Today, my son Jacob is taking his very first airplane trip alone. So of course I woke up wondering if John and I had told him everything he needed to know before hand.
It was a very early morning flight, so he’d arranged to stay with a friend near the airport and take a cab from there. When I woke up, I immediately checked up on him. Err, in on him.
He was at the airport in plenty of time, and had even found his gate. But I could feel his eyes rolling from across the miles when I suggested he sit at the gate and not move until they called his flight.
Because once I made the mistake of not doing that …
It was March 31, 1997, and my mother had died the day before. John, Jacob and I picked up my sister Beth who lived not far away, and they dropped the two of us off at National Airport, to take our flight south to Florida to help Dad with the funeral arrangements. To be there with him. John and Jacob would follow in a few days.
“The Terminal is under construction, so leave yourselves extra time to get to the gate,” John warned us as he said good-bye.
Yes, National Airport’s Terminal A was a complete mess. There were barricades everywhere, dust, dirt, grime. The air was thick with it.
We found the US Airways desk conveniently located just outside of an Au Bon Pain.
We got some drinks and sat down at a table. I took a seat facing the US Airways desk, with the information about our flight scrolling across the top.
Like every shy person I’ve ever known when they’re with someone they know, Beth began talking and kept on. She talked about Mom, about being a kid, told stories that I had heard, and ones I hadn’t. It was really wonderful, just sitting there. Neither of us wanted to be going to Florida. Neither of course, wanted to be motherless, either.
I kept looking at my watch, and at the information desk, which kept displaying information about our flight. I was just about to go and check, when the display began giving information about another flight.
“Grab your stuff, Beth,” I said over my shoulder as I headed to the desk to find out what was going on. We hadn’t heard any announcement. Fortunately, Beth was right behind me.
“Ma’m,” I said to one of the two women at the desk, holding out my boarding pass. “What happened to Flight 183 to Ft. Myers?”
“That flight just pulled away from the terminal.”
“NO!!!!!! BRING IT BACK!!!” I shouted, with a voice full of all the pain of my loss, “IT’S FOR MY MOTHER’S FUNERAL!!!!”
I began to sob. Loudly. In the empty airport terminal, my sobs echoed off the ceiling.
“Lease,” Beth said, starting to console me, “It’ll be OK.”
I got what we call the “sup-sups” — where you can’t stop crying, and you can’t quite breathe either. I couldn’t stop.
The clerks looked at one another. One grabbed the phone, the other grabbed my arm and pulled me.
“The gate is down here,” and she ran with me, my sister right behind us.
The gate was, in fact, a long fucking way away. Miles, it seemed. WTF?
We got there just as they had clicked the landing tunnel back into place. They opened the door and we ran down it to the plane.
US Airways had brought the plane back so I could get to my mother’s funeral.
As Beth and I moved down the aisle, I was still trying to catch my breath, still trying to stop crying.
Heads were turning, as the other passengers were trying to figure out just who we were, and why we were important enough to bring the plane back for. (And now doubt that if we were so damn important, why were we in coach.”
But another problem emerged. Someone was in my seat.
There were dozens of seats on the plane. But in my rather frantic state, I wanted my seat.
“There are lots of seats, Lease,” said Beth. “Here, we can sit here. Or here.”
But I made the person move.
Beth sat next to me as I shook and wept the whole trip. “We nearly missed Mom’s funeral,” I said, again and again.
“It’s OK, Lease,” she’d say, shaking her head. “We made it.”
I never got the names of the two US Airways desk clerks who helped us. I did write an incredibly nice letter to the company, though, giving times and flight numbers in the hopes that they learned how much their kindness meant to me.
I’ve always been amazed that a big company, which no doubt faces things like this every day, would demonstrate such kindness.
But Beth said they just wanted to shut me up. And you know, she may have been right.