"My destiny has a lot to do with the old photograph I have in my carry-on. I'm giving it to my nephew for Christmas this year, and as a bonus, it has a story."
I said this to the pretty young woman with the earphones on. She was seated beside me before she got up and moved over by the window. I did not follow.
I waited a few moments more, and a young man, 30ish, sat down. I reached out my hand in a friendly fashion and said, "Frank Sullivan and your name?" No response, just crickets.
I continued, "I'm only 71 years old; my antique body is only mildly decrepit, as is my intellect. I can still move, maybe not as quickly as before; I'll give you that. That is why I took the advice of Delta and arrived at the airport 2 hours in advance of my scheduled flight."
He, too, got up and walked away.
I don't understand this world these days. People say they want to be kind, but they are not. And I certainly didn't think I would have to sit here for another couple of hours talking to myself and twiddling my thumbs. The near white-out conditions we had earlier in Denver and the lake drifts in Chicago have created a bugger of a flight delay allowing me more time than necessary to reminisce.
Next, a couple close to my age sat down. Fred acted friendly and told me his name. His wife sat quietly, but at least she didn't get up and walk away.
I leaned over to talk in Fred's ear, "I did the 'hurry up and wait for' scenario to catch my flight. I was up at dawn to say hello to the infamous blue horse with red eyes that guards over weary travelers flying in and out of Denver's own International Airport, otherwise known as DIA. My neighbor, Chuck, drove me out to catch my flight. I don't do Lyft rides; this dog is too damn old to be taught new tricks."
Fred just nodded, but I didn't care and continued, "As we pulled around to my departure gate, we both laughed at that damned blue horse sculpture that stands on its back hooves looking, well, ominous. Although DIA is twenty-some years old, the locals call it 'Denver's new airport,' and it seems like it was built for buffoons. The main terminal appears to be a three-ring circus tent, and that horse sculpture is nicknamed 'Blue-cipher' after Lucifer, my best guess. The damn thing fell over before its completion, killing the artist. I guess that's what you get by building the new Denver airport about 20 miles away from the city. It sits on the windy lone prairie or 'prayer-ee' if you want to sound like one of the few Colorado natives.”
And with that, I lost them- both took new seats on the other side of the corridor.
This old widower, who talks way too much, wishes he was flying out of Stapleton, Denver's original and best airport. I'd go back to New England for my family's annual Christmas quarrel. I first flew into Stapleton back in 65, and it was a real trip, man; just a little hippie was taking a trip-ee. That is when I first layed eyes on my Rocky Mountains. I was still a kid, aspiring to be one of the freshman virgins sacrificed in Boulder.
Sitting in my stiff plastic seat was making my hip hurt, so I walked over and started up a conversation with the Delta agent, "I can't tell you much about my new family. It's not like they haven't been around for long, and they have; it's I who has just been unwilling to reach out to my Nephews extended hand.
When I think of Christmas, I start feeling sorry for myself. I've grown into this lonely old pathetic person existing with memories, and memories aren't very substantial. I can't grow thinking about them alone; I need more. I have a chance to become Uncle Frankie to a house full of relatives; believe it or not, it sounds swell."
I could tell Dan Clark, the Delta Agent, was uncomfortable; I continued off subject, "Before they legalized Marijuana in Colorado, all of us long hair hippie types grew our own. We called it homegrown because we were so clever; we wished we were anyway. In my senior year at CU, I remember flying home for Christmas stoned out of my mind; nothing phased me. Not now, these days I have to take pills to focus and have a healthy bowel movement."
"Is that right?" Dan Clark spoke, and his response made me want to chat more.
"Although I loved them all dearly, my old family members never saw eye to eye on anything. We were all excellent at quarreling and quibbling and did it every year and get this; I enjoyed it. Pass the turkey, pass the gravy, and how about a bit of bickering with your cranberry sauce; delightful. I learned to be a mean debater at the University of Colorado. The skilled arguments are what made our private feud club so special. All of us Irish Sullivans could argue or fight with the best of them, and considering the number of Irish families growing up on Boston's east side in the 1950's we came out readily available for this world. I found retiring from it was for the best, although a small piece of me wants to teach my debate skills to my new family."
Dan was back to crickets, so I sat back down and peeled back the tissue protecting the photograph that was neatly tucked away and just reminisced with myself.
