In the Cedar Rapids Airport

Photo doesn’t look like much but

Somewhere in that hug is a soldier in camouflage.

here’s the story:

The Cedar Rapids airport is a small one—there are no double doors to pass through en route to ground transportation and baggage claim; one just strolls past a security guard who is yawning in his chair. As I do that the other day—I’m in Iowa to teach for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival—I notice quite a crowd has gathered. I’m always struck by the blondness that is Iowan, and this group is no exception: several towhead children bouncing in excitement, a few parents, a number of blond teenagers, texting. A young lady stands at the very front of the group; her make-up is polished and her hair blown-dry. Beside her is a woman of about 40 whose eyes are already red with tears.

I recall the soldier who rode a few rows ahead of me on the plane from Houston, wearing the strange camouflage of our recent desert wars, more pink and blue than the old tan and brown.

“There he is!” someone squeals.

He comes around the corner. He is not carrying a bag, his arms swing; he is the epitome of soldier, with his buzzed blond hair and his excellent posture. His eyes scan the waiting group and alight on someone. I can’t see over the heads of those around me, but I imagine is his mother, with her red eyes; she must be holding her arms out to him.

But it is not toward the older woman that he strides. It’s to the young lady beside her. There’s a moment of protocol. The girlfriend, such must she be, wonders for a moment that she is to get the first hug. But it’s clear that it’s to her he’s heading, and she steps into his arms. He buries his face in her neck. His hands grip her waist, her hips, his arms slide all the way around her. I can almost hear him groan.

He steps back, his face lighted—he looks as if he might laugh, he looks as if he might cry. And he sinks to one knee and holds out a hand.

The crowd sighs, as one. I am not the only one who’s paused en route to whatever’s next. The security guard is no longer yawning.

Between his thumb and forefinger is a ring. There are a few squeals, quickly hushed. He has hold of one of the girlfriend’s hands. She presses the other to her lips. I can’t see her face, only her shining hair.

“Will you marry me?” His voice is low, but it carries.

She doesn’t appear to say anything. Never taking his eyes off her, he slides the ring onto her finger.

“Will you?”

At her quiet “yes,” we applaud. He stands. She has her left hand held up, gazing at the ring on her finger. I see her realize that this is not the moment to appreciate the ring! With a little shake of her head she throws her arms around him. He lifts her up. Her knees bend and her feet rise in what we all hope is joy.

About this time I remember to get my iphone out of my purse. The resultant photo doesn’t manage to capture any of this.

Later, waiting for our luggage, I congratulate them and ask if I can take their picture. They oblige.

A few moments later he joins the half dozen of us waiting to grab our luggage as soon as it appears. A young boy, nephew or cousin or brother, waits with him. I’m looking for a box of books; the soldier for his duffels, one of which almost immediately nudges its way through the rubber flaps above the conveyor belt. He lifts it, places it beside him. “It’s heavy,” he says to the little boy, who doesn’t care that it’s as big as he is and four times as heavy. He persists, and the soldier helps him get his arms through the straps—it can be carried like a knapsack. The boy teeters, his face red with effort and pride. It looks as if he will be pulled on his back, like a bug on its shell; or that he will fall face down with the huge duffel covering him from head to toe.

The soldier hefts a second duffle off the belt. “Let’s go,” he says. The boy manages a step forward with the pack on his back, grinning.

He steadies the boy with a hand to his head, and guides him towards the waiting family.  “Let’s go home.”

Soldier and fiance and ring.

24 replies
  1. Beth Kimbell Marchio
    Beth Kimbell Marchio says:

    Don’t you love it when a joyous moment miraculously appears before you?! Even though the moment in no way touches your life, yet you are touched… I call it “makes my heart smile”. For me, when my heart smiles the world is not such a scary, frustrating place, at least for a day.

  2. kate
    kate says:

    after having been with the military and my Dad in the Navy Medical/Walter Reed Hospital I have a newfound inspiration for the ethos of what is to give and give back. I was humbled by their care. They called to Dad “Good morning Commander ” and he would stir with some deeply placed recognition. This story so moved me Sands. What a moment! Those are the moments we talk to our students about or have tried to emerge ourselves in! I just Loved it. Thank you sweet heart…

  3. Sands
    Sands says:

    Thank you, dear Kate. I am so sorry for your loss! You have been through much and I so appreciate your comments. That about his stirring when he heard, “Good morning, Commander,” moves me deeply. Much much love to you, dear friend.

  4. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Mr. Bickford is certainly every inch a soldier, and his fiancee could have come from central casting. But do keep your ‘slightly cynical’ beautiful eyes, Sands. Churning sentimentality against ‘slightly cynical’ provides a writer’s grist.

  5. Brett Hall Jones
    Brett Hall Jones says:

    Dear Sands,
    This is your mother…She can’t actually speak because she is crying. What a lovely story!

  6. Randall
    Randall says:

    I’ve witnessed welcoming scenes involving soldiers traveling in camouflage, but have never seen a proposal played out. Your first photo makes me wonder if I’ve walked right past one in some airport somewhere. A moment so wonderfully caught, Sands. Small but important personal dramas unfolding in mundane public spaces. Ever since my older brother went into the Navy, I’ve been quite aware of the military men and women in all manner of service and uniform traveling alongside the public. And every one a story.

    • Sands
      Sands says:

      As all your comments are, Randall, this one is thoughtful and beautifully expressed. Thank you so much for reading and responding with such care.

  7. sue
    sue says:

    I love that the first photo is in front of that posed photo under the word “families.” Such wonderful contrast, though it seems as if the models in the canned photo are smiling at the real family, too.

  8. Laurie O'Brien
    Laurie O'Brien says:

    Well, it’s just perfect. A prose poem that reminds us all to keep our eyes and hearts open, life is unfolding all around us, scooping us up and teaching. Thanks for writing and sharing and watching out for us. -Laurie

  9. aprilcrews
    aprilcrews says:

    What a blessing it was that you were able to be a part of that wonderful moment! And your retelling was so beautifully written. Thanks for sharing it with us!


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