“How did your crops do this year?” Stunned, my dad thought this 30-something woman, a stranger at the small Iowa airport was pretty intuitive to walk up to him and ask this question. “I guess she recognizes a farmer when she sees one!” Dad said of the Illinois native who now lives in D.C. She too is a farmer’s daughter.
I wonder what she noticed first: Clean work boots and pin-striped bib overalls? The sleek black jacket with the small Pioneer seed corn symbol stitched on the left chest? The black Garst seed corn cap? Or the plain black mock turtle neck under the bibs?
All in all, Dad was one spiffed-up farmer with these black dress clothes blending seamlessly with his bib overalls and work boots. Dad looked sharp. He could have been going to a farm convention in those clothes.
Sunday morning started early for me in Indianapolis. I was up at 4:30 a.m., after a 3-day conference there, so I could catch a plane to Chicago and then another to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Dad was going to meet me at the airport. His day started the night before; he didn’t sleep much Thursday night.
At 10:50 a.m., I deplaned in Cedar Rapids and said “hello” to the other farmer’s daughter. Then Dad and I got on the road in his little Colorado pick-up truck to Chicago: a 4-hour drive ahead of us. We were going to catch a 9:30 p.m. train out of Union Station that would take us both to Boston – a 24-hour journey on the rails. Dad was heading East to spend two weeks with us.
After getting lost and driving in circles trying to find a Cracker Barrel in Davenport, we calmly made our way to a parking spot at one of O’Hare airport’s remote parking lots. Driving the Midwest grids between Iowa & Illinois and recognizing north & south 4-lanes around O’Hare felt like putting on a familiar glove. I don’t have a glove like that in Boston. Yet.
We parked his truck. “Now what?” asked Dad. My first thought was to follow the crowd. We moved our bags and suitcases to a bus-stop shelter. “We haven’t done this before – we need to catch a taxi. Does a shuttle run through here?” I asked three people in general. One man, on his way to Singapore, became our guide – after a brief conversation. “So,” he looked at Dad, “you’re going to Boston. How do you feel about seafood?” To which Dad replied, “I love a good burger.” Laughing aloud, “Now that’s an Iowa farmer!!” He watched us board then the bus shuttle, then helped us onto the tram, and directed us out onto the platform at the international terminal, the first tram stop.
We stepped off the tram and looked around for an elevator. “What are you carrying that for?” asked an airport employee. That was a suitcase without wheels, I was unsure if he had ever seen one this size before. “Wait here,” I’ll find a cart. I shook his hand and thanked him as he directed us to the elevator which would take us to the lower level where the taxis were waiting.
The elevators opened and the international terminal felt familiar. How many times had Bill and I returned from visiting his family right through those gates? Three men were facing west, standing quietly, murmuring prayers. The terminal bustled, activity driven by chaos. I was reminded that walking on the right is part of our American culture. People moved in the direction they needed to go. I dove into the crowd, glancing behind me hoping that Dad would stay on my heels. “Are we close to the door?” Dad asked.
“How long have you been driving?” Dad asked. The upbeat taxi driver replied, “It will take about 30 minutes with Sunday evening traffic.” I said, “How long have you driven a taxi?” “Ohhh, about five years.” “Where are you from?” I asked. “Nepal, where Mt. Everest is. I’ve been here about eight years. I love Chicago!” Then it dawned on me. Dad was asking about the cabby’s ability to drive, a kind of pretest to help Dad judge how tightly he would need to be holding on. I was asking about the driver, his culture, his life. “There you go, finally, here!” announced the driver after a very smooth drive, free of any aggressive maneuvers or heavy braking.
With four hours to wait, we walked into Union Station and found a table. I felt electric; after all, the only place I had gotten us lost was in Davenport, Iowa. My part was done; now we relied on the train.
Dad looked ashen. “I just realized how very strange this must all be to you, Dad.” He nodded as he ate his Chicago hotdog.