Portland International Airport (PDX) is the background to so many memories of my life. PDX was the airport I first flew out of, in the middle seat, squished between my grandparents. I wanted the window seat, but Grandpa Malone said I could get sucked out the window, so he had to sit there. I looked over my grandpa’s shoulder, watching the plane lift off, feeling the weight in my stomach and the pop in my ears. My grandmother ordered a seven and seven as the stewardess walked by. I ordered orange juice and plastic airline wings. Grandpa began to snore.
My first trip on an airplane was to go toward someone I loved. Since then, I have most often had to say goodbye to people I love at airports. My friend Kathy was horrified to learn that our family had adapted to this recurrent leave taking by barely slowing down to drop people at the curb. When you have spent your whole life saying goodbye, you eventually have to find ways to minimize the pain. After many years, we learned that getting mad and fighting before the goodbye did not actually offer relief, so we stopped. Now we get slow. Sit close. Catch up. And prepare for the send-off. Most often it’s a slow roll, a quick stop, dumping bags and hugging quickly. No long drawn out scenes for us.
It feels like we’ve always been saying goodbye in my family. Our grandparents lived in Oregon, and we never did. Then, our children lived in Massachusetts and the extended family never did. My niece, cousins, aunt and uncle, parents, sister, and assorted extra family are scattered far and wide. We have pockets of them, here and there. Places we gather where we can catch up. Always, for me, that is Oregon… so PDX is the center of so many of these scenes.
PDX became home base as we travelled to Scotland, Florida, Bermuda, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. We flew in to visit my grandparents, cousins, and extended family. We flew home, through PDX. As my kids grew, they landed on the familiar carpet summer after summer. Visiting their grandparents, aunt and uncle, and extended family. They are New England kids but should have dual citizenship as Oregonians. For a dozen years, they flew in and out attending weddings, family gatherings, and summer shenanigans. They know the familiar sting of pine and earth, the rain laden days, and the other worldly green of my home state.
A few years ago, my grandmother landed for the last time at PDX after a visit to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. After all the miles she had travelled, PDX was the last airport she would land in. Her health made travel much too difficult. Now, we would have to come to her. At 94, I guess she’s earned it.
On Sunday, my parents will head back to PDX after ten days with us. They travelled out for the fourth time this year, to be here for Brian’s wedding. Now that they are both retired, they most often travel this way. It’s been a very good year. We’ve celebrated a new baby, graduation, and now a wedding and added a couple weeks of camping and fun into the mix as well. So much time together in the past few years has made the separation harder. We are bracing ourselves for tomorrow’s goodbye.
All the years of goodbyes have taught us to be gentle to one another and ourselves. Too many tears have been shed on the edges of airports. Rouge tears are waved quickly away as we weave back into traffic, or toward the ticket counter. The lump in my throat doesn’t settle. The sting behind my eyes lingers.
Sunday will be a crying day for me. I will curl up on the sofa in my pajamas and watch comfortable old movies. I will leak a little. I will let the homesickness and sadness wash over me. I will acknowledge the emptiness. I will give myself over to the grief of separation. And then, I will get up and live my life. I will check in on my parents. I will appreciate the bonds that hold such love. If the crying day is the price I must pay for this connection and love, in spite of the separation. I will gladly pay it. They are my family, and they live on the other side of the country and in the middle of my life.