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Published September 27, 2007 at 3:13 p.m.

A few nights ago, I sat at the US Airways arrival gate at Burlington Airport reading a USA Today. The only place I ever read USA Today is at the Airport as there is usually a free one lying around, and the sports section is quite good. It was nearing midnight.

Here's a rule-of-thumb:  the later in the day the scheduled arrival, the greater the chance of it being significantly late. It's quite simple. As the day goes on, each late flight tends to delay later flights, and on and on. I do my best to monitor the ETA via the airline's website and 800-number, but these have grown less reliable through the years. So, often, I come nice and early and wait around. If the person arrives and you're not there, that's terrible customer service, not to mention you might lose the fare.

As I sat there reading, two little brothers - maybe three and six - were climbing all around the room. Their mom, a small and slender women, perhaps Filipino, was keeping track of them in a careful, though non-oppressive manner. In other words, she was letting them have their play, so long as they didn't seriously bother the other folks.They were both sweet little kids, so nobody in the arrival area seemed to mind their exploration.

The mom occasionally checked in with a group of people standing over to the side, maybe a couple of other women and a half-dozen men. To a man, the guys had powerful physiques - they were tough-looking dudes, though they were being quite sweet and caring towards the mother. There was an excitement and anticipation among all of them.

The US Airways flight finally arrived at half-past 12, and the first passengers began wandering in. There's an inner door leading to another waiting area inaccessible to non-ticketed folks. The arriving passengers walk through this inner door, pass through the waiting area for about 30 yards and then though the actual arrival gate to meet their friends and families.

A big man, dressed in thick army boots and full fatigues of gray, green and brown blotches came through the inner door and sprinted towards us.

The mom said to her boys, "There's your daddy!"

The man came through the gate, fell to one knee and embraced his two children, tears streaming down his face. The two boys were talking to him non-stop, telling him all the things he needed to hear, like about a new bike and a puppet show they saw and important stuff like that.

After a minute or so with the boys, he got up and embraced his wife, who came up just to the center of his chest. They didn't say a word, just held each other for a long time. He then walked over to his waiting friends, whom, at this point, I had identified as fellow soldiers. The men were misty-eyed. As they each shook his hand and embraced him, one of them said, "Welcome back, brother. What has it been, a year?"

"It's been 15 months," the man replied, and you could read the pain of that reality on every line of his face. "Fifteen months."

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About The Author

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac was a Burlington cab driver whose biweekly "Hackie" column appeared in Seven Days 2000-20. He has published two book-length collections, Hackie: Cab Driving and Life, and Hackie 2: Perfect Autumn.


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