It began when I was very young, the memories of mother and airports.
Her idea of fun on a Sunday afternoon was to drive to the airport in Tulsa and park by a fence and watch the planes take off and land. Mother was my idea of fun, so I went along with the adventure. She dreamed out loud of past and future travels; I turned cartwheels or stared at billowy clouds or tugged at dandelions that grew at the edge of the asphalt.
In my family no one took a taxi to the airport. We all went along when anyone traveled: parents, sisters, grandparents and the odd dog, who stayed in the car. No one would think of leaving the airport gate until the plane took off and disappeared from view. No one, in fact, would stop waving until that moment, lest the traveler look back to check the entourage.
Such behavior is rare in this faster age of heightened traffic and security. Hasty hugs from double-parked cars seem to go with sidewalk check-ins.
Air Travel an Event
When I was 10 years old, air travel was still an event. Mother drove us all to the airport one day when my father was flying to Chicago. We gave him sealed letters to read along the way. He threw a kiss before bending to step into the plane. Soon a man's profile pressed close to the window over the wing; his palm opened on the glass in greeting.
"Wave to your father, girls," commanded my mother as she made a wide arc with her handkerchief. My younger sister jumped up and down and did as she was told.
"That's not my father," I said firmly, stuffing my hands in my pockets.
"Of course it is, Judith," Mother said. "I'd know that face anywhere."
The propellers were turning, so I sighed and waved. When my dad finally returned, two days later, he apologized for having had to take a seat on the other side of the plane where he could not wave goodby.
I have not stopped teasing her about failing to recognize her spouse. Nor have I let her forget that she forced a child to throw kisses to a stranger, a child who was not allowed to speak to one.
A Surprise Visit
My parents are as big on welcomes as farewells.
Last December I changed flights from New York to the West Coast so that I could surprise them in Oklahoma. I phoned from the Tulsa airport about 9 p.m. and chatted casually about my weeks in Europe. Then I told them where I was and said I would catch a taxi.
"Don't move," Mother screamed. "Of course we're not asleep. We'll be there in 10 minutes."
She swooshed through the airport doors like a fresh breath of winter, her head wrapped in a bright woolen stole, her coat buttoned in the wrong buttonholes, snow boots unsnapped.
Her smile was so dazzling that I had my luggage in hand before I noticed the white fabric that fluttered between her coat and her boots. It was the hem of her nightgown.
"Your father is circling in the car," she said as we pushed outside. "There he is now. Wave to your father, Judith."
This time it was, and I did.