Airports are one of my favorite places to people-watch. Our rural town’s local parks and restaurants offer the same flavor of humans doing pretty much the same things. The only thing that changes is the weather in the background—and the small talk regarding the same.
But airports? They’re the glorious hubs for folks who live in those “you really can’t get there from here” places but, nevertheless, must get from here to there somehow. The convergence of so many different kinds of people fascinates me. Most of them are simply part of the masses—what the Adultish Male Child would call NPCs, or non-playable characters, in a video game. Background. Or the Extras on a movie set.
But some of them are true characters.
Back in April, the Hubs and I went to Dallas for his bucket list trip to see the AT&T Stadium. Well… to see where the Dallas Cowboys play, that is. Because, quite frankly, the man is obsessed. The Cowboys could toss a pig skin in the Sahara Desert and he’d want to walk the grains of sand where greatness has trod.
Though I loved, loved, loved seeing him ooze joy during the tour, I had to occupy my so-not-a-sports-fan brain unless I should lose the so-not-a-sports-fan filter over my mouth and offend the other very serious Dallas Cowboy fans in our group. I took to playing the “what if” game, meaning conjuring up a dozen plot points gone awry where tour guides, the chef in the basement, and service elevators conduits, well... I’m an author. You can use your imagination on what my imagination was doing.
Basically, when I wasn’t snapping photos of the Hubs’ jaw-dropping reaction, I people-watched and made “characters” out of those around me.
But none of those folks, not even the chef in the basement, came close to the lady we encountered on the flight from Dallas to Cincinnati:
We flew Southwest, the airline where you get in line according to your boarding group, then, once on the aircraft, it’s a free-for-all to find a seat. The earlier your group, the better your pick of seats and the more seats there are together. If you’re traveling with a group—or a small family clan—and you draw a later boarding position, you will likely be split up all over the plane unless twelve strangers find it in their hearts to rearrange themselves and their too-big carry-ons to accommodate you.
One stranger might. Twelve strangers will not. So split you will be.
The seats were filling up fast. The Hubs and I had our spots. A calm stranger by the window (an NPC), the still-glowing Hubs in the middle, and my middle-aged self on the aisle. Across the aisle from me were two empty seats and an older-than-me, smartly dressed woman who just wanted this to be over with already and we’d not taken off yet. Let’s call her Over-it-Opal.
Two ladies separated by two little preschool-aged girls made their way on board. The women chatted and tried to problem-solve the seating issues. One lady was a much-younger-than-middle-aged gal—let’s call her LuLu.
The other was grandmother-aged—let’s call her GiGi.
GiGi took up space—and I’m not being mean. Her body, her shawl, her eyes, her…presence. I was instantly taken by this woman and wanted more than anything to sit at dinner with her in Cincinnati and listen to her stories. A woman like this must have stories.
LuLu slid in behind Over-it-Opal without so much as a word to the girls. GiGi ordered the little ones to take their seats next to Opal, whose eyes grew five times wider. Opal shot me a look of disgust. Tears rolled down the girls’ cheeks—they were, after all, separated from GiGi and LuLu for the flight.
GiGi pulled something from under her shawl, plopped it down in the seat in front of me, came back to each of the little girls, pinched their little cheeks with her large grandma fingers, and said, “There will be no cryin’ on this plane. You hear me? No cryin’ on the plane.”
And I swear to you, those tears lined up, saluted GiGi, and crawled back into those girls’ eye sockets. Then she hugged them, their faces disappearing into her shawl, and GiGi returned to the seat in front of me.
Within five minutes the girls were asleep, even before the flight attendant could tell us how to operate our seat cushions for a water landing. Opal was cautiously relieved but still on edge.
You see, Opal and I shared three assumptions, though we never shared a word until we landed.
- Lulu is GiGi’s daughter, and the little girls are hers. Why wasn’t LuLu helping?
- The flight would be incredibly interesting instead of just mind-numbing boredom.
- There were two children.
We were wrong on all accounts.
- LuLu was not the children’s mom. LuLu was a stranger lending GiGi a helpful hand to board the plane, then promptly washed her hands of it all.
- The girls slept soundly (complete with drool and snores) the whole flight, and not another tear was shed from any of those big brown eyes. Perhaps they’d been given a little somethin’-somethin’ in their fruit juice, or perhaps both girls were just good sleepers.
- There were four children.
That last one? That “thing” that I assumed was a carry-on that GiGi pulled from under her shawl was a CHILD! A third one that never cried and slept the entire time.
When we landed in Cincinnati, ANOTHER one popped out from her shawl. Four! Four tiny children under the age of seven. That somethin’-somethin’ in the fruit juice was looking more and more probable. If I hadn’t seen the kids, I would never have known they were on the plane (unlike the toddler ten rows up—everyone—even air traffic control in Seattle—knew that kid was on the plane).
As we stood and waited for those in the front to gather luggage, I chatted with GiGi. I told her how well the kids did. She smiled tiredly and started to speak, but Child Four teared up. Out came the grandma pinchers. “You don’t cry. Stop them tears. There’s no cryin’ on this plane.” And that tiniest one of all, right there in front of me, trained his tears to line up, salute GiGi, and crawl their way back into his eye sockets.
Then he was awarded with a giant GiGi hug. The little boy nearly disappeared into this woman’s mass, but he came out tear-free, snot-free, and smiling.
“This here’s the bonus child. The other three know I don’t put up with no sobbin’. This bonus child, he still learnin’, but he gettin’ there.”
Before I could process what “bonus child” meant, she said she’d had all four kids for a couple of weeks and was “droppin’ ‘em all off at the baggage claim and heading back to Dallas.”
I asked if she needed help. She declined. And again, I was struck with the desire to ask her to dinner and to tell me her stories. I know this woman has stories. But after baggage claim, she had a flight to catch, so I wished her well.
I want to be this woman’s bonus child.
I need a woman like this in my life. A GiGi to follow me through my day and pinch my cheeks with those fingers, “What are those? Are those tears? I don’t wanna see no more tears. There’s no cryin’ in writin’. No sobbin’, neither.”
I’d teach those wet little drops to line up, salute GiGi, and return from whence they came.
Then I’d get one of those hugs. I’m not usually a hugger, but I’d take one from this human. A hug so big that her shawl eats me, where I’d emerge tear-free, snot-free, and smiling.
And if that fails, GiGi could simply dose my fruit juice with a little somethin’-somethin’ and leave me at the baggage claim…