Just Another Flight
By Sherry Lowell-Lewis
Once I stepped onto another Boeing 747, I was excited. Although I was tired, I never really minded boarding, as long as I could get a window seat, midship. Right behind the wing was supposed to be the safest. On the wing seats offered no view, so I usually went back a couple of rows. I still felt safe and I loved the window seat! I loved watching all the stuff outside. I also felt safe because Mom and Dad were with me. They went to the back where they could smoke—did I mention this was a few years ago, when that sort of thing was still done? Yeah, I was 16 and a seasoned traveler.
One of the weird things about my relationship with my parents; I loved them to pieces and I respected them and valued their respect of me. So, I was honest and admitted that, like them, I smoked cigarettes. They accepted my admission, but that didn’t reduce my guilt. They were disappointed in me. For what? For being like them? The result of my guilt was that while they knew, I could never bring myself to smoke in front of them, or my brothers. So, I sat farther up front in the non-smoking section and settled into my seat, midship.
I had been hooked on flying since the first time, when I was 8. That first day Mom and I flew what they called “puddle-jumpers,” short flights from state to state from Springfield, Illinois to Miami, Florida. My brother Stan joined us and we flew all night from Miami to Lima, Peru. We still had farther to go that day, ending up in La Paz, Bolivia. I was exhausted but fascinated at how those planes had flown me to a fantasyland that was completely different from Springfield, Illinois! Everything was different. Even the thin air in the Andes was different.
That was a few years before. Now I sat, prim and proper, waiting for takeoff and wondering if I would have seatmates for this journey from Taiwan to Bangkok, Thailand. Mom and I had been living in Taipei so we could be close to Dad, who was working for the State Department in and around Saigon, Viet Nam. In Vientiane, Laos, we would be living together. We would have a few days in Bangkok to shop first. I had never been to Thailand, so that would be cool. The layover should have made me wise to the utter lack of goods and services for the Americans in Laos. I was only looking forward to living in Laos because I’d get to be with my Dad for a while before leaving for college. I learned a lot from Dad. He was the one who encouraged me to swim and play the piano or some instrument. Not that Mom didn’t support me, but Dad could swim and play the piano, so we shared those interests. Mom and I both liked having the old man around and that would be good. I already missed my friends from high school in Taipei, though.
Those were my thoughts as I alternated my gaze from looking out the porthole of the plane to the front, looking for potential friends I could make, seated next to me. Oh no, I thought as a large balding man, stinking of cigar smoke and sweat, ambled by. Thank goodness, I breathed as he continued to the back. Probably looking for the smoking section, I decided. As my thoughts took my eyes to the window, I caught a glimpse of flowers and looked back, to see a white-haired woman of advanced age—well, 50 or 60, which at the time seemed advanced—pause in the aisle, look up at the numbers and sit down next to me, smiling the whole time.
I was disappointed that a handsome young hunk hadn't been seated next to me, while at the same time grateful that the smelly, bald, cigar-guy wasn’t my row-mate. What could a Little Old Lady (“LOL”) and I have to talk about? We exchanged half-smiles. Then I turned my attention to making certain my seat belt was secure, my purse tucked under the seat in front of me and my seat upright. Dad was a stickler for safety and so was I.
The LOL was the last to board and we quickly taxied and prepared for takeoff. Then, the stewardess began the usual safety spiel. In those days, sexual equality had matured to the point that women were still called stewardesses and men were called stewards. Male flight attendants were rare. Now they’re all Flight Attendants and women can pilot for major airlines. We've come a long way, baby.
The stewardess proceeded through the safety list, and I followed along. Another stewardess demonstrated the function of the buckle and pointed out the emergency exits. Then she came forward and showed how the oxygen masks would be automatically released in case of a sudden loss of air pressure in the cabin. Finally, she moved back and showed a card with the same instructions, located in the pocket on the back of the seat in front of us. I had memorized the rules by now, but I still listened. Safety first!
I love flying, so once the instructions were complete, my attention was outside the window, and I didn’t look back into the cabin until we were well on our way up into the partly cloudy sky. By then, the instructions had turned into trivia. She delivered these messages from her jump seat, where she would be strapped in. “We will be cruising at thirty-five thousand feet.” I hadn’t noticed her dialect very much until the end, when she said, “Thank you for frying with China Air. We hope your fright will be a present one.”
At the time, I thought that was an interesting blessing, wrapped in a curse. Of course, she meant our flight should be pleasant. I chuckled at the darkness of the message received. Present fright. Gosh, I hope not!
Once they were set free by the pilot, beverage service began. With a Coke in front of me, I turned my attention back out of the window. It was a lovely day to fly, with cumulus clouds sprinkled around, offering no menace and sunshine aplenty, setting them off in silver, greys, and shades of white. Years later, I would marvel at the “flat earthers” who insist the world is flat. These people have never flown close to the poles. I once flew from Seattle, Washington, USA to Okinawa. I watched as the sky got darker above us and I could see the polar ice below. And a very notable curvature of the planet, in between. I remember wondering, “Wow. Is that the Soviet Union on the horizon?” After all, it was 1969. The USSR was still a thing.
Later, the pilot came on the intercom and pointed out that the land on the right side of the plane was China, I decided we were passing close—too close for my comfort—to the Chinese mainland, I could make out what looked like bunkers on the beach and the attendant’s closing remark came back to me in a little flood of concern, “We hope your fright will be a present one.” I wondered, with a shudder, if I could swim to shore if we were shot down. I would have to save Mom. She didn't swim.
Nervously, I turned to look at the “LOL.”
She had taken out her knitting and her reading glasses and sat there, in her flowered dress, half-smiling as if she were imagining the happy recipient of her needlework, oblivious to the danger nearby. I looked back out the window and I swear I saw a glint of metal in front of the bunker. A cannon, aimed at us? Then a felt the plane glide away from the land slightly. It was a gentle maneuver, but I was paying attention, so I noticed it. I wanted to distract myself, so I smiled over at the LOL and caught her eye. She smiled at me and put down her knitting.
“Do you speak English,” I asked?
She looked a little sad and shook her head. Nein. “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”
So, I half- smiled and shook my head, too. No. She went back to her knitting, and I looked out the window. This was going to be a long flight. Then, just because I’m a sarcastic type, I jokingly asked, “Habla español?” Knowing the answer already.
Her face lit up. “Si!”
What a delicious time we had, with her telling me all about Spain and me telling her all about Bolivia and what a strange place and an unusual time to find a kindred spirit, flying around Asia, speaking in Spanish.
My fright was very present, thank you, for a few moments, up there in the sky and then not so frightful after all. The mainland never did fire on us from those bunkers. And even though she was a “LOL,” and I was so very young back then, I learned to appreciate the unexpected joys of flying in the clouds, in the sky.
About the Creator
Actor, writer, voice-over artist, teacher, author, mother and Grammy of 4. I've done a lot. I grew up in Bolivia, Laos and Taiwan. Married 25 years, widowed. Please read my stuff and leave a comment! Thanks.