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Airports Are Very Public Places For Private Emotions

Tue., Dec. 2, 1997

Some had done it once already.

Others were waiting for the last minute.

For family members of those leaving on Southwest Flight 537 Sunday morning, the moment was coming. Time to say goodbye.

You can see hugs and heartfelt handshakes at Spokane International Airport 365 days a year. But there’s something special about the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It’s a day for partings.

“We are expecting a completely full flight today,” a gate agent announced over the public address system there in the crowded A Concourse.

Several three-generation family clusters seemed to close in tighter.

Two babies were crying.

“Well, you still don’t have a plane yet,” a gray-haired woman said to a twentysomething man whose face looked a lot like hers.

“Maybe it’s on the other side of that thing,” he said.

Some stood or sat in silence. Others made nervous small talk.

“You going to have a busy day tomorrow?”

“Got everything?”

It wasn’t all inconsequential chatter, though. Airports are these incredibly public places. But they are where some of us say the things that matter in our private lives. Things like “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry.”

Soon, a few minutes before 10 a.m., it was time to board. The plane would make stops in Oakland, Los Angeles and Albuquerque. But first there was business to take care of in Spokane.

A young man with a ponytail and a wispy goatee held out a hand to shake with a man who looked to be his father. The older man ignored the extended hand and moved in for a hug. Both embraced as if putting a loving punctuation mark on a long, personal conversation.

A man with the telltale facial characteristics of a common developmental disability had tears in his eyes as he hugged a woman who looked to be about 35. His sister? When they pulled apart, she dabbed her eyes with the back of her hand.

The guy whose mom had been unable to see where the brown Southwest jet was parked cleared his throat. “This is going to be a zoo here pretty soon,” he said. “So why don’t I let you … uh.”

His mom nodded. They stood and hugged. His mom patted him on the back while she had him in her arms.

“I love you,” she said.

“I love you, too,” he answered.

Lots of families don’t get along. We all know that. But for a moment Sunday morning, affection was just about all you could see.

“Study hard,” a man in a Mariners cap called to a college-age girl walking toward the jetway.

She looked back at him and smiled.

, DataTimes MEMO: Being There is a weekly feature that visits Inland Northwest gatherings.

Being There is a weekly feature that visits Inland Northwest gatherings.

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