The Moon and the Stars

Flying is not what it used to be.

I can remember that my mom would dress us up to go on an airplane. Of course, she also dressed us up to go downtown to the movies or to Britlings cafeteria for dinner. She is the reason I love to dress for all occasions. And everything is an occasion!

I remember the excitement of getting on a plane back then, the beautiful uniforms of the lovely women who helped us to our seats and the fun “plastic meals” they would serve on the trip. (I always thought of them as “plastic” because they were on little plastic trays, wrapped in cellophane and were little sandwiches and treats like we never got at home.) The whole experience of being in a busy airport, being seen off at the gate, flying through the clouds, and then being greeted as you stepped off the plane by whomever you were going to see was magical. It was all surreal when I was younger.

After I had Jon, flying became scarier. I worried when we flew off and left him for the first time. There was more at stake now if something happened to us. Another human was waiting on me, needed me.

As time has passed, the airlines have made seats smaller, the experience tougher and the cute miniature meals a thing of the past for the regular passenger. Terrorists have made getting on a plane harder and made the sending off and greeting at the gate impossible.

Having to pay for checked luggage means that everyone wants to try to sneak in as much as they can with them. It makes for overcrowding on the planes and delays at the gate when luggage has to be checked as passengers are stopped with bags that are too big to be carry ons. And then the same people block the exit waiting to retrieve those same bags at the end of the flight.

I don’t blame the flight crews, I blame the airlines, the passengers who try to defy the rules and the world we live in.

I was concerned about how to carry my mom’s ashes on a flight. We decided to continue the “don’t ask permission” advice. My friend, the stylist and I looked it up online as I sat in her chair, hair processing. I also contacted my friend from theatre who has become an international flight attendant for the airline we were traveling on. (I really wanted him to be on our flight, but alas he was headed to Amsterdam that day.) Everything said we should be OK.

We put the container, which was a small 5″ box, in our one checked suitcase. We had no trouble and no one said anything. I brought the empty box back home with me, again in the checked bag. When I got home from the trip and opened the suitcase to unpack, the tiny box was no longer between the layers of clothes as I had packed it, but was sitting on top of the clothes with a notice that the suitcase had been opened and inspected. That suitcase, with all three of our wardrobes inside, had been so full we had feared the zipper would bust. The fact that they got it open and back closed again was impressive.

The first flight home from San Juan to Miami was crowded. We were near the back and I think everyone behind us was under the age of 10. The kids right behind us called to their mother 1,456,337 times. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy. . .” I think Mommy had taken another flight- smart woman.

Across from us and back a row was a baby who cried and cried and cried. With a three hour flight ahead of us, I just knew the child would eventually wear out. As we disembarked, the child had not slowed down a bit. I wish I had the stamina and lung power of that child.

When I fly with my guys, I get wedged in the middle. This flight seemed particularly tight (we were now flying a different airline than the flight to PR.) I felt secure that if anything happened I would survive, wedged in there so tightly that I could not move my legs or feel my arms.

My guys immediately put on headphones and were in their own worlds, as I got more and more squished and more and more deafened by the hollering and crying.

When the plane finally landed, I announced to my guys that I was so flattened out by them during the flight that I needed air pumped up my butt to plump me back out. I was not in a good frame of mind.

With a 3 hour layover, we decided to eat dinner. (I decided a drink wouldn’t hurt either, after that experience.)

I felt like I had eaten all day long. A granola bar in the hotel room before check out, because I was afraid a day of travel might mean little food. We then found a great brunch downstairs at the hotel overlooking the pool and I ate and ate and ate. When the flight attendant gave me a cookie I took it on sheer principle, not because I was hungry. And here I was eating again.

By the time we got on a plane for Birmingham, I was not in a good frame of mind. Looking forward to being squashed for another couple of hours was not making me any happier.

When we finally got on the plane, it had two seats on one side and one on the other. I sat with Tim and our son Jon got the single seat. Unfortunately, poor Jon who is 6’4″ was folded up like a pretzel. It seems each plane got smaller and smaller.

The seat in front of him was an exit seat with lots of leg room. The attendants seemed to be getting ready to close up and the whole row in front of us was still empty. We asked if Jon could move up and they said they were waiting on a couple of more people and then we’d see.

Sure enough, at the last second here came two people who sat right in front of us. They were all spread out and taking their time getting settled. But the seat in front of Jon was still empty. As the door got locked, Tim told Jon to move up and I could move into his seat.

Now being the rule followers that we are, Jon and I wanted to wait and ask again. With stories in the news of people being thrown off planes and being beaten by irate attendants, I thought permission was a good thing to get.

Quite frankly, I didn’t even want to move. I was tired, irritated and I wanted to just read my play in peace and be home.

When the attendant told Jon he could move, Tim got up and motioned for me to move as well. I stomped over to the other seat quickly as the plane was ready to go. I left my bags where they were, under the seat in front of where I had been. Inside the bag was the play I had planned to read. I was grumpy!!

The pilot announced that the flight was only an hour and 39 minutes long, so I decided to just sit and stare straight ahead. As always, I prayed and prayed as we took off. After we reach our cruising altitude, I kept looking out of the window at the lights of different cities as we flew over. I kept looking down to try and figure out where we might be, but of course I had no clue.

The lights in the cabin went out and it was dark so that people could sleep. I can not sleep when I am on a plane. Years ago I did because I was just so exhausted. I was traveling alone and I was sitting next to a woman I didn’t know. I was awoken suddenly as the plane landed hard. I jumped and grabbed at the woman next to me, thinking in my fear and confusion that it was Tim, as usual. I was mortified to realize that instead of Tim I was groping a stranger in an inappropriate way and I have sworn off sleeping on a plane ever since.

As I gazed out of the window, a star straight across from me caught my eye. I leaned forward and looked out the window towards the back of the plane. I have never seen so many stars in my life! Even when camping in the Rocky Mountains, when I felt that I could see every star in the heavens, they didn’t seem as close or as plentiful as they did just then.

I thought back to what my mom used to tell me. She would walk everywhere when she was a youngster in Puerto Rico, even when it was dark. She told me that she was never afraid, as long as she could see the moon. She told me that as a child she thought it followed her, only her, and that it protected her with its light until she got safely home.

As I looked at the stars, I felt that they were following us, and as they twinkled in the sky, I felt my mom tell me she was OK. I was safely flying home, accompanied by the stars. She has the moon and stars with her, still following her, watching over her, protecting her -she is finally home, too.


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Marietta is a graduate of the University of Montevallo with a BFA in musical theater. She has been performing for over 50 years on the stage and continues to perform, direct and teach. Marietta is married to Tim, has a son named Jon, and a cat named Penny.