I caught his eye as I was returning from the bathroom. His yellowed dentures smiled back at me with a nervous yet excited expression. His once full head of dark brown hair was now a coarse snowy white, but his eyes still held their youth, especially during an occasion such as this.
He fidgeted with the top button on his short-sleeved plaid shirt and pulled at the leg of his pleated khaki pants. Those were not going to be comfortable during the 15-hour flight, but this was his first flight. How was he to know that a 15-hour plane ride involved screaming babies, snoring businessmen, and tormented five year old little boys who loved to kick the back of your seat? Plus, that was his style. He’d been wearing the same thing for as long as I could remember, and if memory serves me right he even had the same thing on in our first picture together. I was his first grandchild, and a granddaughter at that.
I walked across the terminal waiting area and sat down across from him. He was gently wringing his hands in his lap – a nervous habit wrought out of years of never being idle. I caught a glimpse of the grease underneath his fingernails. He’d worked as a mechanic for over 40 years, and even owned his own garage when I was young. I loved to spend time at that garage drinking grape soda, eating roasted peanuts with him and all of his friends, and playing on all the machines. Well, that is I loved it until the day I got my waist-long hair caught in the wheels of a dolly. I loved that garage almost as much as he did.
I watched him talking with my sisters, parents, cousin, and grandma. He was by far my favorite grandparent. He was the one who read me by first Bible story. He was the one who took me on my first lawn mower ride. He was the one who helped me make my first birdhouse. He was the one who taught me how to win at Tic-Tac-Toe. He was the one who played Pretty Pretty Princess and the matching game with me for hours. He was the one who let me fix his hair with ribbons and bows. He was the one who dressed up like a clown for my sixth birthday party. He was the one who took me to Branson, MO every summer since I was five. He was the one who sparked my interest in this trip in the first place.
We boarded the plane, and I slid into the window seat. I normally prefer the aisle, but I wanted to be able to see when we flew into Jerusalem. I’d been studying Ancient History and Hebrew for six years preparing for this trip.
He slid into the seat next to me.
“Briana, I just wanted to thank you for bringing us along on this vacation. It really means a lot to your grandma and me.”
I smiled back at him. I couldn’t imagine seeing Israel without him.