I must learn from past mistakes as it seems as though the family's substance of the disagreements being bandied about didn't matter. I never saw eye to eye with my eldest brother Roy. Strange, since he passed, I think about him often. However, when he was alive, I couldn't be bothered. Being the oldest kid took its toll on him. He took on the role of enforcement officer early on, making him a top-notch Boston cop. It is probably why he never married or had children and retired with honors.
Mom and Dad were good Catholics; therefore, they took the passage to be fruitful and multiply seriously and had their four boys and two girls within the first five years of marriage. Our motto; a happy home is a chaotic one, and Roy was the boss.
Dad decided to get snipped when fish sticks and macaroni and cheese were the best of our dinner menu. Mother could live on a budget better than anyone I have ever known, buying those horrid big bags of generic fish sticks that looked more like chunks than sticks. I believe both my sister Lorraine and I ate only the breading until we were the last two Sullivan kids at home.
I went crazy when I saw the all-you-can-eat buffets at CU. Crap, I gained twenty-five pounds in my Senior year alone. My brother Greg gave me my first nickname of Four-eye Frankie and changed it to Fatty Frankie during our last family Christmas. God, that was in 78; not long after, Dad died.
Greg decided to be my big bully brother early on and had stayed the same until he passed. He was always a champ at giving out rug burns to the rest of us, and he was the one that canceled Christmas. After his stroke a few years back, I tried to reach out, but he had already given up.
I remember one family Christmas when Mother said Greg and his wife, Gretchen, the plastic surgery specialist, would be catching the red-eye out of LA on Christmas Eve. She wanted us to surprise them, so all of us would go out to the airport and meet them. Mom never did learn; it was not a surprise when we did it every year.
Mom was the old-fashioned stay-at-home housewife who could bake cookies while changing cloth diapers and wash, hang to dry, and iron laundry at least three times a week for us, the fruit of our father's loins. Before he retired, Dad ran a tire shop; he treated it like a fifth son. His namesake Bob's Tire Shop is now a fufu coffee shop; that would have killed Dad again to know.
None of us boys, Roy, Greg, Terry, or me, wanted to walk in Bob Sullivan's footsteps. My big Sister Rhonda wanted to, but Dad wouldn't hear of it. He told Rhonda that having a woman in charge of things would be too big of an embarrassment; he would never live it down with the boys at the bar. I remember the year Rhonda prepared an all-out war with Dad by bringing her 'really-good' girlfriend home with her.
Really-good friend, my ass; they were engaged. Mom prepared the guest room for them, probably never knowing their meaning of sleep together was slightly different from hers. I did get their Christmas card, and I guess they didn't send one to Mom and Dad. When I talked to Mom on the phone, she said, "Your Sister Rhonda is going to bring her little friend with her."
Mom spoke to us as if we were all unceasingly five years old.
There was always an apparent dichotomy between the things I did and what I had promised that I would do for Mom and Dad. However, my honest insight from a good upbringing made me a model student. And having the correct language didn't hurt when expressing ideas to my Professors; it is constitutive in being a good English major.
Believe it or not, I was our family's educated, obsequious son and the youngest boy out of four; I'm sure I wore a nimbus in my mother's mind. I was the youngest child out of the six of us, but Dad's boys were the apple in his eye; he left the raising of my two sisters up to my mother. Being the baby of the family, especially the youngest of four rough and tumble brothers, meant that I also learned to please my superiors or suffer.
I had almost dozed off when I felt someone looking at the photograph over my shoulder. "Now that is a nice frame, mister. I wish I could find one like that. Do you mind telling me where you bought such a nice frame?”
I then saw her lift her gloved hand in a friendly way. “Julie Taylor, nice to meet ya!"
"Frank Sullivan, good to meet you too. I don't remember where I bought that frame. It was sitting in my garage for eons, and I shined it up a bit. All of my brothers and sisters, along with my mom and dad, are in this photo. One of the only photographs where all eight of us were smiling."
Julie sat down with interest. "I work here, ya know? But it's time for my break, and I don't have anyone in the break room willing to chit-chat. Do you mind?"
"Why I'm enjoying your company, Julie Taylor, sit down and stay awhile," I replied, so happy to have someone.
