On Reaching the End of the Road

Almost every Thanksgiving since we’ve been married, Stanton and I have spent the holiday with his family, and then Christmas with mine. The same was true for this Thanksgiving. A sad difference this time, though, was that his paternal grandmother, his Mimi, passed away about a week before Thanksgiving.

Mimi was a lovely lady, both inside and out. I first met her the summer between Stanton’s and my sophomore and junior years of college at the University of Richmond. Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

Mimi’s hometown was San Angelo, Texas, which is about 200 miles northwest from where Stanton grew up in San Antonio (where he and I also lived for several years post-marriage before moving back to the East Coast). Her visitation and funeral were set for the weekend before Thanksgiving, in her hometown, two days before Stanton, the girls and I had planned to arrive in Texas this year.

Fortunately, the four of us were able to change our plane tickets so that we could be there earlier for these final remembrances. We flew into San Antonio and then drove the three hours to San Angelo.

The road from San Antonio to San Angelo is mostly flat, with the “wide open spaces” you might hear about in a country song, as well as endless sky that turns a pink-orange hue at sunset.

Along the way, you also see signs noting the speed limit: 80 miles per hour.

That’s right, friends: 80.

“That’s illegal in New York, you know,” I said, on Sunday afternoon. “And in most parts of the country.”

Behind the wheel, Stanton smiled. “I know.”

I patted his leg. “Welcome back, honey.”

Every place is special in its own way, with pros and cons alike. This is my perspective anyway, shaped after living in three different regions of the U.S. and visiting a variety of other cities, states and countries. I love our hometown in New York’s Capital Region, and know Stanton does too, and at the same time I can appreciate the wide-open, high-speed beauty of West Texas.

Mimi had a warm smile and equally warm embrace; love of family, friendship and dance; and surprisingly competitive streak where card games and dominoes were concerned.

On Monday morning, Mimi’s funeral service was held at her church. Before the service, I brought Anna to the restroom. As I walked through the hallway, holding my younger daughter, a long-ago memory jolted me. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I began crying.

The first time Stanton and I had been at that church together was seven years ago, for Grace’s first Easter. We had spent that holiday in San Angelo with Stanton’s grandparents (Grandaddy, his grandfather, passed away in 2015). We traveled to be there the following Easter too, and walking through that hallway, I remembered those past times so clearly. I had nursed baby Grace in that room, right over there, during part of that first Easter service.

I felt, deeply, what I imagine many people feel at funerals: the impermanence of time, the mortality we all share. Gratitude for the times that were good. Humility in the knowledge that so much of it was luck of the draw.

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From the moment I met them, both Mimi and Grandaddy had been incredibly kind and loving to me. During the next 15 years, I got to know them, and grew to love them. I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family, even when I was missing my own parents, grandparents and siblings in the Northeast.

Grace’s first Easter, our new family of three accompanied Mimi and Grandaddy to their church. We sat together in a pew near the front. Afterward, the five of us had brunch at Mimi and Grandaddy’s senior-living community, and then Mimi let baby Grace borrow her bed for a nap, before our drive back to San Antonio.

Grace wore a white and purple dress that day. I took a picture of her sleeping on Mimi’s bed, and I know I have that picture somewhere still.

A gracious and generous lady, to be sure.

When Stanton and I learned we were expecting a second daughter, we talked about possible names, as all expectant parents do. It didn’t take us long to settle on “Anna,” which we read was a form of both Nancy (Mimi’s given name) and Angelina (my maternal grandmother’s name).

Much later, we also learned that the name “Anna” means “grace,” prompting both our daughters to ask, “Of all the girls’ names in the world, why did you name us the same name?”

Ah…life.

So many of Mimi’s family and friends, including all her grandchildren (six) and great-grandchildren (13!), attended her funeral, a beautiful tribute to her, I thought.

I’m incredibly thankful Stanton, the girls and I were there.

I wholeheartedly thought of them as my family…

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs. It’s a fast-food restaurant that specializes in, yes, burgers.

After Mimi’s visitation on Sunday, our family of four enjoyed an impromptu dinner at the nearest Whataburger with Stanton’s sister and her family. They asked Stanton what his go-to order was. “I’m a No. 1 guy,” my husband replied.

Whataburger’s No. 1 is its classic large beef patty topped with tomato, lettuce, pickles, diced onions and mustard on a bun.  For the first time since the last time he was in Texas, Stanton bit into his beloved No. 1.

“How is it?” we asked.

But we didn’t need to. Stanton’s face, radiating pure joy, revealed the answer.

Whataburger is another Texas institution, right up there with 80 speed-limit signs.

