For About and By Caregivers
Humor, Grace and Airport Security

By  Erika Hoffman


Dad is 88. He lives with me. About every 7 months, he flies from my house in North Carolina to my sister’s home, near Chicago. It is doable, but it’s not easy, especially in these days of color coded alerts.

When we make the airline reservations, we order wheelchair transportation. The attendant can swiftly propel us though security check points and down long airport corridors more effortlessly than if we push Dad ourselves.

This past May, I scooted up to the United Airlines counter for my courtesy pass so that I could accompany Dad to the gate and sit with him until his plane departed. I also needed to get the wheelchair attendant summoned. I had parked Dad by a leafy, potted plant before I got in line. I was the next customer at both stations. However, at one counter a frazzled lady got into an altercation with the ticketing agent and called him ‘rude’; he replied that he was just doing his job and could not book her changes with her constant talking. He said, “I’ll just stand here and you go on and tell me all you need to say and when you are finished, I’ll type in the information.”She began jabbering, seemingly unaware of the sarcastic intent of his remark. At the other kiosk & counter, there were three very hefty women with their three, tiny yapping dogs. A slightly effeminate agent was bending over backwards to accommodate their needs. At one point, the couple behind me who was accompanied by a US soldier asked the first clerk if it was difficult to use the kiosk without help. To which he barked, “If you can read, it’s easy.”

I thought to myself: Hold back, be patient, keep your eye on the ball, which is getting the courtesy pass. Finally, the dogs and their owners scurried on their way. The clerk who was exceedingly patient with them seemed miffed when I asked for a courtesy pass. He sighed audibly.“Do you have id?”I handed him my passport not wanting to waste time on words. He ran it through some machine and announced, “Oh, this is not working.”Since my documentation was valid and since I spied that worried look on Dad’s face, I found my gumption.

“I get courtesy passes all the time. My dad is quite old and is sitting over there.”I pointed at him. “This is not a time consuming process.”The light- in- his- loafers’ guy fluttered his long eyelashes and handed me the pass.

What I thought would take mere moments consumed 20 minutes! Before I entered the ticketing line, I told Dad what I had to do. Trouble is he forgets anything I tell him after ten seconds. So, I swiveled my head around every half minute to glimpse my aged father shifting his weight and darting his eyes around with a frightened expression, searching for me. I knew he was going to get jittery soon and start complaining.

Anyway, I told the unfriendly ticketer about the ordered wheel chair (which I had already asked the skycap about outside before handing him a five dollar bill) and soon an Indian attendant appeared. She wasted no time in putting Dad in the chair and briskly wheeled him toward the elevator. We zoomed to the security portal. Surprisingly, it was not busy. The lines were short at RDU on this Saturday afternoon. The black guard joked pleasantly with my old father. Most people are very solicitous I’ve found, and I do appreciate “the kindness of strangers” toward my elderly parent. In fact, I often depend on it when Dad is traveling alone.

The Indian lady spoke limited English but was very efficient and quickly removed all Dad’s belongings that might set off alarms. She whisked him through. I had only to care for myself. By the time I slid on my sandals, gathered up my purse, cell phone, and identifying passport, she had Dad back in the wheelchair and was tying his sneakers. In fact, I bent over to make a double knot, and she told me that she had already tied them securely.

Without a hitch, she rolled him to the gate. I had to do double time to keep up. When we arrived at the point of departure, I thanked her. Dad produced a five dollar bill from his pocket and handed it to the woman. Then, I helped Dad out of the wheelchair so she could take it back with her. Only a few paces away were rows of chairs. Dad would be fine sitting in one of them until his flight boarded. He clutched his cane and needed to take a step or two before he could plop down again.

She whisked the chair away as soon as Dad arose. He slowly began the walk. He hobbled. He grimaced, and his one foot twisted onto its side. He seemed to lose his balance, and I feared a fall.

“Are you okay?” I asked him. I thought Dad was woozy from getting up too fast. Then, his leg looked as though he had sudden paralysis. Was Dad having a stroke?

“My foot, Erika.”

“What’s the matter with your foot, Dad?”

“I think there’s something in my shoe.”

“Dad, now how can that be? We took off your sneakers for the scanner and the nice lady, who pushed you, put them back on.”

“There’s a rock in there!”

“Dad, you have not been out in the woods. How could there be a rock in there?”I figured he was just complaining about a twinge, a sudden pang of arthritis, or a turned ankle. Maybe he was getting antsy about his flight. Dad can be a Nervous Nellie whenever there is a transition. And going to stay with my sister for a few weeks might have him a bit unsettled. Yet, I said, “I’ll check, Dad.”I find it is easier to humor old people than argue with them. They are like little children sometimes, and with them it is simpler to open the closet door and prove there is no ghost than pontificate on why Casper is not haunting their bedroom. So, I knelt down before my dad. Show, don’t tell.

On creaking knees, I untied the double knot on the right sneaker. I yanked off his footwear.

There in his sneaker lay his metal wristwatch--- on its side, no less. Bigger than a rock!

“Gees, no wonder your foot hurt, Dad! Your doggone watch was tucked in your shoe!”

He began laughing. I laughed too. Soon all the folks seated around us heehawed.

It’s a post 9-11 world! And, for the elderly going through airport security, it is just one more challenge to face in old age. Yet, no snafu is without its humor! And old folks who might forget a lot don’t forget to laugh at the funny things that happen to them because of their age and the situation they are in. Thank Heavens for laughter and good humor and amazing Grace! Especially when old and traveling the friendly and skies!

 Subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter