Tuesday, November 12, 2013

People Watching

When I was young, I sometimes went with my grandfather to the airport. My grandfather was a very punctual man. But often we’d get to the airport 2 hours before the flight we were waiting for was due in (this was back in the old days before TSA and you could wander the airport). My grandfather would pick a comfortable seat near a main artery of airport-people-traffic and he’d sit. I’d sit next to him in companionable silence. A few minutes before the flight was due in, we’d walk to the terminal and wait for whoever was arriving.

When I was an adult, we were together at the airport and I finally asked him, “Why do we come so early?” He smiled and said, “So we can watch all the people.” And, of course, that’s what I’d been doing too in those hours while we sat. I’d watch the people go by and made up stories about their lives. But I was taken aback when he said this. I’d always viewed him as a practical man. He was a contractor who built homes. He’d served in the Dutch Underground during World War II. He was a man who did things with his hands. But I should’ve known there was a romantic in him. He was known as a gifted organist—back in the old country when organ-playing was a sign of culture. When he was 88 years old and came to visit our family for a week, he got down on his hands and knees and played Matchbox cars with my little boys. And he always had a peppermint in his pocket for me.

He’s been gone for many years now, and I don’t have any regrets. But I do wish he’d told me the stories that he made up as we people-watched at Los Angeles International Airport.

Here's a photo of my grandfather in his Dutch army uniform.

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