Not long after, many of us met up again at a ranch resort near Austin, a four-hour drive southeast from San Angelo, to celebrate Thanksgiving as planned. I so enjoyed watching Grace and Anna play with all their cousins, and was happy for Stanton that he got to catch up with everyone too. I appreciated catching up with everyone as well, especially making s’mores and chitchatting around an outdoor fire in the evenings.

By the end of the week, though, I was looking forward to being home again. We had left somewhat in a rush.

I hadn’t had time to place a hold on our mail, and our next-door neighbors were kindly collecting letters and packages after receiving a frantic last-minute text from me. Other friends were kindly pet-sitting our fish, Ping, who had a bladder disease (according to Google, anyway…). And I had still been working remotely, wrapping up the winter issue of the magazine I help edit.

On Saturday, we flew from Austin to Charlotte, N.C., where we had a quick layover before boarding our last flight back to Albany, N.Y. During the layover, Grace and I noticed an Auntie Anne’s, which is one of our favorite fast-food stops. “But I need to use the bathroom,” Grace said.

“Me too,” I said. “Let’s run to the bathroom, then pick up pretzels on the way back.” I held out my hand, and Grace slipped hers into mine.

At that moment, I noticed how big Grace’s hand was—how much she’d grown. How much she’d grown from the baby she’d been, celebrating her first Easter in San Angelo with Mimi and Grandaddy. Again, I felt choked with emotion; I squeezed my daughter’s hand.

One of my favorite memories of our entire trip was running hand-in-hand with Grace through the Charlotte airport.

Soon we were standing in line at Auntie Anne’s. Grace looked around the bustling airport food court. “Where are we again?”

“Right now we’re in Charlotte, North Carolina,” I said.

“This is a nice airport.” Grace is somewhat of a frequent flyer, and has become an airport connoisseur of sorts.

I agreed.

On our journeys, we each become experts in some ways, about some things. Airports. AP style for magazine editing. Fast-food hamburger (or pretzel) chains.

How to win at dominoes.

At the end of the road, though, it doesn’t much matter what you know, or how fast you got there. In my experience, anyway, people don’t tend to remember you for those kinds of things. Instead, they remember you loved them, held their hand, opened your heart.

I squeezed Grace’s hand again. If I had the time, I would have cried.

“What should we order, Mom?”

“Um…” I said I thought we should get a few different things, and share. And of course, lemonade.

“I was hoping you’d say lemonade too!”

That’s one other thing I’ve learned, friends. If you’re standing in line at Auntie Anne’s during your last layover, you should definitely get lemonade too.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

11 Types of People You See at Airports

Post-Thanksgiving, I was standing in line at the Dunkin’ Donuts in the San Antonio airport. It was about 5 a.m. on a weekday morning, and the long line comprised mainly holiday travelers like me.

A yuppie-looking couple (he was wearing the latest North Face jacket; her hair was blown out and stunningly styled at, yes, 5 a.m.) near me was debating whether or not they should continue waiting for their order.

“I mean, how long does it take to make a breakfast sandwich, really?” she asked him.

He seriously considered her question, then shook his head in defeat. “We’ve been waiting a while now.”

She tapped a stacked-heeled foot against the floor. “We may just need to take a hit on ten dollars. Our flight’s already boarding—I just heard the announcement.”

“Yep, I guess so…”

I exchanged glances with the older, sleepy gentleman in front of me. I just want some coffee, our eyes communicated to each other.

The couple power-walked over to their gate, while my Dunkin’ Donuts line inched closer to the register.

In that moment, I realized there are some reliable “types” of people you see at airports. Here are 11 of them.

1. The Couple Still Getting to Know Each Other. Like my yuppie friends above. I have a theory, based on zero scientific evidence and years of people-watching, that the fewer complete sentences couples speak to each other at 5 a.m., the better they know each other.

2. The People Who Just Want Coffee. In their un-caffeinated state, they aren’t interested in deep questions like, “How long does it take to make a breakfast sandwich?” They don’t want to make small talk with the other people in the Dunkin’ Donuts line. They are about 15 minutes away from a caffeine headache. All.they.want.is.coffee.

I have a theory, based on zero scientific evidence and years of people-watching, that the fewer complete sentences couples speak to each other at 5 a.m., the better they know each other.

3. The People Still Wearing Pajamas. On the other extreme of The Couple Still Getting to Know Each Other, The People Still Wearing Pajamas could not be bothered to put on clothes at 5 a.m., let alone comb their hair. This type literally rolled out of bed and arrived at the airport.

