CHICAGO MIDWAY AIRPORT IN 1957 was not a remarkable place. Only decades before it had been carved out of the black muck of the city’s truck farms, and up on the rooftop observation deck the faint ghost of onions still hovered.
But to me, that afternoon, it was the center of the universe. It was here, almost two years before, that my husband of only four months had disappeared. I had watched his plane heading into the sky bound for Korea’s no dependents allowed DMZ—watched that pin-dot disappear into nothing, ripping from me the most important human being I had ever known in my troubled young life.
I thought I would die…
But here I was—scanning that same sky.
Today he was coming home.
I glanced at the tall, dark-haired woman beside me—Gordon’s mom. Although a generation separated us, we had much in common. We were survivors; both daughters of restless Midwestern Dutchmen. Her father had left Michigan to claim a too-good-to-be-true land grant out west, raising his family in a sod house, and mine had left Chicago to settle in a one-room log cabin in the back hills of Kentucky, and ended up raising 90 homeless mountain children.
We had both worked our way back to our origins; she on an Eastern trek as a nanny to three children, and I as a refugee from my father’s radical religious cult. We both knew that life could be hard, and that you could not believe everything you heard.
I scanned the sky above the airport, watching the planes landing…
What would it be like to actually feel his physical body, the longlegged, broad shouldered man I had married—to know that he was real and not something I had dreamed? Goodness knows we had written enough letters— at least one a day, letters as full of love as we could send with an airmail stamp, photos as daring as the corner drugstore would print. There were packages from him with jewelry and pieces of silk, and even a whole, colorful, traditional Korean outfit. I tried it on and sent him a snapshot— all except the shoes. Did human beings really have feet that tiny?
I baked cookies and packed them into the right-sized metal box to send through APO…
Those two years seemed endless, hollow. I had been busy, though, getting up at five o’clock to spend a few hours writing before a nine o’clock bakery job. The book was a not too cleverly disguised novel of what had happened in Kentucky. I could never write that real story… it was too terrible.
More planes landing. More flights called. Where was he? What if the long separation had changed him? Would he be the same, level-headed, feet-on-the-ground person I remembered? Had his experiences in Korea changed his view of the world? He had written about renovating a chapel, about finding a Korean pastor who had an orphanage, many of the children Korean/American mixtures. He’d collected money from the other soldiers for the kids.
Oh Lord, I hoped he was not getting interested in orphans. I’d had that up to the eyeballs.
But what about me? Was I still the same breathlessly in love girl that he had left behind two years ago? Life had not been a picnic for me. My mother had a studio apartment and a foldout couch we shared. I did not even have enough privacy to cry at night without going into the bathroom and turning all the faucets on. She and my father were in the process of a divorce, and she had a dim view of men in general.
Sometimes, to get away from the gloomy atmosphere in Chicago, I took a Greyhound bus to Michigan for a visit with Gordon’s family. Mom De Pree and I worked and talked together in the kitchen.
Living in a dormitory with 22 girls as I grew up, I had never learned to cook. Gordon’s mom was an excellent cook. She could make an apple pie to die for.
My mom had never once made an apple pie, for the simple reason that she was terrified of making a piecrust. Somewhere, something had spooked her about making crusts. Had she tried once and failed? I grew up thinking that piecrusts were definitely dangerous. If it couldn’t be dumped into a graham cracker crust, forget it.
But Mom De Pree threw caution to the winds and did it. She knew it would be good, and of course it was.
When Gordon got back safely I vowed I would make apple pies for him forever.
More planes coming in and taking off. So many people going places, doing things. What exactly were we going to do when he returned? Beyond a second honeymoon, I was uncertain. All I really wanted was a nice little house on a quiet street. I wanted to have his babies, kids who grew up to have bikes and roller skates—a peaceful, normal, American life. He had wanted that too, but had I sensed some change in his last few letters? Had he (jokingly of course) mentioned something about Hong Kong?
For a moment the awful thought crossed my mind:
A painful word that had nearly ripped my heart out… Surely he wouldn’t be thinking of going back to Korea!
Gordon’s mom was tugging at my arm.
“They’re calling his flight!” she shouted above the noise. “We’d better get downstairs to meet our boy!”
I saw him coming down the corridor, tall, bag slung over his shoulder, his face lit with that smile of pure delight. We seemed to move toward each other in slow motion, colliding in midair. I felt his arms around me and his lips warm on mine. All the fear and anxiety and loneliness of time melted in that kiss, and I knew that I loved this man so deeply and terribly that I would follow him to the ends of the earth, and never be apart from him again.