I could almost start with "Once Upon A Time, many years ago..", because what I'm about to relate seldom happens anymore. It's the "Art" of getting to know the passengers! Connecting!
One of the joys flying for North Central Airlines was meeting extraordinary people! In training, we were taught much more than the basics of serving and safety. We were taught to observe, to connect, to compliment, to listen.
To be fair to those who are now flying, the packed planes, the added seats, the service with short handed crews makes that much more difficult. In my later years of flying, I loved working First Class. Along with the more enhanced personal service, we had fewer people. This combination allowed for more personal contact.
The stories I gleaned as I listened to those folks in my early years of flying were priceless! I feel sad for the newer generation of Stewardesses- now Flight Attendants who seldom connect at all with their people, or just don't have the time or energy to. In my last few years of flying, I realized that many just had no desire to connect. It had become a "Lost Art", a pity for the passengers and Flight Attendant alike.
In those early days, we all held many a hand of a grieving passenger who was going to the funeral of a loved one. We watched closely over those who were ill. We usually flew the same route for at least a month, so got to know the commuters.
I use to fly the evening short overnight to Traverse City, Michigan -then on to Pellston, ending in Sault Ste Marie. With a short overnight- what we use to call an illegal (because we didn't get a legal rest period) we'd fly back down to Detroit in the early morning. Many of the passengers I brought home on Friday night came back to Detroit on Monday morning!
One passenger I nicknamed "Scotty". If he got on my flight in Detroit and asked for a scotch as he boarded, I knew he had a good week. If he said "coffee" as he boarded, I knew the week had been a rough one!
Now, the following story I had posted a while back, but it's one of my favorite "connection" memories.
It was a crisp Autumn evening when I boarded my aircraft- a Convair 580 turbo prop. My route that evening was to go from Detroit Metro to Traverse City, next would be the Pellston airport, and finally the Sault Saint Marie airport- all in Michigan.
That particular evening we had few passengers. The airplane held 48, but there were probably no more than a dozen that boarded. Lastly, two agents came out with a passenger in a wheel chair. (Remember, these particular aircraft had a stairway, so the passengers would walk down a set of airport stairs, out onto the tarmac, and up a flight of aircraft stairs. They were going to transfer this elderly woman onto a chair (called a straight back) that they could use to carry her up the stairs, but she refused. I went down the stairs to carry her bag and give assistance. This woman was a tiny bird of an elderly person, but as she grasped my arm, I realized she had a great deal of strength and determination!
She was an American Indian. She had come from somewhere in Colorado, with her final destination of Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. After take off, I made sure she had blankets, a pillow, what ever was needed for her comfort. She gave me the kindest smile and a pat on the hand as a "thank you".
After my service, which didn't take long, since I had such few passengers, I sat down next to the woman to chat for a bit. I found out some fascinating, yet heart rending history, first hand. This flight was in the mid 1970's, but her story carried me back to the late 1800's!
She said she was 87 years old. She was going home-"Home to die", she said. Her son and daughter lived near Sault Saint Marie, along with grand children and great grandchildren. She had been away for 30 years and had rarely seen her family. After her children were grown, her husband got a good job in Colorado, so they went there. He had passed away a year ago- and now she was "going home".
She said she was excited not only to see her family, but to celebrate her people having land and their own government. She talked of a people free to be who they were, not to fight against- but to be themselves "within and along side" the government of the United States.
She told that she had a brother, two years older than herself. When she was six years old, and he was eight, they were taken from their parents to be put in the Mount Pleasant Indian Boarding school. Their parents did not want them to go, but they were taken anyway.
Once there, confusion and fear set in. She spoke no English, though her brother understood some of it. As they were given initial instruction (in English), her brother was trying to translate to her in their language. He was harshly disciplined for it. I'm not sure what form the discipline took, but she said she began to weep, with no one to comfort her. Both she and her brother thought they would never see their parents again.
They decided to not eat. They refused all attempts to be fed. The woman told me she had no idea how long they did this, but remembers laying in her bed, too weak to rise.
All at once one day she saw her mother's face. At first she thought she had passed into the spirit world. But no! Her mother and father were actually there! She has no idea how her parents found out how ill both her and her brother were. Her mother only said "Her spirit told her to go to her children"! The authorities allowed them to be taken out of that place, because they thought they were dying.
She said it took a long time to go back home. They only traveled a little bit each day because the children were so weak. But once home, and fully recovered, their father took them fishing and hunting, and her parents taught her the "Seven Grandfather" lessons- lessons that helped her live a long life.
And this, dear reader, I will never forget! I had grab be a pen and paper and wrote them down:
(1) Wisdom: Use good sense.
(2) Love: Practice absolute kindness.
(3) Respect: Act without harm
(4) Bravery: Use courage to choose.
(5) Truth: Be faithful to reality.
(6) Humility: Treat all life equally.
(7) Honesty: Tell the truth.
Her Father taught not only by word but how he lived, she said.
Sadly her brother had died in World War I, somewhere in Europe.
I wish I had a picture of this woman. Beautiful thick salt and pepper hair, glistening dark eyes, and a kindness in her face I can only describe as angelic.
When we landed in Sault Ste Marie, the other passengers got off first. I asked this lovely little lady if she needed a wheel chair. She said she needed to walk to her son and daughter on her own two feet.
I expected two or three people to be at the airport to greet this woman. I helped her maneuver the stairs and offered my arm for the walk into the terminal- that she didn't take. With every step she walked a bit stronger, a bit straighter. When we stepped inside the terminal, she let out a cry of joy! There stood about 20-30 people, all greeting and hugging her. (At the time, the airport there was small, so it seemed to overflow with her "greeters"!) The children shyly watching, smiling and looking excited all at the same time- what a joy to watch. As I looked on, I realized that this woman must have lived the "Seven Grandfather" lessons. She was adored.
Looking at those "Seven Grandfather" lessons, I can't help but believe that we all could benefit a bit by learning them. I know I have. I'm sure that by now this elderly lady is part of the spirit world. But meeting her was a privilege- and now a part of my wonderful career memories! It's a memory I am grateful for!
Those memories of learning from, laughing with, ( even crying with a few)-and listening to those fascinating people was 39 years of wonderful!
Remember that life is an adventure, and one never knows what sweet stranger will come along to give a lesson that has a profound effect on your life!
Thank you for going with me down a tiny bit of Stewardess memory lane!