Women wax nostalgic in Wisconsin’s North Woods

Have you ever packed for a trip and been at a total loss about what to take? Yeah, me too. So recently, when it was time to pull a few things together for a long weekend reunion with girlfriends from high school, I spent an inordinate amount of time packing a few outfits, gathering the appropriate accessories, undies, shoes, nightwear and gifts for the trip.

I deliberated incessantly about bringing an Ernest Hemingway book I’d been meaning to read for, oh, the last 40 years. Thinking a quiet weekend would provide ample opportunity for a journey with Hemingway, I tossed “The Old Man and the Sea” into my suitcase. Then removed it. Then packed it again.

Departure day arrived, clear and bright, perfect for flying halfway across the country. Dropping me off at the airport, my daughter gave me a quick peck, and I was off. I navigated through baggage check, security and the terminal with minimum stress and maximum walking. Relaxing at my gate, the area quickly filled with an abundance of interesting-looking people.

Now, I do love flying once I get through the annoying preliminaries of actually getting aboard. The power and thrust of the plane’s engines as we soar skyward never gets old to me. We ascended and passed the painterly clouds above us that were glowing beautifully in the morning sun. The patchwork of city and farmlands below were other-worldly. And the Rocky Mountains provided their usual breathtaking views, patches of snow at the highest elevations, remarkable so late in the summertime.

Arriving in Denver, I met my high school friend, Nancy, and we checked into a hotel. This layover was part of an involved exercise in aerial maneuvering between Denver and Central Wisconsin, via a plane change in Chicago. No problem – girlfriend and I were ready to begin the fun.

Mid-afternoon of the following day found Nancy and me approaching the labyrinth of runways and concourses at Chicago’s busy O’Hare International. We touched down, prepared for the third and last flight leg of the trip.

In Chicago we boarded a regional jetliner – a miniature, peppy version of its larger, more cumbersome Boeing cousins. We taxied away from the terminal. We taxied away from the tower. We taxied (seemingly) away from all the other runways.

“Maybe we’re driving there,” observed the passenger in front of us.

At last the pilot made the welcome announcement, “Prepare the cabin, get ready for take-off,” he intoned, to which one wag at the rear of the plane retorted hopefully, “Um, we’re ready …”

Promptly we were descending into the greenest, most lake- and tree-filled land I’ve seen outside of Alaska. The shadow of our plane, strong and purposeful below us, grew gradually larger against the lush farmland below. My first visit to Wisconsin, this arrival was light years apart from the megalopolis airports where I typically arrive.

On the ground, our friend Bev and her hubby greeted us in the small terminal. Hopeful I’d packed the right clothes for the trip, we watched Nancy’s bag arrive on the carousel. We watched as hope faded that my suitcase would be next. Yep, somewhere en route, my luggage was lost.

I filled out the proper paperwork as airport baggage folks vowed to deliver my bag the following day, then set off for Bev’s home a couple of hours drive away. Yet … the next day brought no missing suitcase.

The good news is that it didn’t matter much my suitcase was missing. I’d packed a light robe in my carry-on, so after a refreshing shower in the morning, I joined the girls, both dressed casually, ready for a day of re-bonding and catching up.

We ran the gamut sharing stories … who had seen whom, who was still married and who had passed away. We laughed, we cried and through one another’s eyes, we found ourselves again because that’s what old friends do, you see. And two days after arriving, when my suitcase finally showed up, I couldn’t quite recall whether it contained the right clothes or “The Old Man and the Sea.” Because in the company of genuinely good friends, it really doesn’t matter.

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