At precisely high noon--on the first day of spring--my sister hailed me at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport, handed me a package and began singing "Here Comes Santa Claus."
For some people, this behavior would be puzzling. But Martha, the youngest in our clan, has always kept her own calendar. She never misses a holiday, yet she rarely celebrates on time.
Thus it was that I landed on the Caribbean island of St. Martin carrying a pottery Christmas tree ornament of a chili pepper wearing a Texas cowboy hat. And that soon I'll be heading for The Gap with a crumpled gift certificate dated Dec. 19, 1991.
It sure beats some of her childhood bon voyage gifts, such as a live goldfish in a plastic pouch of water.
Airport reunions are popular in my far-flung family. American Airlines' Admirals clubs have long served as our gathering places, providing a comfortable corner for a visit between flights, a chance to try to catch up with a growing nephew, a way to share a few innings of the World Series--complete with fresh popcorn or home-baked cookies.
Last October at the Atlanta airport, I had several offers from baseball fans for my front row, non-smoking seat in front of a club TV. My flight was delayed twice and I was grateful: It allowed me to see the rousing end of the third World Series game between the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins.
Pan Am's Clipper Club has also provided a global slew of memories. My husband and I were married in the chapel at Yosemite National Park, and then flew by private plane to Los Angeles to board a flight for Europe. Friends had gathered at the LAX Clipper Club to surprise us with champagne. In the photographs of that reception, according to one magnolia-bred pal, the club's white trellis decor resembled a Southern country club.
At 3 a.m. in muggy Delhi, it was a Pan Am agent who raced from the terminal to the aircraft, carrying the pack of exposed film I'd left in the club refrigerator. The shots were of a rare clear day around the crown of Mt. Everest, not something one easily goes back to re-shoot.
Early on, I decided to buy lifetime memberships in a couple of airline clubs because of my wanderlust. The investments have turned out to be bargains. Although my lifetime proved to be longer than Pan Am's, Delta Airlines has adopted Clipper Club members, along with the carrier's routes.
In some parts of the world, airport clubs are tiny--single rooms with baths down the hall--but they offer comparative peace, bottled water, free drinks and, occasionally, the only air conditioning around.
Today's bigger, sleeker clubs are as computer-fax efficient as the best corporate offices. In major airports, clubs offer conference rooms for fly-in meetings. In the Orient, some clubs have showers and napping rooms.
Eavesdropping happens in airport clubs: Smidgins of big deals float by as you pass a bank of telephones; scraps of romantic intrigue are left hanging as doors glide open and shut.
"Buy!" "Sell!" "Will he?" "Did she?"
Who could resist the game?
I remember an angry couple in a Bangkok airport lounge. He was awash in bourbon; she was encased in ice. He launched a dozen loud stories. She coldly ignored them all. Finally he sighed a desperate sigh and said with a lift of his glass:
"I got her nose fixed before we left, and now her mouth won't work."
In the Honolulu airport, I overheard two women arguing about the merits of their Kauai vacation. The problem was one of perspective. The traveler from Chicago had loved it: the serenity, the solitude. The woman from Montana regretted that she had ever left Waikiki.
"When you live in Butte, you don't want quiet," she said.
Not long ago, I met an East Coast newscaster who had flown the Concorde to Paris. Her seatmate had been a pleasant fellow on his way to Saudi Arabia. At the end of a meal, he wiped off a silver fork and slipped it into his briefcase.
"I always take a piece of silverware when I fly the Concorde," he explained matter-of-factly. "Now I'll have service for 12."
At the Admirals Club at Washington's Dulles, I found myself seated near four social mavens who were planning an assault on San Francisco.
When a fifth woman joined them briefly--and then left--the very blond ringleader asked: "Who is \o7 she\f7 ?"
"Oh, she's a very nice person," a friend replied.
"Hmmm," huffed the blond. "I'll be the judge of that."
Eavesdropping may not be mannerly, but sometimes it's hard to escape. It's also a way to pass the time when there are no Olympics on television and your eyes are too tired to read, and you're stuck in a city without friends to call--or relatives who come bearing gifts.