The following happened on a flight I took to Charlotte, NC. I was flying as a passenger, not in uniform, and this was my seatmate. I've changed the names to protect the innocent. No, actually, myself and as my guy will attest, my innocence is debatable. For the record, this never happened. It's all make believe.
The agent collects his passengers like marbles tumbling through the jetway. I follow along and find my seat adjacent to an older woman. She is clothed in shades of gray from her crinkled hair that cascades over the pintucks of her blouse to her gathered skirt and laced oxfords. Behind me, a young family stows diaper bags and toys in overhead bins as their youngest drapes over the armrest asleep. Their oldest squirms in his car seat, bouncing his sneakers against what will be my seat.
"Hi, I'm sorry, but that's my seat by the window. May I slip in?"
"Sure." But it sounds like this: shu-ah. The woman's voice, an unhurried drawl of deep southern hills floating over her words, never pauses as I take my seat.
"I'm goin' to see my daughta? My husband died two years ago. Mr. Jackson and I'd been married forty-three years. Andrew Stonewall Jackson. He was a fine man. Why would the good Lawd let you live with someone that long and then just take'em away? What do you do with yo-self?
"We never had children. We couldn't." The engines rev loud as we ease away from the gate so she raises her voice to make sure I can hear. "His sperm didn't swim the way they's supposed to? So we never had any children. He was a truck driver? He worked long hours an' be so tired. But he lov' me."
Nearby passengers cast furtive glances our way.
"That child izza beating yo seat with his feet. You goin' just like this...." She bounces back and forth in her own seat to demonstrate stroller family's child kicking mine--lest I'd missed it.
"My husband bought us this big old house. Then, he lost his job?" Her voice rises at the end of her sentences, whether question or not. "And we had to pay for that house! So, I found a job. Then, he got his job back? So, I quit my job. Then, he lost his job ag'in. I went out and I found a job with the airlines? We'd take trips on the weekends? We'd fly places. We had so much fun. He got his job back and he said, 'Don' you quit yo' job this time.' So I didn't.
"I took my daughter to Paris one time. We flew to Paris, Fra-unce. You ever flown to Paris? It's a beautiful city. We flew eva-where.
"You don' talk much. I'm doing all the talking. Do you have children?" She eyes my crow's feet. "You must have children. Are yo' children grown? They must be grown by now. Where are you from?"
"Charlotte." I whisper, hoping she'll take the hint and match my tone. But no.
"You don' talk like you from Charlotte. People ask me where I'm from? They think I'm from Texas. But no-o-o... I'm from Kentucky! I tell them that? They can't believe it. But you don' talk much like you from the south.
"My daughter's name is Opal Ann? When she was born, they gave her to my husband and he said, 'Opal Ann.' I said, 'No, she's Frances Louise.' But he said she was as beautiful as an opal. My name's Martha Louis? My mother's Frances? And my grandmother's Louise. But, she became Opal Ann. Mr. Andrew Jackson did that. She looks juz like her daddy."
Who is...? I wonder.
"She has his hands? Her daddy's feet? She even has her daddy's butt! He didn't have no butt--and she ain' got no butt neither. Mr. Jackson was tall. He was six foot three and skinny. And she's juz like him. Tall and skinny... with no butt.
"I raised three children. Well, one's my grandson, Jesse James? I had him since he was two. His mother didn't want him. She didn't want him when he was ten. My daughter! She didn't want him when he was twelve. She didn't want him when he was fifteen. But, when he graduated high school? She wanted him.
"He's smart, too. I didn't know he's 'zat smart. I could'a got him all kinds of scholarships to colleges 'cause his daddy died in the war? But, no-o-o, my daughter came up with tickets to Flaw-da. So, he's in Flaw-da. He told me not to be mad--this was his decision, not hers. But, wha'z he know? He calls me one day and says, 'Maw-Maw, guess where I am? I's sittin' on the beach callin' you!'"
Our flight to Charlotte is ninety minutes and we have twenty-five to go. She pauses to look around at the other passengers in the cabin and takes a new breath.
"My daughter lost all this weight? She told me, 'I can wear your clothes now, Ma.' I said, 'No, you cain't!' She's already stole some of my clothes. I had these beautiful leather coats and she took all of them! So, I bought me a teal one. No one wears teal. I have this teal skirt? ... and this teal blouse? ... I hid my teal leather coat. She cain't find it.
"My other daughter is married to a preacher. She dresses like a preacher, too. All consurv'ativ. Plain jackets and skirts.
"She has four years of college and her husband only has one. I tell'em, 'Now, who's the preacher in this family with the egi-cation?' They don' like that much.
"I's raised a Baptist? I wanted babies so bad and Mr. Jackson couldn't hep'a'tall. Sometimes, things jus' work out. Mr. Jackson's brother was so kind."
Ahhh, I think.
"I'm going to this church where we don' believe in women wearin' pants. We don' cut our hair. It says in Deuteronomy that women should look like women and men should look like men. See? I have on a dress and you have on pants... so I look like the woman.
"It took me a long time to come 'round to that. They have a lot of rules in this church? I had to read my Bible a whole lot to see what they waz a' saying. I never did figure out some of it. A lot of people don' agree with'em. My daughter don' agree with me. But, I'm a Pentecostal now.
"Mr. Jackson was in Vietnam. It did somethin' to him. Took'im a long time to git over. Some of it he never did git over.
"He'd lay there in the bed by me and juz' jump. In his sleep. Scairt me to death! He'd flang his leg over me or throw his arm across me. He was heavy. Sometimes, he hit my head in his sleep. I'd just turn my back on him when he did that.
"Lawsie! 'Ju feel that? We juz' landed!"
Did you know stewardesses is the longest word you can type with only your left hand?
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