Where I'm From

I had to laugh to myself as I looked around the first class area. My jeans and my boots were totally out of place compared to the Versace shoes and the Armani suits. But after I got to the airport, the clerk at the counter told me I had been bumped, but after I explained the circumstances, she offered to upgrade my ticket to first class for free.

Thinking about the circumstances of this flight, I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck wearily, wishing this flight could be for a happier reason. I put my carry on bag in the overhead and sank down into the window seat, sighing to myself. Lost in my own thoughts, I didn't notice the older gentleman next to me, looking at me with a grin. In a slow, southern drawl, he said, "First time in first class, son?"

"Yes, sir, it is. Is it that obvious?"

He chuckled and said, "Kinda. But I just wanted to tell you that the drinks up here are free, and if you like, the first round can be on me. What would you like to drink?"

Chuckling at that, I said, "Just a beer for me."

Calling to the stewardess, he placed our orders. After the whole initial thing of listening to the safety in instructions and taking off, the seat belt off sign came on. After unbuckling ourselves, he said, "Where you from, son?"

I thought about that question for a second. Could this business man really be interested in my story? I looked at him and said, "I'm from a little town in Connecticut where there's a wooden white church, and a courthouse clock that still don't work. I've seen deals done on a handshake and watched my friends marry their high school sweethearts. They've given their children their grandmother's maiden names. I know it probably doesn't sound like much to you, but it's where I'm from."

He nodded thoughtfully at me and said quietly, "It sure sounds like a mighty fine place where you're from.

As the flight progressed, we talked about everything. I think we didn't run out of things to say to each other. He told me how when he graduated high school, he just took off for the west coast, just a kid thinking he knew everything, but he wanted to follow his dreams. His parents supported him every step of the way. I nodded and took a sip of the second beer of the flight. He looked at me then and said, "Why are you heading out to the west coast, son?"

I sighed and closed my eyes for a moment, wondering how I was going to talk about this without breaking down. "I'm flying out here to pick up my big brother. He's been fighting cancer, the doctor's discovered. But he called me last night and told me he thought this was the end, that the doctor's had done everything they could and there was nothing else they could do for him." I stopped and thought about that conversation on the phone.

"Come get me, bring me home, please."

"What's wrong?"

"The doctor's said that the cancer is too far spread, that they can't do anything more for me, so I want to come home. I don't want to die in this hospital. I want to die with dignity, not hooked up to machines. I want to go to the county fair one more time. I want to live to see the trees turn. I want to die where I was the happiest. I've thought about this long and hard, I want to see the trees one more time, to see the people I hold so tightly in my heart and my memories. "

I swallowed the lump in my throat, and said quietly, "Alright, big brother, I'm coming to get you.

Shaking myself back to the present, I looked at the gentleman said, "He's always been there for me, you know. There's never a time, even after he moved away, that he wasn't there for me. He married his high school sweetheart, and they had two children, a boy and a girl. He came home every year, and as much as I missed him, he needed a chance to follow his dreams also. But no matter how far away he was from me, from our family, I still knew that he would be there. Now I have to face life without him. Not quite sure how I'm going to do that one."

The gentleman next to me nodded. "Not easy losin' family, I'll tell you that much. I've lost my parents, my brother and my sister. Had to watch them all be put in this ground over the years."

I nodded and as I started to speak, the captain came over the speaker and said to put our seat belts back on. As the plane descended, I looked over at the man who had been my seat mate and wanted to say thank you for the conversation, but words eluded me. So I just stuck out my hand and we shook. He looked at me and as we stood to claim the bags we checked, he said, "I'll pray for your brother and did I mention that Italian suits haven't always been my style? See, I was the quarterback of my high school team, like your brother, we took state way back in 1963, and my wife? Well, she's still my homecoming queen. Because, like you, I'm from a small town with a courthouse clock that still doesn't work. I also saw my daddy do handshake deals on our front lawn. So, see son, I'm not as different as you. Just dress differently now, but I still have my small town values."

I looked at him for a moment and thought of how my brother might have turned out in his later years if cancer hadn't come to claim his life. I thought back to what my daddy use to say, never judge a book by its cover, and I thought to myself that I had done that. The man looked at me and said, "What's your name, son?"

"It's Hunter Bruno, sir."