When I was 13, my family and I went to Europe for a few weeks. That August, the British police had prevented a string of terrorist attacks that lead to increased airport security measures, including the refusal of any liquid in carry-on baggage. For many people, this was a minor inconvenience, but not a terrible bawl-your-eyes-out-in-the-airport problem.
Many people. But not my little brother.
My brother Broseph had recently gotten an art kit from our dad and was using it to make him a “goodbye card.” (While Mom, Broseph, and I were returning to the U.S., our dad was flying on to a conference for a few days.) The miniscule amount of ink in each marker was considered a liquid, so as we made our way through Heathrow Airport security, my brother was stopped.
“We have to confiscate these,” the TSA agent said, removing the markers from their case with gloved hands.
“What?” Broseph asked. His eyes widened and filled with tears. Broseph was always a sensitive kid, and someone who liked to have things a certain way. The thought of his a marker-shaped space in his art kit was unimaginable.
“I’m sorry,” the man said. “But we’re not allowing any liquids on the planes. It’s a security measure.”
My brother began to wail. “They’re just markers!” he said. “I would never do anything with them!”
“I’m sorry,” the man said.
“I’m using them to make A CARD FOR MY DAD,” he said. “HE’S LEAVING AND I’M NOT GOING TO SEE HIM.” The tears were flowing now. The TSA agent looked pretty upset himself, for making a fourth-grader cry. He looked helplessly at my mom.
“There’s really nothing we can do,” he said. My mother wrapped an arm around Broseph and we all went to sit on a bench as he sobbed, loudly and in the general direction of the TSA agent. I did my best to comfort him while still making it clear to the airport security, in the form of furious teenage glares, that they had just broken my little brother’s heart.
“It’s okay, Broseph. They’ll probably give the markers away to other kids who need art supplies,” I said.
“But they were MY MARKERS,” he cried.
Broseph was finally consoled enough to get on the plane, where he continued crying and prattling on about writing a letter to the airport to complain. When we arrived back home, that’s exactly what he did:
Dear Air Plane People,
On my trip to America when they opened my bag, they took the markers from my case. They were markers I had since I was little. When I look at my case it has Pencils and Crayons but no more Markers. I was Drawing a Picture for my dad who I hadn’t seen In a long time, and I didn’t even get to finish. I cried at the Air Port, Air Plane, and even at home in [our hometown]. The colors are Pink, Brown, Black, Yellow, Light and Dark green and Blue and orange. They all say Crayon Factory on them in yellow Letters. They’re…
Unfortunately, this was in 2006 (a dark time when we did not carry small cameras in our pockets at all times), so we didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the letter after it was finished.
My mom and I knew full well that while this letter might get a few laughs at Heathrow, there wasn’t a thing they could do about finding the markers back, and we were unlikely to get a reply. Protective older sister that I was, I decided to take the matter into my own hands.
On my first-ever laptop, I drafted a letter from a supposed Heathrow Airport higher-up named Albert Noverus; Albert because I thought it sounded British, and Noverus because I was 13 and thought that making his last name kind of mean “not true” in Latin was very clever. I made point to include a “u” in “coloring,” for authenticity’s sake. At the time, I thought I did an excellent job sounding very official and adult. Now I find it hilarious.
This is what the letter said:
Thank you for your letter, explaining about what happened to your art kit at our facility. It deeply pains us to say that we were not able to find your markers. We received your letter two days ago, and have thoroughly searched through all of our confiscated items. We regret that your markers were no longer among the items we had taken away. From the moment the liquid prohibition laws were installed, we decided to give out all reusable items to a charity fund for children in Southeast Asia and Northern Africa, and we assume that your markers were probably given to that organization. [Blogger’s note: I now see how ridiculous and offensive this line is, but at the time I was 13 and thought it was a nice touch.]
We apologize profusely for taking away your possessions, especially after what we heard about your father and the card you were colouring for him. We understand that the sentimental aspect of your markers will never truly be restored, but as a gift from us to you, Heathrow Airport has taken the liberty of buying you a new art kit, so you can finish the card.
Please accept our humblest apologies.
Head of Security
My mom and I went out to a craft store to buy a new art kit and a mailing envelope. I created a fake return sticker using Microsoft Word, and she had the envelope stamped repeatedly at her work to make it look like it had been through the mail.
When the package “arrived” a few days later, Broseph was delighted, and immediately used his new art kit to write a response letter to his new friend, Mr. Noverus.
Dear Albert Noverus,
Thank you for the art kit very very very much. My dad loved the card. This art case is better then the old one, because it has more things in it. I do accept your apologies. It was very nice of you to do this. I’m very happy.
For several years, by brother and the rest of our family still talked about Albert Noverus and his kind act of service. It took a full five years before Broseph found out the truth about the origin of his art kit, and apparently, he had never suspected a thing. At first, he was angry at us for lying, but he later grew to like it even more After all, “I once received an art kit from the airport” is a much less funny story than “my sister once forged a letter from the head of Heathrow security.”