During my most recent travels, I saw two children wearing pajamas—one at the Chicago airport (a plaid flannel set), the other in Albany (theme: Disney princesses). OK: They’re kids; they’re tired; I get it. But adults? Come on now, folks. Why not change into some clean (yet still comfortable) “activewear”?

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4. First-Time Parents Flying With Their Child for the First Time. I feel for these folks, because I was them once. This type of airport traveler is laden down with baby gear: car seat; stroller; baby carrier in case the baby isn’t feeling the car seat/stroller combo that day; packed-to-the-max diaper bag; sometimes a Boppy pillow. Often, I let them know I’ve been there, done that and assure them everything will be OK (after I’ve had some coffee, of course).

5. Parents Traveling for the 100th Time With Their Kids. The more-seasoned moms and dads bring two main things with them: an iPad and a party size bag of something crunchy (Veggie Stix is a popular choice).

6. The Pet-Obsessed. At Baggage Claim in Albany, I watched a middle-aged woman speak lovingly to her tiny dog, who looked comfortable in his faux-fur-padded pet carrier. Another lady, with her own canine in tow, stopped to ask Lady No. 1 how her dog had done.

“Oh, he always does well,” she replied. “We have a house in Boca, and we fly back and forth all the time.” Her husband joined them, his arms full of luggage, and she greeted him by snapping something like, “What took you so long?”

The pet-obsessed: Consistently patient with the four-footed among us.

The more-seasoned moms and dads bring two main things with them: an iPad and a party size bag of something crunchy (Veggie Stix is a popular choice).

7. College Students Returning to School After Break. Like The People Still Wearing Pajamas, College Students Returning to School After Break more often than not also opt for sleepwear rather than “awake-wear.” A noticeable difference, however, between these two groups: The coeds bring books with titles like “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” and “Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere” onboard as their carry-ons.

8. Business Travelers. Business travelers can get a bad rap for being self-absorbed—in their phones, in their 24/7 work, in their airport VIP lounges. What I appreciate about them, though, is that they are used to traveling. Thus, they take up minimal time and space navigating through the security lines. They often come prepared with noise-canceling headphones, which means they don’t glare at your kids when little Emma and Aiden have their inevitable meltdowns. Unlike…

9. School Sports Teams. The letterman jackets, the athletic-striped sweatpants, the selfies featuring team-logoed caps and the starting lineup flashing the “hang ten” sign—school sports teams in airports tend to make themselves comfortable, and make a bit of noise.

10. Grandparents Who Just Visited With Their Grandkids. You overhear these older folks talking about how wonderful it was to see “all the kids.” Their heads almost touch as they lean over together, scrolling through pictures on their phones (and, sometimes, clicking through their actual cameras). They’ve been together a long time—weathered life’s ups and downs—and aren’t bothered by long fast-food lines or Baggage Claim delays. They just saw their family, and they’re HAPPY.

11. Soldiers Returning Home. Every once in a while, I’m privileged to witness a uniformed military man or woman reuniting with their family. The look in their eyes—the gratitude, the joy—the all-encompassing embraces that follow. Even the least sentimental among us, I think, feel a twinge in our hearts when we see such a sight—soldiers returning home.

They just saw their family, and they’re HAPPY.

There you have it, friends: my 11 types of airport travelers. Which ones did I miss?

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Gratitude News Round-Up

Thanksgiving is just a couple of days away, and fittingly, articles about gratitude have been popping up in the media. Here are five of my favorites. Wishing you gratitude and good things always!

“3 Reasons You Should Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude” (Entrepreneur):

“Gratitude creates solutions. Adopting a gratitude practice takes you out of a problem and toward a solution. It removes you from a complaining mode and into a best-outcomes mindset.”

“7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Will Motivate You to Give Thanks Year-Round” (Forbes):

“Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret.”

“Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.”

“7 Genuine Ways to Practice Gratitude” (PsychCentral):

“Linger over positive experiences.”

“Involve your kids … Ask your child, ‘What was the best part of your day today?’”

“20 Mind-Blowing Facts About Gratitude” (Yahoo! Health):

“Being appreciative of the little things your partner does can help your relationship thrive.”

“A good way to increase your feelings of gratitude is to embrace the setbacks you experience in life, according to leading gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, of the University of California, Davis.”

“The Science of Thanksgiving: Why Gratitude Really is Good for You” (California Magazine):

“ … simple gratitude is good for you. Among its benefits: lower blood pressure, strengthened immune systems, reduced loneliness, and measurably improved outlooks on life. Plus, people who practice gratitude ‘mindfully,’ as the current psycho-argot has it, tend to pay things forward; they’re more compassionate to the people around them, generating all-around increased good will.”