More than 10 years ago, my Aunt Kay had a simple medical procedure that had turned into a nightmare and was seriously ill. My mom and I decided to fly to Sioux City, Iowa to see her. Our first stop was the Minneapolis Airport — shaped like a horseshoe, I flew into a gate at one end of the horseshoe, she the other. As soon as I entered the terminal I heard my name being called over the intercom. I dashed to a phone and was told that my mother was concerned that I hadn’t gotten there safely. I assured the operator that I was indeed safe, and was clear around the other side of the terminal and to let my mom know that I would be there in time to catch our connecting flight to Sioux City. As I began my trek, wheeling my luggage, and lugging my heavy backpack with notebooks and laptop (writers never go anywhere without either) on my shoulder, I heard my name again, and I called again, and then again my name was called over the intercom. At least six times my mom insisted that the operator call me so that I would check in. It was the first indication that my mother’s bright mind was beginning to fade, yet it would be several years before my own mind would be able to comprehend that horror. I just thought, as usual, she was driving me crazy — already.
It’s gonna be a long week, I thought, as I rushed to get to her while my name echoed through the terminal again.
We sat in the back row of a 50 seater to Sioux City with sheer winds whipping that plane like tin in a hurricane. I was so sick, I knew if I saw a puke bag, I would lose it. My mom was chatting away, and I asked her to sit still a moment as I gulped down the nausea, tears streaming from my eyes. Being the mom that she was, she called to the flight attendants who were strapped into their seats because of the turbulence, and asked, “Do you have anything for my daughter, she feels like she’s going to throw up!” Nice, mom. I cringed as every single person, turned around to look at me. Luckily, the nausea subsided the moment the tires hit the tarmac.
“Home,” my mom whispered, staring out the window as the gray April sky clouded her eyes. We found our rental car, and I began driving. Though, I’d been here many times in my youth, it was always in August when the flies buzzed louder than airplane engines and crickets serenaded from lush green trees and hills. This landscape was gray and black and white, unfamiliar, like a coloring book waiting for crayons to fill in the lines.
My mom asked me to drive slowly past the barracks where my father was stationed in 1944, the year they met at a Revival and rode home on a bus, with him sliding into the (intentionally) empty seat next to her, and tucking her cold hand into the pocket of his coat, forever sealing their fate together.
We drove by the restaurant where they’d meet and hold hands, too in love, and too broke to eat much. We went inside and sat down, the interior was dark, heavy, a little musty smelling, mingling with memories and roast beef sandwiches. My mom told the waitress the story of that 19 year-0ld girl from Climbing Hill, Iowa, and that handsome soldier from Queens, NY. We listened in the darkened restaurant as she spoke about the bus ride, and the long life they’d lived together with six children born in three different states. Listening to the story from her that day felt like magic. When my mom stopped, we all sighed at the promise of those two beautiful kids. I knew the ending, of course, but for now, we were in 1944 and the images of pencil skirts, red lips, brown sugar eyes, long dark hair, an officer’s uniform, blue eyes, blond hair, and icy cold fingers in a warm hand tucked into a pocket filled our minds in a black, white, and gray world.
To be continued…