Each December, as I travel through airports, I’m reminded of one special day that happened a long time ago.
Santa Wore a Cowboy Hat
After waiting in line for a long time, I was still at least a dozen positions from the airline counter. It was two days before Christmas in the late 1970s, and I was among the horde of holiday travelers at Denver’s Stapleton Airport. Suddenly our wait was extended.
A woman stood at the counter bewildered and frightened. Earlier in the day she and her three children began their journey from Grand Junction, Colorado, to Detroit. One child was no more than age 7, another at her knee was less than age 3, and another was cradled in her arms. The airline agent in Grand Junction gave her boarding passes and some additional instructions. Her understanding of those instructions and what the agent intended were at variance. The critical misunderstanding was that the fares she paid in Grand Junction only brought her to Denver, were she would have to purchase additional tickets to Detroit. When the agent in Denver asked for her fares, she did not have the money. She drew her children to her side and just stared into space. Her reaction sent a signal that radiated through long lines at two different airlines.
As the rest of us looked around for some other scene to divert our immediate attention from her dilemma, I saw a tall cowboy whose very big hat was almost too small for his big head. We made eye contact and simply exchanged nods, and, as if on cue, we moved in different directions. I went to the counter and assured the woman that she was not alone and escorted the family to seats. Meanwhile, the cowboy had put a few dollars in his hat and was slowly walking through the crowd accepting additional contributions. I took a basket from the counter that held ID tags for luggage and made my way to customers who raised their hands to offer contributions. One young man, who appeared to have just walked out of central casting as a 60s hippie, dropped two crisp $100 bills in the basket. It was an impromptu display of generosity of strangers who deduced that if a woman with three small children didn’t have plane fare to get home for Christmas, it was also unlikely that Santa Claus would know where to find the children.
When the cowboy and I returned to the counter with a collection more than sufficient for the fares, a supervisor had arrived at the counter to take charge. She processed the new tickets and gave the mother a collected surplus of more than $400. The supervisor also boarded the family on a cart and drove them to the gate. In that few seconds of time as they rode away, there was no gate announcement or other distractions over the airport speakers; all we heard was applause.
Meanwhile, the cowboy and I had lost our places in line, so we just gave each other another nod and went to the rear.
Good memories are treasures that we horde for ourselves.
Sometimes they are the only currency that can buy peace of mind.
They give us safe passage to where we were once content.
Good memories are not exhausted by time.
James Edward Alexander