I came bounding out of PS 102 one afternoon many years ago dying to tell my parents the great news.
This was kindergarten around 1962 and I had just made local history by proudly printing my name.
My mother and father were waiting for me in my dad’s car, and I climbed in the back seat, breathlessly reporting how I had spelled “R-O-B-E-R-T.”
And then I showed them the paper I was clutching as irrefutable evidence of this tremendous event.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” my mother said. “Now you just have to learn how to print ‘Lenihan.’”
I was confused. I had just reached the plateau by cranking out my first name, the only one I ever used. It’s not like I was writing checks or signing contracts. Why complicate things?
I eventually caught on that I would need the surname to get through life and a short time later I actually was writing checks and signing contracts. And it hasn’t stopped since.
But what I remember most about that day was seeing my parents waiting outside school for me. Of course I didn’t appreciate it at that time. I was young and I naturally thought Mom and Dad would always be waiting for me.
Twenty-five years later I was coming home from a three-week vacation in Europe. I’d had a great time seeing the sites in Paris, Rome, and Munich, but I’d grown weary of visiting yet another museum, yet another old church. And I missed my family.
We had no Internet or cell phones back then, so I only spoke with my parents a handful of times during the entire trip.
Cleared for Takeoff
I had booked charter flights in and out of JFK, which were cheaper, but not long on customer service. They were like flying cattle cars to be perfectly honest.
I flew out of Munich and expected a brief layover in Shannon Airport in Ireland, which was supposed to have a fantastic duty-free shop.
But we didn’t stop at Shannon. We kept on going, over the Atlantic and landed in Gander, Canada. It seemed like such a desolate, barren place and I wanted to leave as quickly as possible.
My Uncle Walter had been a bomber pilot in WWII, back when Gander was a refueling stop for transatlantic flights, and he later told me that he’d had some great times there before taking off for Europe. I’d found that hard difficult to believe given my brief experience with the place.
Gander would later become a crucial landing area on September 11, when dozens of planes were forced to land at Gander International.
The people from Gander and the surrounding towns stepped up and took in more than 6,600 passengers and airline crewmembers.
When we flew out of Gander I had no idea that the crap-ass airline I was traveling with hadn’t been keeping the people back at JFK informed about the plane’s progress, so I didn’t know that my parents were quite worried about me.
We reached New York an hour late and we shared a terminal with a plane that had just arrived from Kingston, Jamaica, which made it easy for me to find my parents as they kind of stuck out in the crowd.
It was lovely seeing them and it felt like I had been away for a long time. They were a little older now than they were back on that day in kindergarten, of course, but I couldn’t wait to tell them about my trip.
My parents are have been gone for years, and now I have to hire someone to pick me up from the airport whenever I fly. It makes me miss them even more and realize how lucky I was to have them.
And when I make my last trip in this life I hope their smiling faces will be the first things I see when I arrive.