It turns out the layover between Des Moines and east Tennessee is Minneapolis. The good news is my mother got her wings. She made the mistake of informing the flight attendant it was her first time on a passenger jet. It reminded me of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ the part about every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings, and Jimmy Stewart does not jump off that bridge.
I enjoyed watching the precision of the stewardesses as a coworker by speaker described the location of each door in case of the unthinkable. She had most likely performed this procedure of pointing her fingers like a gun and waving toward the emergency exits a thousand times—arms spread with fake smile (or a disturbingly genuine one), revealing the 30-pound wall partition leading to the wings. I was tempted to ask if ‘The Twilight Zone’ episode where a monster tears out wires was based on a true story.
On the flight from Minnesota to Tennessee, a few Volunteers in cowboy hats made fun of northern accents. A Delta employee made the comment people from Tennessee are polite.
But before that, on the connecting flight, I craned my neck to stare down past the wings above cloud level, flecks of the earth appearing, Spirit Lake reflecting the setting sun. About 60 years ago, my mother flew in a small prop plane. My first flight was on my honeymoon to Wyoming and Colorado. The turbulence was legendary. I used the latrine, and I thought it was just worse in the back, but when I returned to my seat, my wife was white. Apparently I had just left at the wrong time.
Before last weekend, I had never flown during the day. Omaha is beautiful from 30,000 feet at night. But it might have been Lincoln. I’m not sure.
On the flight with the cowboys from Tennessee who thought people from Minnesota talked funny fishing for their lakers and all, I did not get a window seat but the spot forward of the emergency exit.
For a while, the man in front of me left his shade open, but slammed it down and took a nap. When he woke, he opened the window to evening, and the cities radiated like a bastardization of the stars, upside-down and caressing the shore of a black sea.
I leaned forward often to borrow my neighbor’s view. Occasionally he swiped at the back of his head and the base of his neck. Apparently I was involuntarily breathing. He thought it was a spider, but it was just me. I finished my coffee and wondered if it was Cleveland or Chicago spread against one of the Great Lakes.
Eastern Tennessee is all they say, especially when the weather is clear enough to see the Smoky Mountains. Our ride from the airport to Pigeon Forge was Vietnam veteran Jim Phillips and his wife—I thought perhaps I should hold up one of those placards like in the movies, with ‘Selby Party’ written on it, just because you don’t get that opportunity often. But Phillips recognized me. I look like my father.
Over the years, though they were close during a harrowing time of life as draftees and foot soldiers, the leeches longer than human fingers, Phillips’ buddy ‘Selby’ had become ‘Shelby’ in his mind. But that will be part of next week’s ‘Times-Republican’ in honor of Memorial Day, an article that will follow Charlie Company after 50 years—the tale of an infantry sergeant from Iowa with a sixth sense for danger, a world class marksman with a brutal weapon. The warriors have spread from Vietnam, from a firefighter in New York City to a lawyer in Los Angeles to a Texas preacher. Those boys carried each other home.