The Trip that Lasted a Lifetime

The line limped along, weaving around the small airport like snakes in a basket. Had we moved a foot in the past hour? Outside the ground was covered in the heavy, white snow that had brought air traffic to a standstill. I was scheduled to fly out of Huntington that morning, January, 6, 1979, but snow closed the airport. Insanely, I’d driven to West Virginia’s capital city airport in Charleston, over an hour away, snow continuing to bluster, and on roads that needed hourly plowing.

A tall man in a plaid wool shirt with a guitar strapped across his back stood in front of me. He turned, saw me for the first time, and smiled. “Think we’ll get out of here today?”

I shrugged. “I sure hope so. My brother’s holding a plane for me in Pittsburgh.”

He turned a little more and I hoped he could maneuver without hitting someone with his guitar, primarily me. “Where you headed?” he asked.

“I’m trying to get to the Bahamas.”

We chatted over the clatter of voices, some soft and some harsh, over the intercom spewing instructions and cancellations.

He appeared nice enough, though he looked as if he’d spent his last nickel on this flight. And traveling with a guitar seemed, well, sort of Bohemian. He was soft spoken, somewhat older than me. Probably not my type.

I made several calls from a  row of telephones on the airport wall to my brother. He’d promised half the agents in Pittsburgh a weekend stay at his lake house if they’d hold our charter flight. (Can you imagine doing that today?) And each time I made a call, I left the tall, plaid-shirted stranger in charge of my luggage.

Look, I was desperate and it was a different era.

Each time I walked away, I turned to see Plaid Shirt’s steady gaze follow me.

Plaid Shirt, who introduced himself as Alan, eventually reached the counter, where he took an unusually long time. When it was my turn, I noticed him waiting to the side.

After I’d finished, he asked, “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

“No,” I said, “but I could use a cheeseburger.”

After one of the numerous calls to my brother, I returned to our table to find my luggage and Alan gone. Had he stolen my luggage?! After a brief search, I discovered my flight had been announced and he’d carried my three pieces of luggage, along with his own and that guitar, to the terminal.

Surprisingly, Alan sat next to me on the flight to Pittsburgh, but I switched planes and went on to the Bahamas. Sometime later I found out he had changed his flight to lay over in Pittsburgh instead of going to his destination in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, just in case my flight didn’t make it. That’s why he had taken so long with the ticket agent. That and making sure he was ticketed to sit by me.

While in Pittsburgh, he tirelessly badgered the Pittsburgh travel agent, calling repeatedly, to find out where we were staying—confidential information—so he could send me a dozen roses. He persisted, and I received those roses.

That was the beginning of a 16 month courtship and a 35 year marriage.

I had decided to never marry again, but my mother kept reminding me that I’d said if I ever met a man like Alan I’d marry him. And somewhere in the back of my mind, a voice kept saying, “This is your husband.” It would not go away.

Several things I couldn’t deny; one was the fact that I’d fallen in love, and another was what had happened that snowy January morning: I’d left the Huntington airport and driven to Charleston in a blizzard, so unlike me. Ahead of me in line—one line out of more than a dozen—out of hundreds of people crammed into the airport, stood a man in a wool plaid shirt, Alan. Unknown to me, he’d decided, just that morning, to visit a friend in Bethlehem, called the friend, and drove to the airport over snow packed roads. If that’s not enough, my single brother had invited me along on a company excursion where he would surely have preferred a girlfriend. There were no coincidences on January, 6, 1979. Alan Stagg walked into my world and not by accident.

When I put it together that God had chosen him for me, I said yes to his marriage proposal.

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At home playing the guitar circa 1982

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