[at-l] 12

hopeful_2003 at comcast.net hopeful_2003 at comcast.net
Sun Nov 28 21:50:58 CST 2010



This isn't trail related. Maybe in a real stretch it could be in that I learned about the AT while on the other side of the world. In any event, I read a news article that set me to remembering stuff.  Hopeful 




FORTY YEARS AGO 

Recently a hiker friend shared a news article detailing an act of kindness towards a young solder on leave from Iraq. The article caused me to remember a kindness given me by a young airline stewardess. I don’t know if I ever got her name, if I did I have long since forgotten it. As is so often the case, I had no way of knowing what a major part she would play in the rest of my life. 



The holiday season of 1970 was occupied with ever more intensive training as my unit prepared to deploy. As Christmas and New Years approached the CO decided he could allow us a few days leave. The process of selecting who got to go and when was involved but when the smoke cleared and the dust settled, I had four days in which to travel across country, see my wife and family and get back. Four days, it was a gift from Heaven. If all went well, I’d have time to make this trip. If things went badly, I’d have to abort en route and return. Along with the gift, I needed Heaven’s assistance. 



I am so glad that the military now pays its people fairly well. Way back when, we lived on a very small income. Most of my check was sent home to Mrs. Hopeful and I was saving the rest. With my leave papers in hand I purchased a "military standby" ticket. I couldn’t afford a reserved seat. It would be a real roll of the dice but standby was my only option so I paid my money and took my chance. 



All the east-bound red-eyes left SeaTac in the very early hours. I signed out from my unit and a buddy with a car took me to Seattle. The USO had a lounge of sorts in the airport so I spent the night there. Eleven hours into my four day leave my name was called and I got the last seat on a milk-run headed to St. Louis. I think we were going to land at every level spot between the west coast and Atlanta, GA. The trip went well at Eugene, Salt Lake and Denver but things got intense when we landed at Lincoln, NB. 



We became airborne leaving SeaTac and the seat belt light was hardly out when the nicest stewardess started down the aisle. She offered all the business men and women peanuts, soft drinks and coffee. When she came to the last row where I was seated, she beamed the biggest smile and asked me if I was hungry. Before I could say anything, she answered her own self, "Of course you’re hungry, your guys are always hungry." She continued talking and shared that her husband was also military and that she had heard all the travel "war stories." She told me I’d be OK on her flights and that she’d take care of me. While everybody else got salted peanuts, I was given a meal. The dude in the seat next to me was more than envious and asked my benefactor what he had to do to get a meal. "Try doing a tour in Vietnam," was her curt reply. 



At each stop, the stewardess made a point of coming to tell me I was OK, that there was no one who would bump me off the flight. As we landed and was approaching the Lincoln terminal, she came back to my seat and told me not to get off at this short layover. She said I was to stay in my seat and not get out unless she told me to. No matter what happen, no matter who told me to get up, I was to stay in that seat. 

  

The ground crew hurriedly refueled and offloaded baggage. Another wagon pulled up and more bags were put in place of the others. Passengers reboarded and new ones jointed the flight. I started to get worried as I observed more and more commotion in the front. The co-pilot came several time to speak to my stewardess friend and she was on the intercom phone again and again. Before long a ticket agent came out to the plane. He was clearly agitated and, neither he nor the lady attempted to mute their voices. I heard my name and the agent became angrier yet as he demanded that I give up my seat. I don’t know if he was upset because his well ordered administrative life had been wrinkled, or if he felt his authority was being questioned or ignored. Maybe he didn’t like a woman half his age and half his size denying him access to the aisle. Looking over the top of her head, he spotted me right away. He started to come towards me when the stewardess stepped in front of him. He seems mildly annoyed at this so he tried again only to be blocked by her diminutive form. He looked down at her and they began a verbal exchange that got everyone’s attention. He insisted that he had a paying customer who needed my seat. She retorted that she had no order that superseded my standby ticket. 



At this point the pilot came out of the cockpit and asked if they were running an airline or just occupying space on the tarmac. The ticket agent sneered that he had a passenger who needed my seat only to be interrupted by the stewardess who said no such word had been passed to her. The agent snapped that he had the printed order, the stewardess countered that she hadn’t seen it. The captain calmly asked to see the order. If the agents face had been red before, it now became incandescent. With a sharp, "I’ll be back," the man clamored down the ladder. 



No amount of Kevlar had ever afforded me so much protection. The stewardess glared out the door until the agent was clear. Pushing passed the captain she simultaneously flipped the switch to retract the boarding ladder and jerked the hatch release level. The agents protests where soon silenced by the closing of the door. I couldn’t hear what she said to the captain but he didn’t answer her back. He almost chuckled, shook his head slightly and entered the cockpit. Within moments we were taxiing towards the runway. My stewardess protector picked up the mic and sweetly began, "Ladies and gentle, thank you for flying with us today..." All the while she was looking back my way and smiling as big as anybody ever did. I exhaled and began to smile too. 



That last leg to St. Louis was short and uneventful, except that I got one more meal. I waited to be the last one off and as I disembarked to catch another plane to Atlanta, I thanked that dear Sky Angel. She just smiled, thanked me for flying with them, and then she reached up and gave me a hug. There were two more interminable layovers before I was able to get home but the morning rush was over so I didn’t get bumped. I had about 30 hours with Mrs Hopeful before I had to leave to rejoin my unit. Nine months later our daughter, Sunshine, was born.
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