Most people dread cross-country plane rides. Unless you're a coal miner, or cubicle mouse at a particularly restrictive corporation, you don't spend five hours cramped in a tiny enclosure. My mom (Susan, a divorced neuroscientist) and I (Ben, a hyperactive, impossibly stubborn kid) were known to spend twenty hours on a 747 circumnavigating the half-globe between Australia and Michiganforty, if you count the trip home.
My mom's parents, Lily and Andrew, moved from Johannesburg to Melbourne close to three decades ago. They were part of an exodus of light-skinned, English-speaking South Africans whose country was being cut off from the world. (The upper class that remained would soon find itself even more pinched. Formally classified as "white" in an explicitly racist system that measured, among other things, hair curliness, they had been protected from the police state that exploited the lower classes on their behalf. The South African economy had been built on cheap black l