Of course, then I hogged the entire conversation as per me being me. "Along with our significant others at the time, there were fourteen of us in all. I am bringing it to my new Chicago family to resolve change for the coming new year. Even though the photo I am carrying is old and not in perfect condition, I have decided to give it to my Nephew, Max, in exchange for a new photograph of me surrounded by my new Christmas family. Max and I are all that I know remain alive from the photo taken in Boston.
I have no idea where Terry's daughters live; they were estranged from us years ago. That makes Max and his family it, and I have asked for a picture of me and my new family members, some of whom I have never met. I resolve to let go of the past by sharing it with the future."
Julie looked at me with a bit of confusion, just happy to hear a friendly voice. "Well, it sure has a nice frame," she said.
"To remove the old framed photograph from the wall in my study came with intense remorse. I remember the day Ruth, my wife, put it there. Ruth passed away in October, and my sister Lorraine won't celebrate with her son Max this year as she died last month, Melanoma just like Mom. It is such a shame for a family to be apart when it is possible to be together with a bit of effort. That's why I took my nephew's offer for a free ticket to ride in an aircraft in the icy December air."
Julie patted me on the back and said, "I bet your nephew will love this gift."
“He will. His mother is in it and would always conclude her conversation with, Tell Max I sure miss him. I'm wondering now why she chose to live halfway around the world instead of buying the house next door to her son?”
Julie interrupted, "Hold on a minute; I think someone is about to speak for the airline.”
I listened then said, "Just a representative telling us our delay shouldn't take too much longer. I love the term 'too much' what on earth does that imply. Anyway, where was I? Oh, about this old photograph, right?"
I was in seventh heaven having Julie listen to me when suddenly she popped up and went back to work. "You have a good flight Frank Sullivan! I've got to get back to cleaning. Tell your nephew hello. I feel like I know him."
With that, she disappeared into the growing crowd.
I took that photo with the self-timer feature on my Pentax in front of my parent's house. I believe it was the Christmas of 71' right after Ruth and I were married. I looked out of breath, standing in the back row next to my brother Terry and my nephew Max. Terry has ahold of Max's shirt collar as the kid could never sit still: not even for a photograph.
I always looked forward to seeing my brother Terry. 'Terrence the terrible,' as everyone used to call him when he played nose guard on the Mother of God Catholic high school football team, the Bucks. Gee, I was just a little kid cheering at his games. When I yelled out, go, you mother buckers, go, everyone would laugh until their drawers nearly fell off. I didn't get it until later.
Terry killed himself, and mom never recovered from it. Terry went through hell when his wife Linda divorced him and then went out and got pregnant by a jerk that my nieces call Dad.
You can barely see Linda in the photo, but you can see Terry's girls. Peggy and Patsy were always well behaved, unlike their cousin from hell, Max. I swear my nephew Max had a head that spun all the way around as it puked pea soup. Lorraine vowed that she would raise her child on her own with the advice of Doctor Benjamin Spock as she didn't believe in corporal punishment. I guess it worked for the most part as Max is who I will be celebrating the birth of Jesus with. The last time I spoke to my Sister Lorraine, she had called from Australia to wish me, love.
Being mom's good frugal son, I had kept it in a cheap frame I bought at one of those discount stores but didn't want to tell Julie. Just holding the frame makes me want to cry by bearing so many memories. The strangest feeling comes when looking at myself back then; it’s not a mirror, as the reflection is entirely different.
I rubbed the glass gently over my dear sweet wife, Ruth's image, remembering when I taught high school to the angst members of society, an all-boys Catholic school in Colorado where I stayed after grad school. I met Ruth when she was doing the same. Two teachers who thought of their students as their children did not need babes of their own. It's only now that this old-man me wished we would have had a couple. But why lament on the past when my present isn't all that bad. However, my future is anybody's guess, and I'm hoping my new family will play an essential part in it.
Boarding my flight, I couldn't wait to speak about my resolution with whoever will listen. This old codger, headed to his nephew's house, is about to start a new chapter, and that's no small feat. I vow to introduce my lovely new family to the family that once was. Like a do-it-yourself ancestry kit with no DNA required, I took the image of the people off my wall. I will replace it with a new photo of me surrounded by the love of my new family—hopefully, the beginning of a beautiful new tradition.