By Lisa Curry
Earlier this month, I went to Memphis on business. I wanted to visit Beale Street and Graceland, but instead I spent all day meeting with a client and all evening writing marketing copy on my laptop in a hotel room. Finally, after three grueling days, Friday night rolled around. Time to fly home to Pittsburgh.
I checked in at the airport and bought Memphis t-shirts for my sons, a Robert B. Parker Spenser paperback, and a venti Starbucks. Then I schlepped my purchases and laptop to gate C16, all the while regretting not having changed my fashionably cruel heels for the sensible shoes stowed in my checked luggage.
At the gate, I plopped into one of the few empty seats. Beside me, an Asian-American girl in what looked like maroon surgical scrubs flipped through a magazine. Across from me, a Caucasian pilot played a video game on his cell phone. Next to him, an African-American woman with lovely skin talked on her cell phone. She smiled during the conversation, but something made her tap first one foot and then the other in a staccato beat. On the other side of her, a Caucasian boy with long hair and Vans read a vampire-romance novel.
Here we were, people of varying ages and races, a microcosm of the American melting pot. Except nobody was melting – unless you counted me, drinking hot coffee and wearing a wool suit that was perfect for Pittsburgh in November but not for 79-degree Memphis. Nobody talked to anybody else. Nobody smiled or even made eye contact. All were engrossed in their own separate little worlds.
An airline employee announced that our plane would be ten minutes late, delaying our departure to Atlanta. Would I still make my connecting flight? I sighed, pulled out the paperback, and retreated into my own separate little world – Spenser’s world.
A little later, the door opened. Our plane had arrived. But we still wouldn’t board for a while, so I returned to Spenser.
A high-pitched squeal yanked me out of my book again. The first passenger, a boy of twenty or so in desert-camouflage fatigues, had come through the door. A pretty dark-haired girl – the squealer – ran into his open arms. A small crowd followed, led by a blonde woman carrying a hand-printed welcome-home sign.
While the young couple hugged and kissed, those of us waiting to board the plane, almost as one, put down our books, magazines, and cell phones. Someone somewhere clapped, and we all joined in.
As the applause died down, the boy turned to the blonde and said, “Hi, Mom.” They hugged, and we all clapped again. She held his face in her hands, laughed, cried, and kissed his cheek over and over.
The pilot came off the plane and joined the pilot across from me. He nodded toward the boy. “Fifteen months in Iraq. When I asked him how long he was back for, he just kept saying, ‘I’m back for good, I’m back for good.’”
“Thank God,” the other pilot said.
Thank God, indeed. In a few hours it would be Veteran’s Day, and in a couple of weeks, Thanksgiving.
I looked at the people around me. They looked at me and each other. We all smiled and a few, like me, wiped their eyes.
We had melted after all, transformed by a moment that was Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving in one.