Thursday, October 4, 2012
Both Sides Now
By Kristi Paxton
The flight attendant stood up front, and her mouth told all about our plane and our seatbelts. She admonished people sitting in the evacuation row. Her downturned lips did their job. Her heart and mind were elsewhere. Maybe she was mad.
“There is something about her eyes. I don’t know what it is,” said my seat mate, a new friend I’d met at the Christian Communicator’s Conference in Asheville, North Carolina.
“She is tired, hates her job and is worried about something at home,” I responded, suddenly recognizing the emptiness in our attendant’s eyes, the dark bags holding them up. I’d seen that expression in my mirror for the 26 years I’d spent in a job that didn’t fit my passions. In a flood of memory, I saw sick children I’d carted off to sitters those days. My dad, dying of congestive heart disease, I’d left at home alone while I scurried off to a job I didn’t love.
We landed rather roughly, and a look of relief came over our attendant’s face. My friend and I were happy to be released from her care. The feeling was mutual, I bet. “Please fly with us again!” Our hostess forced slight upturns at each end of her mouth.
“I’d rather have bowel surgery in the woods with a stick,” I thought. I’d been reading Bill Bryson on the flight and my brain borrowed his eloquence.
My connecting flight, on the other hand, was announced by Trudy Blair, the hostess with flair, the ying to that earlier flight attendant’s yang.
“Welcome to our little plane with a big heart,” said Trudy. “Let me know if there is anything I can do to make your flight with us a little more fun.” And then Ms. Blair turned her back to us and applied a red karate scarf across her forehead. “Just call me Gram-bo!” she said, and then proceeded to tell us all the serious rules and regulations of her little big-hearted plane. Chop-chop. Now we were cozy partners on a grand adventure.
Gram-bo maneuvered the bulky cart down a skinny aisle, looking each of us in the eyes. She tried to figure out what we liked best, cookies or pretzels. We felt like she’d offered T-bone steaks or baked Alaska. If she failed to make someone smile, Trudy found out what made her guest click, and then handed over more cookies.
“You do a really nice job!” I exclaimed, enjoying the glimpse of a time when air travel was exciting, attended by glamorous stewardesses. “How do you keep it up?” I wondered aloud.
“Well, I got my MBA late in life, went to college with the youngsters you know, and landed a systems analyst job with an airline,” said Gram-bo. Of course, I only got to work six years before I was downsized and lost my job. But they offered to give me this, my dream job. This was something I wanted to do when I was 12 years old!” she added. And then Trudy told of her travels and thankfulness at having a second chance. She was probably about my age, late fifties. She beamed.
When she saw how much I loved coffee, Gram-bo went and made a fresh pot. “I think I’ll sit down and have a cup with you,” she said.
Our little plane full of new friends landed smooth as a milkshake. We deplaned, (I squelched a desire to hug Gram-bo good-bye) and I began a sleepy drive home. As my brain replayed the day’s travels, I knew Gram-bo was set for life. But what about empty-faced hostess number one? Slogging away in her home on the plane, where seldom was heard an encouraging word. Could I have offered her a smile or a silly joke, changed her focus for one lousy day?
What if a stranger had encouraged me during my 26-year slump?