Sunday, February 21, 2010
In-Flight Writing Part 1: Memphis
It's been six weeks and eight airplanes since last we met in the kitchen. In the depths of Chicago's annual abyss, I've made grand escapes. If not toward much warmer weather than certainly toward warm plates, extended arms and hearths both familiar and brand new. If you follow along on Twitter or even Flickr, Tumblr or Foursquare, you're well aware of my manic skipping about the continental US. And if you thought that was an excuse for skipping out on the longform I love so much, you'd be right. And I'd be making an appointment to see an optometrist about the obvious side effects of my Blackberry addiction.
I can at least find solace in the fact that I've always wanted glasses because the smartphone isn't going anywhere. It's an office I can fit in my coat pocket and it was used accordingly in the following places in the past few winter months...the beginning is as good a place to start as any.
Brother and I, in a coup orchestrated by our mother, flew into Memphis at the end of January to surprise Dad at his retirement party. It was in the middle of the week so it took a little calendar manipulation to leave our desks but I've never been so glad I did. We got in without a hitch, even managing to get the hotel courtesy van to drive us to Chick fil a for a late lunch (that's exactly how charming dear Brother is, in case you were wondering).
When it came time to hit the reception, we listened at the door to the hall as people said really amazing things about our father. I feel lucky that I never doubted he was good at his job or that he cared about producing meaningful work or being a mentor. That said, I didn't really start understanding exactly how interesting a figure he was until I also was living in the professional world. All the things I'd started suspecting in the years since college were being said out loud by people who'd worked with him for years.
I think I'll remember that hour, standing at the door with my brother for a long time. Ears pressed against the hinges like we were five and six rather than those numbers with a couple decades tacked on. All children should get to hear people call their fathers excellent and know it in their guts to be true.
So after 20-odd years of Dad surprising us (he is a master of having things "up his sleeve"), we finally surprised him. I wish I could show you a picture of his face. I can't. But I have one in my memory that I'll hold onto for a very long time to come. All four Langsens stood up and we were so proud of each other, so excited for the next set of adventures.
That night Memphis had winter weather fairly unique to that belt of southern states where it's not warm enough to rain and not cold enough to snow. Our phones rang throughout the evening as one flight after another was canceled. And we were re-booked only to be canceled again. By the time I woke up Friday morning, the ground outside crunched and slid with about 2 inches of solid snow cone, hold the blue raspberry syrup.
My family left one by one, but I remained grounded and very thankful for a job based on little beyond the presence of a wireless network and hungry people. As a perpetually hungry person addicted to a mobile device, I am my own job security but convenient nonetheless. At one point I waddled to Owen Brennan's to get some gumbo but, beyond that, cranked away in a quiet hotel room in a city Langsens don't live in anymore.
Having relented to staying another night in town, the ice felt a little nicer. I was no worse for wear. My two oldest friends from Memphis are incidentally both smart-mouthed red headed boys I've know since I was about seven. They are both getting married this June to lovely girls and I saw both of them during my extended trip. My neighborhood grandparents trekked to the airport for hellos and hugs. Kim braved the streets so I even got gravy with biscuits and grits for breakfast on the day I left. I'm not obligated to go back to Memphis anymore but that's made it easier for me to see that I want to.