Happy Out of O’Hare

EXCERPT FROM At the Water’s Edge:

After sipping on some iced tea (which didn’t come sweetened here) and thinking over the name of the Chicago airport – nearly the same as that of the heroine in ‘Gone with the Wind,’ another Southern Belle with Irish roots – Danielle began to relax and even feel especially confident. It was as though the airport, itself, was giving her a wink and a nod that she was headed in the right direction, and the luck o’ the Irish was with her.

I penned those words over 3 years ago about my book’s young protagonist who was setting out for the first time on her own to travel to Ireland. My words came rushing back to mind this week as I excitedly worked away on this same project, polishing my final edits. Call me strange, but I’ve always held an affinity for Chicago’s O’Hare airport; and just between us, I think it feels the same way about me. I connected through O’Hare twice this week and, on both occasions, I had extraordinary experiences (by my standards – and I am the one judging here) in which I felt I was getting that same wink and nod (telling me I was headed in the right direction with my writing).

During my first time through, I rushed to pack up my laptop after using every possible second I had before it would have to be stowed away for awhile. (Let’s face it, I was in the last group to be called for boarding, so it wasn’t like I had a prime spot on the plane anyway.) As I jumped to the back of the line, my ear keyed in on a beautiful sound. A young woman a few feet ahead of me was “t’inkin’ ‘bout t’ings” (with her “udder” friend who was accompanying her) in a sing-song lilt that only the Emerald Isle can magically bestow upon its residents’ tongues. She reminded me so much of one of my supporting characters, Keeley, who I had just ‘folded away in my laptop,’ that I couldn’t help but try to wedge myself into the crowd for a closer listen. I squeezed in so tightly to keep up with her that I probably landed myself on an airport stalker list…

Fortunately, my self-designed craic didn’t seem to stop them from letting me through on the return trip. We were all packed in like sardines on my flight from Seattle to O’Hare. Because of the length and the close quarters of the trip, I did a lot of sharing of snacks and space (and bathroom scheduling) with my two companions on either side of me. I was using hard copies for edits (because opening the overhead compartment to get to my laptop would’ve created an airline disaster) while the gentleman next to me was using his tray to perform programming tasks on his laptop and a corner of mine to hold his drink. Upon completing her movie, my travel companion at the window decided she needed a restroom break. I began gathering drink cups off my tray to place it upright, as my aisle-seated counterpart lifted his laptop and tray. He had forgotten that he had a cup resting in his lap for a spare wine he had on hand; so as he went to stand, the cup began to spill over. This is one of those moments in life when reactionary response overtakes sensible thoughts. My hand reflexively reached for the falling object, as fortunately did his. (I did mention the cup was in this stranger’s lap, right?) His catch was a success – not just of the cup, mind you, but of catching the embarrassed blush on my face over what I’d nearly done. He gave me a wide grin with a shrug and said, “Happy out” in his accented voice.

After that, you couldn’t have wiped the smile from my face all the way into O’Hare airport. At that point, it wasn’t surprising to me that this man’s next flight would be taking him into Dublin; and though few Dubliners use that expression, I’ve been told it’s well recognized within other regions of Ireland. That’s not the best part of this story though – not where the best ‘wink and nod’ originate. As we pulled into our terminal at O’Hare, I closed down the manuscript I’d been editing. At the front of my active edits, on the title page of Chapter 25, sat the gloriously bold-printed, typed words: “Happy Out.” 

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