I was at Ben Gurion Airport this week to pick up our grandson and two of his friends. The boys have known each other all of their lives and were completing a trip to Israel by spending an overnight with us in Herzliya. They’re college juniors and while I think bragging about one’s grandchild (which, believe me, I could!) is tedious for others, I also feel a few words about how delightful and interesting his friends are is welcome since one is a college student cum part time trapeze artist (really! a Jewish kid from Manhattan!), and the other is a philosophy major who wants to be a comedian. I guess philosophy can be fun. Or not. He is funny.

But while we were waiting for the tour bus to drop them off at BGA I glanced at the ceiling. The ceiling is quite high and I suppose difficult for the custodial staff to reach. It was covered with balloons. This made me think! (Sometimes a rare event!). Airport arrivals are always big deals. Okay, maybe road warriors find them mundane. But the rest of us don’t. They’re often very exciting, even thrilling. Balloons help to capture the moment.

I remember some of my other airport pickups.

Recently, our adult daughter, who frequently travels internationally, was en route to Budapest when she had a gomel moment. She had a brief layover at Brussels Airport, at the same time as the airport was attacked by terrorists. Fortunately she was not among the injured but the airport closure sent her fleeing the terminal area by foot, hiking miles to a village, luckily finding a cab with room for one more, and making her way to Brussels for overnight. And then by train to Paris. And then, abandoning the business meeting in Budapest, catching an El Al plane to Israel where we were eagerly awaiting her arrival. You can imagine the joy of that reunion! Tears of relief and another balloon to the ceiling.

I remember the very first time I went to meet an arriving passenger.  It was around 1943 and the airport was somewhere in New Jersey, a military airport.  My Uncle Benny was returning from serving in the Philippines in WW2.  The entire family, huge family that it was, was there.  I was the youngest.  It was Zayda, Bennie’s wife Ceil, and his five siblings, and their spouses and children.  No one was missing.  This was a very special day.  I remember waiting outdoors.  No terminal. Lots and lots of joy……even without the balloons.

And then there was the arrival of the tanta from Guatemala. My grandfather, Pop, had made it to America with his wife and two children, my mother being born in New York.  His sister, however, left Poland and, being unable to get a visa for the USA, relocated to Guatemala City where she and her Jewish husband produced a crop of red headed native Spanish speakers.  My mother kept in touch with the tanta by mail, in various languages, but mostly Yiddish and Spanish.  One of these missives was a distress call from Guatemala City. The tanta needed orthopedic surgery and diligent research had discovered that the preeminent physician in the field, in the world, was in Newark NJ, Dr. Kessler of the famed Kessler Institute. How convenient that she had mishpochah in Newark NJ. Us! She would stay with us to recover and I, your unwilling heroine, would sleep on the couch in the living room, while Tanta claimed my bed.  (Actually it was I who got the better deal since my younger sister had to share a room with Tanta, who snored). Since, however, this is about arrivals, I recall the trip to the airport to pick up the tanta.  Pop was grumbling in the car all the way.  I, at age 12, given to romanticizing, had imagined an emotional moment when siblings reunited after 60 years.  Tears and cheers.  Not jeers.  Pop didn’t feel that way.  It was apparent.  So I finally asked him what was going on. My Yiddish is rather incompetent but he said something like:  Ich ub g gleicht yer nit ven ze ut gven a kint v ich vill gleich yer nit yetz. Loose translation:  I didn’t like her when she was a kid and I won’t like her now! Uh oh!  This remained the case for the entire year she spent with us and while the rest of us enjoyed her stay, and meeting with her various children (more about them in future blogs), Pop and she were really most definitely incompatible. He would not have bought a welcoming balloon.

So what’s it all about……those balloons? Obviously, from looking at the ceiling at BGA, people tend to leave the balloons behind. After all, who needs balloons in a car, blocking the rear view mirror. There’s usually enough to shlep without adding balloons anyway. So why buy them? Well, let’s say you are at the airport to meet a grandchild born abroad while his/her parents are obtaining advanced degrees in New York? Your emotions are running on overdrive. You buy a balloon. Or you are greeting a friend whom you haven’t seen in years. Or your child was spared at a terrorist attack. Or, or, or.  Infinite ors. You feel compelled to do something. Really you do it for yourself. With tears flowing and arms embracing, who even notices the balloons? They fly up to the ceiling where they remind us that life is as fragile as balloons and that it’s good to celebrate the happy moments. Here’s to balloons on the ceiling.

Tomorrow we leave for a trip to Moscow.  I’m interested in seeing whether there will be balloons.