On our last flight home, my husband sat between our children and let me have the aisle seat opposite them. (Although my daughter still talked to me, (I was not obligated to entertain them across the aisle!) So while my husband had the pleasure of additional family time, I deliberated whether to read or try to work on a crossword puzzle. I never got to either one.
As usual, I greeted the person sitting next to me. We exchanged the usual information--where we were headed and where "home" is. What was unusual--at least for me--was that the mention of our destination launched us into quite a trip down memory lane for the woman beside me.
She grew up very near where we live now. She knew Fort Riley "back when it was very beautiful" and shared stories of watching the calvary march near her home. She recalled family reunions with her cousins from all over Kansas, remarking that "you all probably don't do that anymore." That phrase popped up every so often--sometimes it was accurate but in some cases, I was able to assure her that not everything has changed.
My companion from row 17 will be celebrating her 82nd birthday next week. While she happily recalled many good times with her sister and cousins (who have all passed away), about halfway through the flight she was wiping the tears away. I apologized for bringing up painful memories but she just patted my knee saying, "No dear. Thank you for letting me reminisce a little." She had only good things to relate but after each story, she'd remind me that she is the "only one left."
I tried cheering her by reminding her that she'd just visited her niece and her family. Her grand-niece is attending KSU which is not far and she has dear friends in Kansas City. She'd nod but repeat that she was the only one left, making sure that I understood her immediate family and old friends are all gone. She has been invited to move closer to her niece but said she'd rather stay where she is as it's near her burial place. I nodded, saying I hoped she would not need it for many more years but that it must be a comfort knowing that is settled. She smiled. She described a family burial spot, out in the country, where all of her family is buried together. There is a beautiful view; it's peaceful. And she settled back for a moment, quite serene.
We saw her twice more in the airport and my daughter spotted her first: "Look Mom! There's your friend!" I never asked her name but I'll think of her whenever we drive by the farms beyond the Army post.
I learned quite a bit about the place we live now but there was a larger lesson in her few minutes of silence. She spent a few sad, fearful moments realizing that she had been left behind but she spent just as much time happily anticipating joining her family again.