On a cold November night, I headed out with my two-year-old son, Owen, for a little outing to the Portland Airport. It was a Friday evening and we were both ready for my husband to return home from a weeklong business trip.
When family and friends ask me to do an airport pick-up, I always park and go in to greet my loved ones, rather than just driving up to the front, taxi style. I think it’s more courteous, but I also have to admit something: I love people watching at the airport, where the careful observer can notice just about every human emotion. You can feel the anticipation of farewells and homecomings, of happy hellos and tearful goodbyes. There is stress at the airport, but there is also plenty of love.
As Owen and I sat waiting for our guy, he munched on gold fish crackers in his stroller while I watched love unfold before me. First, I saw a family of women (a mother and her daughters) with a hand-painted sign that read “Welcome Home Hero.” Next, I noticed a dad carrying a dozen roses while trying to contain his three children walking beside him. Then, right in front of me, a tall man approached the waiting area, taking position a few feet back from where arriving travelers would emerge from the security gates. He looked normal enough except that he was holding a little wooden step stool. He put it down on the ground directly in front of him.
Within a few minutes, travelers began to arrive, walking down the rope-lined aisle one after another. All eyes in the waiting area turned toward the soldier dressed in fatigues. His family engulfed him in hugs and tears. A few moments later, the three children stormed their mother. Then, it became very obvious what the step stool was for when a petite woman stepped right up on it and kissed her tall man.
Finally, it was our turn. I saw my husband and waved. I bent down next to Owen, got his attention and pointed. He looked, his big eyes searching. Suddenly, his face flashed with recognition and a wide smile. Daddy was home.
Erika Weisensee is a writing mom. She lives in Milwaukie and teaches journalism and communication courses at the University of Portland.