Amid the usual announce-ments about gate changes and separated travelers reuniting at baggage claim, one request over the PA system at the Charlotte, N.C., airport last summer caused a big laugh: "Will the person who left the birthday cake at Gate 4 please return to claim it?"
A flying birthday cake may be amusing, but it doesn't seem odd at all to a Southerner. An elegant former boss of mine once carried a five-pound bag of White Lily flour from Atlanta to Hawaii so she could make biscuits for her host family's breakfast. (The hard Northern wheat in regular flour wasn't up to the job, she explained.)
The same woman took three gallons of homemade jambalaya - frozen - on a thousand-mile trip to attend a star-studded New York gala. It was such a hit, the party's caterer asked for the recipe.
Southerners feel almost compelled to share their favorite foods with a neighbor not feeling well, a sister living in another state, a new acquaintance.
The food doesn't even have to be homemade. I watched a young man carefully placing large boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the overhead bin of a small commuter plane leaving Tennessee. He would be lugging them through four airports, but didn't mind because they were a taste of home that he had promised his California co-workers.
I understood completely. I once transported northward boxes of Moon Pies, a confection celebrated in country songs and redneck jokes. My husband thought it was funny - but I noticed they disappeared quickly.
For me and many others - the Middle Easterners in the story at right among them - food and culinary traditions are some of our strongest and fondest memories.