I loved flying alone as a child. Flying meant freedom. Flying meant independence. Flying meant to escape. Flying meant being welcomed by warm inviting faces. I am not sure exactly how old I was on my first plane ride, most likely under 3 though I don’t remember it. I do, however, remember the first time I flew somewhere all alone.
I was 5 or 6 and I am thinking I might have been in kindergarten or 1st grade because I still had my front teeth in pictures. Things were different at the airport in those days; security and rules were nothing like they are now. My mom escorted me onto the plane though she had no ticket. We met the pilot and they let me look around inside the cockpit. It was Delta Airlines and they gave me a pin to wear that looked just like the one the stewardess was wearing. My mom strapped me into my seat, wished me a safe flight and exited the plane.
The stewardess checked on me often, smiling with her perfectly made-up face and her Delta scarf wrapped around her neck, tied and pointed outward in the flamboyant style of the 1970’s. I can still remember the scent of her perfume over the thick smell of cigarettes. Throughout the flight, she loaded me up with gum, snacks, and a deck of playing cards. She was very nice and kept me from getting scared during the take-off and landing (which are still my least favorite parts).
I was traveling from South Florida to Atlanta, GA on an Easter trip to see my Grandma V (her name was Vivian). She was my dad’s mother and as in most divorce cases back then, I didn’t get to see my dad’s side of the family very often (years). So to me, this vacation was a nervous treat.
Both of my grandmothers couldn’t have been more different from each other. My mom’s mother was a down to earth woman and lavished me with love and learning. My dad’s mother was younger and more put together but always slightly reserved— but a bit distant. She was a talented singer and always had an air of performance around her. I don’t remember her voice anymore but I remember what it felt like. Her voice rang of hope and faith, no matter what she was singing.
I remember her being a shapely woman while I was a super gangly child. My legs and arms too long to fit right into clothes and my bony body still skinny and short. My features were huge and stood out on my smallish face as though someone had put me together haphazardly. My Grandma V, on the other hand, was graceful and wore stylish clothes with a figure that seemed unnatural for a grandmother to have. I don’t remember ever seeing her hair messy or her face without makeup. While she always seemed happy, I felt a sadness behind her eyes when she looked at me. Perhaps she could foresee how difficult my early years were going to be, knowing there was nothing she could do.
While visiting her, I remember things like feeding the ducks in the pond by her condo and getting my first bout of motion sickness in her husband’s car as we rolled through the Atlanta hills with the top down on the red Oldsmobile. I remember hunting for Easter eggs in my favorite dress that was now too short. I loved that dress mostly because it had strips of red velvet sewn onto the sleeves, waist, and trim. I remember loving the soothing feeling I got from rubbing my fingers against the pieces that dangled from perfect bows. The dress was considered a ‘special occasion dress’ and because of that I only wore it twice and the last time it had fit perfectly.
While I remember other flights by myself, that one sticks out because of the fear I overcame and the acceptance I felt. While many of my flights involved some measure of excitement and sometimes their own kind of fear (fleeing a hurricane), that particular one was my first step into myself. It was the first experience I had with learning about myself and with traveling alone. It was a good lesson to learn at an early age and while I hate being on a plane and all that comes with it, I love the experience of going somewhere new, on my own or with others. It still means escape, freedom, and independence even though I might take it for granted.
So, while I fight back the motion sickness with Dramamine and use breathing techniques during take-off and landing to calm my nerves, I am grateful that our society is able to cut travel time by defying gravity. It is still my least favorite form of travel. However, it reminds me that I myself can defy the things that scare me, that I am able to step out of my comfort zone despite fear and anxiety and that just because something seems hard, difficult, or impossible, doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes you have to hold onto hope and have a little faith.