Flying Home

We flew off into the most spectacular sunset over the front range with the Denver lights spread out in twinkling patterns below. That winter there was hardly any snow in the Rockies, a clear white line at about 9000 feet and above. There would be talk of droughts and thirsty reservoirs, hurting ski resorts, and global warming. Just over the Rockies to the west, where the peaks begin to smooth off and end at the mesa on the east end of the Grand Valley, and where the mountains open their great arms to the desert, is Grand Junction. Home. At least the home that I most recognize as "home." The pull is great. So near and yet so far.

Below us I could see the traffic lights headed west on I-70 out of the Denver plains and into the mountains. Headed to the west. To Idaho Springs, Georgetown, the Eisenhower tunnel, Glenwood, Rifle and finally through De Beque Canyon to the Grand Valley. The first landmark is Mt. Garfield with its flat top and fingerlike slopes reaching down towards the peach orchards and the wineries. The second landmark to the south of the valley is the Colorado National Monument. Reddish pink and full of cliffs, secret caves, memories. I haven't lived there since I was 15 but I try to visit often. It's where they settled—my young adventuresome parents—and where my most impressionable years were lived. But I wasn't going there this trip. We were traveling further south, to San Antonio to visit my mother-in-law.

A couple of rows in front of me a sight made my heart skip. It was the back of my dad's head. I could see the edge of his glasses as he reached up to scratch the left side of his head with his right hand as was his little habit. Oh how he loved to fly. He checked out everything about a plane—safety features, model, maximum altitude. He would be up there joking with the flight attendant, introducing himself to the person seated next to him and craning his neck to see out the window. But it wasn’t him. He had been gone for five years now. But I sat and imagined it was him. Imagined that we were traveling together to somewhere that he was excited about and that he had taken care of the details. He would have purchased the tickets and made arrangements for transportation on the other end. He would have researched and planned the sights and stops. And he would have had our tickets, boarding passes, passports. That’s how it was when I traveled with my dad.

I settled into the dark cabin, ordered a drink, sucked the salt off my pretzels before I chewed them and, before I put my forehead tightly against the darkening night, put my hand in the pocket of my purse just one more time to make sure my phone, drivers license, and boarding pass were securely there.


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