Welcome Wagon at the Airport

Airports can be sad places when loved ones depart, and joyous when they arrive. APRIL DREW picked up her mother-in-law last week at JFK and watched as others experienced a range of emotions.

I’ve written extensively about airport goodbyes and the sadness that accompanies them. I’ve also written about airport pick-ups and the joy they bring to our family.

Today (Friday, November 5) I sit in wait for Aer Lingus flight EI 111 from Shannon and I’m putting pen to paper again.

My mother-in-law Mary Mooney is due to disembark the plane that just landed from Ireland.  I’m assuming it will take at least half an hour for her to gather her luggage and make her way out to us, (My son, Colum, and I).

Aware I may be in for a wait, I find one of the few available seats in the arrivals hall at JFK Terminal Four.  I spend the next 30 or so minutes observing others as they anxiously await the arrival of their loved ones. I decide to take a few notes as my son dozes off for a nap in his stroller.

It’s chaotic here on a Friday evening. The flight from Shannon is one of many arriving at Terminal Four. The floor is a melting pot of New Yorkers.

As I listen I hear maybe six or seven languages are being spoken. There are small groups of people waiting. There are also several individuals with arms folded and eyes fixed on the arrival screens.
As I look around a smile comes to my face.  You can spot the Irish anywhere.

A young man, maybe in his early thirties, stands out like a sore thumb. He is wearing a Celtic football team jersey, a pair of faded denims and work boots. His blonde hair is thinning on top and he looks nervous.

He is pacing back and forth, hands tightly squeezed into his pocket. I’m curious! Maybe waiting for a girl, a lover. Time will tell I guess. I must keep my eye on this guy.

Not too far from where I am sitting, a very well groomed Irish woman confidently strolls into the arrivals hall with two black-haired boys. They too are dressed very dapperly in Ralph Lauren shirts and newish cord pants. They hover near the crowded entry gate for a few minutes before backing off.

She takes out her iPhone and makes a brief call. I can’t place her accent but it’s somewhere from the midlands. She isn’t a recent immigrant because I can hear Americanisms in her tone.

“They have landed so we’re just waiting for them to get out now,” she tells the person on the other side of the phone.

The very well behaved boys stand by her side, looking slightly intimated by all the people. One shoots a glance in my direction and I smile. He quickly looks away.

Eventually one of the boys, in a deep American accent, asks “Will they want to go to bed when we go home?”

Mom responds with, “They will be tired so maybe.”

They stand for a few more minutes by us before getting restless and moving back over to the arrivals gate.

An older Irish woman, a cane in one hand and what looked like her son’s arm in the other, takes a seat near me. She looks to be in her seventies but I can’t be sure.

She sounds like she hails from my neck of the woods – Co. Kerry – so I take a chance.
“Are you a Kerry woman?” I ask gently.

“Pardon,” she says arching forward to hear me better.

I repeat my question and she laughs.

“I am. Well, I was anyway a long time ago.”

It turns out Maura (that was her name) was born in Killarney many moons ago and came to the U.S. when she was 19. She now lives in Queens with her dog.

She never married, has no children but informs me she has many friends. The man escorting her today is her best friend’s son. He too is a descendent of Kerry.

I explained to her that I work for the Irish Voice and was writing about my observations. So when I asked whom she was picking up today she knew I wasn’t just being nosy!

“My youngest brother and his wife,” she said.

“To be honest I’m a little nervous. He hasn’t been to America before so I’m not sure how the flight was for him. I worry for him because he is a diabetic.”

She last saw him four years ago on a trip back home.

After a few more minutes of conversing back and forth it’s clear that the Irish have landed. A group of eight men and women look excited and happy as they make their way through the arrivals hall. Each donning Penny’s (affordable clothing store in Ireland) best attire.

An American gentleman holding a sign saying “Cluain na Lara” meets them.  I later realize (after I overhear shared words between two of the arrivals) some of them are athletes.

They are here in New York to participate in the New York Marathon that takes place on Sunday. (Or should I say that took place by the time this article is printed).

As others trickle through the arrival doors I make my way closer to the gate to see if I could find my mother-in-law.

Although I later learned that the plane wasn’t full, there are still a lot of people visiting New York.

I scan the room quickly to find the lad in the Celtic jersey.  I nearly give up hope of finding him through the crowd when out of the corner of my eye I see him embracing a woman in her sixties.
His mother I’m assuming. It was a girl after all but not a lover.

She wipes tears away from her eyes as she hugs him again. He acts like a man, pulls back as soon as he can, takes her case from her and puts his right hand on the small of her back to gently guide her to whatever mode of transport is awaiting them outside. He looked happy.

As my son begins to stir in the stroller I glance around again. I stand on my tippy toes to see over the heads of the people waiting. Still no sign of Mary. I’m now concerned I’ve missed her.

I decide to walk around the arrivals hall but I have no luck. I go back to the gate and continue to wait. The glamorous mother is also waiting with the children.

But Maura has gotten what she came for.  I missed the initial embrace, but I see her leaning on her cane and nodding her head.

If I’m to guess I would say she is asking her brother how the journey was. He was deep in conversation as his wife stood by. In the background stood her friend’s son, not wanting to impose on the very personal reunion.

I was happy for Maura. She looked excited. As I watched her maneuver towards the door there was pep in her step that wasn’t there a few minutes ago.

As I continue to wait I’m nearly bulldozed down by a tall pretty Irish American looking woman as she sprints to the arrivals gate. I follow her with my eyes.

As she approaches another woman, about her age, she screams, throws her hands in the air and gives her visitor a big squeeze that seems to last forever. A cousin perhaps.

The new arrival is carrying a bag with an Aer Lingus tag and looks very Irish to me. They jump up and down for a few more minutes and rush off full of chatter.

As the time seems to slip away I’m now concerned that I’ve missed Mary.  I decide to make another trip around the airport.

And there she is, sitting and nattering with a lovely man from Co. Galway who is waiting for his son to pick him up. Mary hasn’t seen Colum since he was three months old so she was overjoyed at how big he is now.

I ask the usual airport questions: “How was the flight?” Are you wrecked?” etc. 

After a few minutes we make our way out of Terminal Four. I drag Mary’s luggage as she more than happily strolls out her grandson. Colum is excited to see who this new person in his life is.

As we depart through the doors I see in the distance the woman and her boys. Each of the kids struggle to pull big suitcases but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Their mom is deeply conversing with a woman who looks very much like her. The boys show off to what I assume is their big cousin. They too look happy.

I smile to myself and think if anyone needs a pick-me-up, spending an afternoon at an arrival’s terminal in any airport is definitely good for the soul.