sign of every shop was incomprehensible. Mom was pushing me. Not with her hands, she was pushing me with those panicked words. She wasn’t even trying to hide it any longer, “Megan, we have to get back. Let’s choose a shop and go in and ask them how to get to the Rosenberger.” I wasn’t answering her, but I knew she was right.
So, we ducked into the next set of doors and hoped for the best. Inside, there were racks of braziers, lacey plum-colored underwear, and these strange, but pretty, strappy contraptions that held up stockings. I felt my face flood with embarrassment. We were in an Austrian lingerie store. A beautiful clerk approached us. She was the only other person in this store. Her skin was smooth and creamy, and she had a short pixie cut in a shade of red that was not created in nature. She looked like a fairy. She was a red-haired Tinkerbell.
Speaking German, she gave me a greeting with some sort of follow up question. I stammered with my English then switched to German. Using words like: verlossen, help, and bus, I was doing my best to explain that we were lost. She shook her head in a ‘no’ motion. She didn’t speak English, and my heart sank when I realized this. After exchanging a strange form of communication with each other, we had a break through. Red-haired Tinkerbell broke out with an apology, “Es tut mir Leid. Err, I’m sorry,” She said in her Austrian accent. Oh my gosh. I thought. She’s speaking English now. It was such a relief to hear words from my own language. I finally had this lovely lady gathering up her best English for me. She carefully thought out each word and continued, “Doo-st. you. Like…undervare?”
She was quite satisfied with that question. My mom and I looked at each other. Is this really happening right now? We both started laughing. Here we were, up to our Swarovski crystal necklaces with anxiety. We were lost in a foreign country, ignorant to the language, and Tinkerbell wanted to know if I liked underwear. Bless her commitment to getting that sale, but we were doomed. We sat there by a rack of thongs, trying to figure out what our next move was.
It was safe to say that the jig was up. Mom knew that I didn’t know a lick of German. “It’s ok,” She said. “If worse comes to worse, we can use the phone card to call Dad. I have money. We will be ok.” I was disappointed that we would miss the second half of our trip. There would be no pretzels, no sneaky beers, and no Prince William, but I had my mom there. Taking her elbow off of the rack, she wrapped her arms around me for a hug. I relaxed in her arms. Her scent of perfume and baby powder filled my nostrils, bringing me home. As we came to terms with our missteps, a new woman emerged from the back room. Her hair was blonde and spikey. Her thick framed glasses and shoulder padded blazer gave her an “all business” look. She marched over to us and in English, asked what we needed. The drop of relief in my mom’s voice went straight to my gut. We were going to be ok. She gave my mom detailed directions and then told us to run.
Laughing, we rushed through the streets. We twisted through café tables, dodged other shoppers, and shouted, “Es tut mir Leid,” as we brushed passed them. Our running tour buses were parked around the corner when we spotted our meeting place, the Rosenberger. My teacher was sitting outside the doors to the bustling restaurant. Her anxious face broke out into a smile when she saw us. Mom and I were ok. We made it back to the Rosenberger.