didi and the milky way tradition.

I stumbled through the security line yawning, wondering if it was possible to be mentally hungover from a four-day writing conference. I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the airport window and regretted the 5:30am decision to not wear makeup. With my feet planted on the rising escalator, I could feel hope waiting for me in the form of coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. As soon as I stepped off the escalator, that hope was crushed with a simple sign typed on white paper:

Sorry for the inconvenience the espresso machine is out of order

I sighed heavily and bought a bottle of water and a small box of Apple Jacks. I dragged my heavy suitcase to Gate B4 and practically tripped on a man’s legs as I found a seat at a charging table. A little girl sat next to me, his daughter. She was wearing patterned leggings with a light blue hoodie and brown suede boots. I could tell she was both stylish and smart.

I had been sitting for less than five minutes when the announcement came over the loudspeaker: “Due to a maintenance issue with the plane……” blah blah blah. I wasn’t surprised or shocked because every time I fly Delta, there is a problem. On the way to South Carolina, the first flight ran out of food and the second flight sat on the tarmac for roughly two hours. I almost started to laugh, in a delirious and crazy sort of way. Of course the flight is cancelled! Of course!

The little girl and I started chatting, bonding over our shared disappointment. I learned that she was flying to Atlanta with me, and then continuing on to Portland, where her mom would pick her up. She had been in Ashville visiting her dad, and was flying alone as an unaccompanied minor, a term she tossed around casually. Her name was Didi and she was in the fifth grade. She reminded me a lot of myself at that age, ten going on nineteen and such. We talked about school and her favorite subjects and her new baby sister.

I showed her a picture of Everett and her sweet eyes lit up.

“He is sooooooooo cute!!!”

We jokingly whined about our cancelled flights and overwhelming tiredness. I had been up since 5:30; she since 4:30. I told her about the broken espresso machine and she sighed and said she “understood”, a comment that made me smile.

I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she confidently replied, “An actress.”

If you would have asked me what I wanted to be when I was ten, I would have offered you the same response. I told her that I was a writer. I didn’t stumble on the word as I normally do, but instead that title came pouring from my mouth just as confidently as her answer did. I guess I wanted her to know that it’s okay to want to be an actress when you’re ten, and then become a writer when you’re 27.

Her dad had been on the phone trying to reschedule her flight and finally informed me that they were going to drive the 2.5 hours to Atlanta. Before I knew what I was saying, I asked if I could join them. I assumed I’d be better off trying to get home from Atlanta than from the airport with the single broken espresso machine.

Didi looked at her dad excitedly, “Can we take her with us, Dad??? Please??”

I knew nothing about him, not even his name, but I knew this much: he was a good dad. And I was 99% sure he wasn’t a serial killer. We ventured downstairs to collect luggage while I called the Delta helpline. Soon I was booked on another flight, set to leave eight hours later. I was relieved to have a way home, but also sad for the lost opportunity to take a spontaneous road trip with Didi. We sat on the floor together and she opened her backpack, fishing out a tiny leftover goody bag from a birthday party. She held four pieces of candy in her hand and told me I could pick one.

“I’ll take the milky way,” I smiled.

“Are you going to eat it right now?” she asked.

“No, I think I’ll save it for later.” I winked at her and stuck the piece of candy in the front pocket of my backpack.

Her dad collected their luggage and I said goodbye to Didi, assuming I wouldn’t ever see them again.

Ten minutes later I wandered into the airport diner, determined to use the oh-so-generous $6 meal voucher. Much to my surprise, I spotted two tiny legs in familiar patterned leggings, dangling from a barstool at the counter. She was now wearing a pair of furry striped earmuffs that I had seen in her backpack just minutes before.

I plopped down next to Didi at the diner counter, happy to eat with my new friend.

We chatted some more about life and family, and I asked her what she was going to be for Halloween.

“I’m going to be a Renaissance Katy Perry,” she informed me.

(For those of you who also need clarification on this: Renaissance Katy Perry wears Renaissance clothing with a blue wig and fake eyelashes. Duh.)

Her dad was on and off his phone, occasionally listening in on our conversations. We all finished breakfast and just before it was time to part ways, Didi looked at me with a sudden sense of urgency.

“Wait! You have to eat your milky way! It’s tradition!” she said.

I laughed and asked if she had another milky way in her backpack. She dug around the plastic goody bag and fished out another one. We unwrapped them carefully together, smiling, not breaking eye contact.

I held mine out to her and said “Cheers!” as we clinked our milky ways together.

It was the perfect dessert to scrambled eggs and toast, that piece of friendship chocolate.  We hopped off our barstools, just in time for her dad to ask, “So, what do you write anyway?"

I told him that I write a blog about life and motherhood, and other things in between.

“Did you hear that Didi? You might end up being a story on her blog!”

Her little eyes sparkled again and she asked eagerly, “Do a lot of people read your blog?”

I nodded. Not because it’s necessarily true but because I knew it would make her feel special.

I said, “I think I’m going to write about our milky way tradition.”

“Really?!!!” she asked in disbelief. “Then I’ll be famous!!!” she exclaimed, wrapping her tiny arms around my waist.

Then she went her way, down the escalator, and I went mine, right back to the gate with the busted espresso machine. I opened my laptop and wrote this post, because I wanted to make Didi a tiny bit famous.

***

Didi, I don’t know if you will EVER read this. I don’t even know if I spelled your name right. Thank you for sharing your milky ways with me, and for making me smile on an otherwise miserable day stuck at the airport. I am so happy to have met you. You are smart, beautiful, and capable of doing big things in this world. It is my prayer for you today that God continues to use you for years to come as a source of joy to passengers in airports and beyond. Every time I see a milky way, I will always think of you.

Love, Ashlee