My first plane trip was to Japan in 1959. I was 5 years old. Dad had received his orders – three years stationed at Tachikawa Air Force Base. We were so many and so young, we had a group passport picture: My harried mother stood clutching my baby brother Tom, four kids under the age of 9 arranged around her.

Kate Cone in Verona, Italy. After living in Japan from 1959 to 1962, when her father was stationed there, she didn’t get on another plane for 25 years. Photo courtesy of Kate Cone

I started first grade there. We lived in a compound of several small houses, “off base,” and biked a rutted dirt road to the Japanese village. We spent 5 yen, or 10 yen if you were flush, on candies and toys. Miyoko was our maid, because as poorly as a sergeant’s pay went with five kids, the Japanese were still poorer. She was lovely to us, kind.

We learned to speak a little of the language, and about ikebana, the art of flower-arranging, and origami, and how to use chopsticks. Glorious Mount Fuji stood elegant, white-capped above us.

You’d think after that transcontinental trip and three years abroad, I’d be a seasoned, happy traveler. You’d be so, so wrong.

We returned in 1962, my mother so traumatized by the 14,000-mile round trip that she swore she’d never get on another airplane. She never did. That anxiety trickled down to my siblings and me. I didn’t get on another plane until 1987, 25 years later, for my brother’s wedding.

Enter my husband, who had traveled widely during his years as a college professor. When we married, he got a gig teaching for a month each January in Verona, Italy. Coincidence? Maybe. I accompanied him on five of those trips. We also went to Paris and Dublin. Always, I was anxious about the plane trips, complaining for weeks before boarding, barely sleeping on the night flights and jet-lagged for days on arrival. Once there, I was at home and enjoyed every minute.

On New Year’s Eve of 2019, my husband passed away suddenly, while we were packing for another month in Italy. Now I’m alone and for a brief moment wondered if I’d have the nerve to travel again. It didn’t last long. Even though I won’t have his warm, steady hand to grab on takeoff or landing, I will have to just go ... finding courage in knowing that when I land, a whole world of food, wine and culture awaits, and he’d have been proud of me.


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