Friday, April 2, 2010

Happy Homecoming!

Dear Jean,

Thirty nine years ago this evening, you stepped off an Austrian Airlines DC-9 jet at Istanbul's Yesilkoy Airport. It was the final leg of a charter flight journey that took you from Buffalo to Philadelphia to Vienna to Istanbul. It was before cell phones and e-mail. We just knew that you were leaving the United States on April 1 and arriving in Istanbul sometime on April 2, or 3, or???.

You had no idea what your actual itinerary was until you were underway. You had no idea where you would change planes, what airline you would travel on, exactly when you would arrive. You would have had no earthly idea how to contact me if I had not been at the airport.

We traveled on, lived on, a lot of faith. And hope. Love had begun but wasn't really built yet.

So I got to Istanbul's decrepit airport as early as I could on April 2. I waited. There were no seats in a passenger lounge anywhere. Whole families were there with huge collections of huge bags. These were people flying to Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe to take jobs as Gastarbeiter, guest workers. They would rush the counter at each departure hoping to get cut-rate standy seats on unfilled airplanes.

I didn't know enough Turkish to understand the announcements over the airport PA system. All I could do was wait and crowd into the seas of people that greeted each arriving flight. After being there all day, the Turkish customs agents got used to seeing me. Finally, they didn't even kick me out of the arrival area. I found a chair with three legs that I could prop into a corner and actually sit on to take a load off my feet. I sat for hours.

And I waited. I would wait all night, all the next day, as long as it took. My 22-year-old new wife was out there somewhere. At last that little white and red DC-9 landed around 10:30 at night. I wasn't sure I should even get up to scan the faces of all the arriving passengers. "Surely," I thought, "she would be on a PanAm or TWA flight. Or maybe a Lufthansa or a BOAC. " I never dreamed that you would be on AUA--Austrian Airlines.

Suddenly, there was a tall young woman wearing a familiar white denim trench coat with a hood and embrodered trim on the placket. She was wearing familiar tall brown vinyl boots. I knew her. She was my wife!

We spent the night at the Park Oteli (Park Hotel), mainly because it was the only hotel name I really knew and could tell the driver to take us to. We rode there in the back seat of a nice old '55 Chevrolet BelAire 4-door sedan taxi. It turned out to be a lovely old hotel, and I could get us a room by speaking German to the desk clerk. The next day, we took another taxi to the Galata Bridge ferry terminals, for the final two-hour voyage. Then, after a short walk, I carried you across the threshold of 56 Dort Yol Sokak, Daire 5 (apt. 5): our new home.

Then our life together began.

Thanks for being there, and being here all these years!



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