Homecoming

There is something special about airports around the holidays. And when you live near a small airport that only has a few flights a day, the stories play out with much less hustle and bustle and angst.

Today as I walked in the airport I saw elderly couples sitting together, a family with balloons waiting to welcome a loved one, bored teenagers looking at phones while their parents glanced anxiously at the doors that the disembarking passengers would walk through.

I found a post to lean against and checked my phone to see if the plane was on time. A 40-ish slim woman dressed in a leather jacket, sweater and leggings walked by whistling Christmas carols. The first time past I think it was Deck the Halls. She stopped, shifted restlessly from foot to foot, then walked back and forth again. Eventually she stopped near me to strike up a conversation.

Looking toward security, she said, “Do you think you can still go to the gates?”

“You’d have to go through security,” I said. “I think you’d need a ticket.”

“You used to go right to the gates,” she said. “How fun would that be to have someone waiting for you just as you got off the plane?”

“You could ask,” I suggested.

She wandered away again, whistling.

A young mom with long dark hair stopped a few feet in front of me with her three kids. A girl about eight was holding the hand of a boy about three who kept trying to spin her in circles. Mom boosted a one-year-old to her shoulders.

The whistling woman wandered back to report.

“There aren’t any signs to say you can’t,” she said, “but you’d have to take off your shoes and belt.”

“Oh,” I replied, still doubting.

“My brother missed his connecting flight in Dallas. He was on the runway for four hours in L.A.”

“That would be awful,” I said.

“Yeah, they put you up for the night and buy you a meal, but by then you’re so tired. No one wants that. Who are you waiting for?”

“My daughter,” I said.

We chatted for a few minutes more about living in other places and coming home to family before she wandered away again.

The one-year-old was now toddling happily back and forth. She and her sister smiled at me as they passed. The little group stopped a few feet away and the one-year-old toddled toward me, arms wide. She cooed, then abruptly stopped and toddled back to Mom.

Mom said, “I think she likes your coat.”

In my red coat maybe she was confusing me with Mrs. Claus.

I asked who they were waiting for. She told me her husband had been gone for three months.

“In the military?” I asked.

“Yes, he was gone six months before that. He’s only ever home a few days or a week. We have two months the next time, then three, then we’ll be going to Okinawa. I can’t wait to see him,” she said, hoisting the baby to her hip.

Her older daughter smiled up at her.

“Then thank you for your service too,” I said. “It isn’t easy to be the one left behind either.”

About then they announced that the flight we were all waiting for had landed. Slowly people began wandering out down the hall. A young man came out and was hugged  first by his dad, then his sister, then his mom. A couple walked out arm in arm. A gray-haired couple hurried to greet a young couple coming out with a sleeping baby.

Just then the most important person on that plane came walking out smiling. I reached up to hug her and whispered in her ear, “Welcome home.”

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