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Women’s Voices: Sheila Herrmann on the joy of airport reunions

“I’m going to the gate,” I say to my husband as we get ready to leave the house. Joe sighs, “I know.”

Through 32 years of marriage we’ve had our share of topics on which we agree to disagree, and one example is airport duty. Joe’s method is to wait in a nearby parking lot for a text, then cruise by and do a curbside pickup. It’s free, efficient, minimal trouble – a fine plan. But not for me. I need to be inside the terminal, waiting. Let’s face it, who doesn’t like to see a friendly face as you make your way through the arrival gate? Do you want to walk into a warm hug, or do you want to hurry past happy reunions on your way to the baggage claim?

Our daughter Liz likes to accompany me on the airport run and we delight in watching the activity, especially at holiday time. We laugh at ourselves, our eyes welling with tears as we watch one reunion after another. Older folks, youngsters, lovebirds, families with toddlers and babies in tow. People holding flowers, signs, stuffed animals, American flags. Whenever someone in a military uniform appears, applause erupts as the waiting crowd basks in the glow of that special moment.

Granted, not every arrival in town is a big deal, but some outweigh others, and on those occasions nothing less than “going to the gate” will do. Years ago when our oldest daughter spent a college semester in London, it seemed like homecoming day would never arrive. I drummed my fingers impatiently on the dashboard as we crawled through traffic, then vaulted from the car before it even came to a complete stop. Joe and the kids watched in amusement as I sprinted to the terminal, then paced like a caged animal between the arrival board and the gate. By the time Tracy arrived I was crying so hard I could barely see. We still laugh about it.

Such occasions were a rarity then, but as my grandmother used to say, “time goes in,” and now those airport trips are more frequent. As our kids grow up and move away we’ve learned to cherish our time together. We’re lucky that Tracy and her husband live downstate, a short flight away. They make the trip to Buffalo as often as they can, and when they do, I tell Joe, “I’ll take airport duty.”

Our son moved away last year, leaving behind a close-knit circle of friends and his beloved Bills. Moving 700 miles to a new city has had its challenges, but Andy has risen to the occasion and is enjoying the experience. However, Buffalo is in his blood and there will never be a point at which he doesn’t miss being home. Texts and phone calls flew back and forth as he planned a recent visit, carefully honing the weekend itinerary while trying to balance his time between us and his buddies. Inside the terminal, Joe and I waited impatiently until finally he appeared – thinner, bearded, that smile that I’ve missed so. The hours flew as we jammed in as much as we could. Pano’s, Elmwood, Canalside, the Sabres and Bills stores, pizza and wings, family gatherings … so much to do and so little time. Would we be able to fit it all in? Of course not. But it was a great weekend, and there will be other trips home, God willing. I can’t wait for the next one, and I will begin it the best way I know how – I’m going to the gate.