A Thanksgiving Crisis, With All the Trimmings

11/21/2012 12:05 pm ET | Updated Jan 21, 2013

One more phone call to my wife, I told myself -- one last call to tell her I love her, before I get on this plane.

I'd gone all the way through customs at London's Heathrow Airport, as I'd done countless times before, and there was a pay phone on the wall in the boarding area. I had a few British coins in my pocket that wouldn't do me any good in New York, so I headed for the phone.

This is how it works when you're 10 years into an international marriage. Kim and I have lived together in London and New York for long stretches of time, but what with families and kids and holidays, we can't always be together.

Thanksgiving is always in New York, but she can't be here this year, so I went to London for a few days.

There are a lot of tough goodbyes when you live like this, but the reunions are sweet.

"American Airlines Flight 141, now boarding."

This was going to have to be a fast call. I dialed the house and my stepson, James, answered the phone.

"We're having a bit of a problem with the plumbing, Charlie," he said.

James is the King of Understatement. If his pants were on fire he'd walk around tapping people politely on the shoulder, saying: "I beg your pardon. Might you possibly have a bottle of water I could borrow?"

Before I could ask for details my wife was on the line, gasping for breath.

"Oh God Charlie, there's water everywhere!"

My guts went into free fall. Earlier in the day we'd had some plumbing work done in the upstairs bathroom and something had gone horribly wrong. The bathroom had flooded and water was gushing through the ceilings.

This was definitely a husband situation, and here I was, prepared to board a night flight that would take me 3,500 miles from the crisis.

The final boarding call was sounding. I told Kim to tell James to shut off the main water valve. Kim's daughter Catherine was also on board, a no-nonsense young woman whose boyfriend put her in touch with an emergency plumbing service.

"I'm coming back!" I shouted into the phone.

"No, Charlie," Kim sobbed. "The house is collapsing, but don't miss your flight!"

TIme out, here, as we examine the subtexts in that amazing sentence.

"The house is collapsing" (and I'll probably die in the rubble) "but don't miss your flight" (you must see your family for Thanksgiving.)

My wife may be the only person in the world capable of uttering such a sentence, equal parts despair and generosity. What a woman. No wonder I married her.

So what do you think I did?

Hell, would I be stupid enough to share this story if I'd gotten on the plane?

I ran to the woman at the ticket counter and explained what had happened. Luckily I hadn't checked in any luggage. She cancelled my ticket and wished me luck.

Luck is what you need to get out of Heathrow under those circumstances. I was a traveller who had not travelled, but a customs agent informed me that I had to go through "arrivals" to get out of the airport.

"How can I arrive when I haven't even left?" I asked the agent, realizing as I spoke that I was inadvertently writing a country-western song. The agent was sympathetic, but it wasn't his system.

By the time I hit the street I'd sweated through my shirt. I hailed a cab and gave the driver the address.

"You can't miss it," I assured him. "It'll be the collapsed house, third in from the corner."

This guy was a true-blue London cabbie, grizzled and gray, with one eye locked in a perpetual squint. I told him what had happened, and why I'd ditched my flight.

"You did the right thing, mate," he growled. "Aw missed the birth of maw third child -- no fault of my own, the traffic was 'orrible -- and the missus blamed me! They want us there for the big stuff, that's for sure."

The big stuff. "Did your wife ever forgive you?" I asked.

He chuckled. "Reminds me about it once a week, to this very dye."

Half an hour later we reached the house, which was still standing. The cabbie wished me luck and I went inside.

Well, it was a mess, but the flooding had stopped. The emergency plumber was a soft-spoken man with a calming influence on everyone. The actual damage was somewhere between my stepson's "bit of a problem" evaluation and my wife's "the house is collapsing" assessment. James and I poked holes in the ceiling to drain the water into pots and pans, and I did my best to dry the carpeting.

Bottom line -- nobody died, and everything will be OK.

So now, to take an abrupt turn -- what am I thankful for this Thanksgiving?

I'm thankful that I made that phone call.

I'm thankful that I hadn't checked in any luggage for that flight I never took.

I'm thankful that it didn't cost me anything to change my flight to the following night, which got me back to New York in time for turkey with my parents and my son.

Mostly, I'm thankful for the look on my beautiful wife's face when I walked in that door, and the way she hugged me.

That was a hug for the ages, man. You should all live long enough to get a hug like that.

Charlie Carillo is a novelist and a producer for the TV show "Inside Edition." You can watch the trailer for his new Christmas novel here.