Which One?-pt. 16 (Image: Goblet)

Peter opened the overheard compartment and pulled down his bag. I did the same and we stood in front of our seats while passengers from the back of the plane slowly moved through the aisle past us toward the front of the plane. Finally a break in the passing stream let us step into the aisle and we shuffled forward. As we neared the exit I pulled a compressed down coat out of my bag putting it on over the heavy flannel shirt that was sufficient when I boarded the plane in central Virginia three hours before.

The flight attendants wished us well as we stepped out of the plane and into one of those big boxy deplaning tunnels that funnel you into the terminal building like cattle through a chute. I was a bit surprised at the cold—even enclosed in the tunnel my breath vapor was full and thick. It was shortly after midnight as we walked out of the tunnel into the warm building. Peter and I separated with a hug and mutual best wishes.

Gone are the days—I guess—where you could get off a plane and immediately meet your friends, relatives, associates—the inconvenient reality of the post 9-11 world. I followed the signs to baggage pick-up, claimed my bag then set off on my hike down thru the vast, nearly deserted concourse. As I searched for the waiting area sign—despite my racing, impatient thoughts—I tried to remember the last time I actually saw and touched Joanie.

It was probably a few days after Christmas of 1964. I had flown down from Alaska on a MATS (Military Air Transport Service) plane, landing at Griffiss Air Force Base. After the holiday I had to take a bus back to the base to catch the return flight and the bus station was where I said goodbye to Joanie and my mom. The image of the two of them, crying while trying to smile and waving at me through the bus window was quite clear in my memory’s eye. My mom and Joanie had hit it off beautifully. Mom would have loved Joanie to be her daughter-in-law.

As I walked through the echoing concourse I kept glancing around looking for an open restaurant. I was hungry—a small bag of peanuts on the plane had been my only supper that day. Despite being a big airport with flights coming and going from all over the world twenty-four hours a day it appeared every business—including food—was locked up and dark this time of night.

An ice cream shop reminded me of how, when Joanie and I were kids, we—along with Joanie’s sister and her boyfriend—would often walk several blocks to a local ice cream parlor called “Louvier’s” and get ice cream. The walk to the store was always a quiet, beautiful experience. Holding hands—the warmth and sunlight of the day fading into coolness and twilight, crickets beginning to chirp—as we strolled along old worn sidewalks under towering elms through tidy working class neighborhoods. The first time we did that was the same evening I kissed Joanie for the first time.

Earlier in the afternoon that day Joanie’s father had brought us along on a visit to a family member—an uncle I think. I don’t remember a thing about the visit—only the drive back—Joanie and I in the back seat—her father driving—watching the road—pretending to be oblivious to what was going on in the back seat. I had enough sense not to hesitate when I put my left arm around her—to do it with quiet confidence. When she readily accepted that, I knew I was “home free.”

As head-lights from passing cars and soft illumination from street-lights slipping by lit her, sweet, pretty features, I brought my right hand to her chin and gently turned her face to mine. As I did she closed her eyes and parted her lips slightly. In the sporadic play of light and shadow, her dark, thick lashes made her look angelic. I brought my lips to hers and she eagerly accepted the kiss. I sought her tongue—she resisted a bit at first but relented and joined in my passion.

I didn’t get to second base that night—but I did take my first tentative step into adulthood—as did she.

I rounded a corner entering an area filled with rows of empty seating and saw Joanie—for the first time in 42 years—walking toward me. I couldn’t believe how pretty she still was—for a flash I was seeing her again for the first time. There were the beautiful eyes I remembered so well and she still had the same figure she had when we were teen-agers. As she was four decades earlier—she looked to be five foot three and 100 pounds.

I had hit the lottery.

End Part 16

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