The words were strangely out of place.

Amid the whir of the air blowing from the overhead air vents and the cranking, sawing sound emanating from underneath us, the young man’s cheerful voice extolling the virtues of eating a pine cone every day distinctively caught my attention.

It was the night before Thanksgiving and everyone was in a festive mood. We had just finished boarding our plane at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix and were still sitting at the gate. The door had been closed and the walkway was pulled away. The planeload of passengers, which included many students from nearby Arizona State University, were settling in for the two plus hours it would take to fly back to the northwest, back to family, friends – and turkey.

As flight attendants were walking through the plane making sure everyone had their seat belts fastened, the young man seated across the aisle next to my wife was engaging her in an animated conversation about pine-cones, or rather, how he knew a one-hundred-and-five year old man who claimed his longevity was due to eating one every day.

Was he kidding? That thought ran through my mind as I stared at the back of the seat in front of me. Trying to wrap my head around the notion of eating a pine cone every day seemed absurd.

“How do you even eat a pine cone?” I asked out loud, rather absently-mindedly.

I turned my head to the right and looked across the aisle at my wife Diana. She was looking straight at me, eyes wide open, slowly shaking her head back and forth and mouthing the words “no, no, no” over and over again. The look on her face was screaming; “Don’t you dare egg him on. I have to sit next to him for the next two-and-a-half hours.”

But it was too late. My interest was piqued. There was no turning back.

“I suppose you could put one in a blender and concoct some kind of pine cone smoothie.” I said.

Diana’s eyes got wider and her head shook back and forth even faster as she aggressively mouthed the words, “shut up”.

I glanced over at the young man seated in the window seat in the same row as my wife. His eyes were twinkling and he had comical grin on his face.

“Exactly.” He said. “How can you even eat a pine cone?” He giggled and began thumbing through a magazine, apparently done with the subject for the moment.

Being a snowbird has its advantages. But there are some drawbacks. When you must go home. When the desire to see family trumps, for a little while, the appeal of sun and warmth, you’re going to find yourself in an airport and on a plane.

The bizarre scenario of the pine cone began innocently enough three weeks earlier when Diana and I began wondering what we might do for Thanksgiving. Our resort in Mesa had a turkey dinner pot luck every year and it was just assumed we would go to that. But as we sat down and thought about it, we decided that we wanted to go back to Idaho. Diana’s mom was in an assisted living center back home and we thought it would be nice if we were to fly up there and spend time with her.

After losing my mother this past summer, I knew it was important to make holiday time, a time with family. At ninety-one years old, moments spent with Diana’s mother was going to be more precious every day. So reservations were made and hotel and car rental plans were laid out.

As we walked through the airport the day of our flight, the place seemed eerily quiet. For the day before Thanksgiving there weren’t many people in the ticketing areas or the concourses. This all changed, however, when we turned a corner and headed into the mosh pit better known as the security check area. An hour-and-a-half of snaking around in a long line ensued before we had the honor of taking off our shoes, stuffing our belongings into plastic boxes and moving them along on rollers toward a belt that fed everything into the x-ray machine.

Then came the most challenging part of the whole process for me.

The minute I stepped into the tube, placed my feet in the designated areas, and held my arms up in an “A” position above my head, I could feel my now beltless pants begin to slip below my waist. The first time I reached down to correct this situation I was directed sternly to keep my hands locked above my head. What a dilemma! With all my strength I was able to suck in enough air in one big gulp to expand my gut enough to hold up my pants for the split second it took to accommodate the now exasperated security personnel.

We finally did get to spend Thanksgiving Day with Diana’s mom.

We had a lovely time.

The turkey tasted delicious.

Unfortunately, the sight of pine cones will never be the same again.