It may sound strange, but I am 31 years old and I have never had a passport before. My first one came in the mail last night. It looks remarkably like my National Park passport. It is also dark blue in color, with shinny, foiled lettering. Inside are also a bunch of blank pages for stamps. This is where the similarities end.
In my National Park Passport, the pages are separated by region in rainbow hues, and there are colored squares to paste the special postage stamps they sell at each park. You stamp your own passport with ink stamps they provide at each location. My book has three separate stamps from Yellowstone alone – one for Old Faithful, one for Mammoth Hot Springs, and the last from Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Be sure the date is correct. The stamps are often located in stores where kids rotate the dates for fun. My grandfather had a National Park Passport, and my mother has one. It seems like such a silly thing, so silly that I almost didn’t buy one, but I am filled with glee when I get to choose my postage stamp and press the ink into the page. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’m 31 at all.
I went to the Orange post office to turn in my paperwork for my real passport. It is a tan colored building all made out of brick, with rough arches stretching above the doors. There was a special line for Passports, and I had to take an oath that all my information was correct, right hand raised, staring at the postal worker with his right hand raised.
“I didn’t know you had to take an oath,” I said.
“Yup,” he replied as he stapled my paperwork together.
“They’re not messing around!” I said. “It’s kinda fun!”
“They are definitely not messing around,” he said.
My actual United States Passport has a spread in the front where a very bad picture of me lies in a network of red and blue anti-fraud lines. Important information is listed about me. Mostly blank pages follow, but they are also decorated with line drawings. Ships with sails spread wide cut through the inky sea, a lighthouse in the distance. Two men on horseback walk with a herd of longhorn cattle on a flat plane. The head of a bald eagle looks at a scene where buffalo graze in front of snowy mountains. A circular satellite, its metal arms flung wide, peaks over the round hulk of a planet. “Let’s go there,” said Brian, pointing to the satellite. It seemed possible, with that book to permit me.
I can’t imagine I get to stamp my own real passport. I’ve been to both Mexico and Canada, but this was pre-9/11 when Americans could cross border lines freely. I’ve never sat in a customs line, explained the contents of my luggage, or received a stamp of any kind. A cousin of mine is getting married in a few weeks, and her house is just an hour from Montreal. We’re planning a family caravan, so I will soon be a world traveler who knows these kinds of things.
Mostly what I can’t wait for is sharing a too-full house with relatives I don’t see enough. I have fourteen cousins on my mother’s side alone, and we all used to spend summers together running across the sand in front of my grandfather’s beach house. An event when we’re all present is miraculous. I’m excited to see my cousin walk down an aisle in white. I can’t wait to explore Vermont as an adult, when I’ll remember it. Getting my first stamp on my very first passport will be only part of the good things I’m hoping for that weekend. Still, I do hope my first stamp is a nice one.