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WOMEN WITH WINGS

I met the unwitting participants of my unintended study of older women of 2002 while flying from Orlando, FL to San Antonio, TX.

This was  a summer in which women of our age were being strip searched, having luggage picked through in public and sitting barefoot while our comfortable shoes were checked for bomb residue. We were being taken for Middle Eastern terrorists in inordinate numbers. Maybe that explains why I consider following women of strength.

***

Sushi (short for SuSheila) Mehta sat one chair down from me as we waited to board in Houston for our final leg into San Antonio. Her eyes were friendly, unguarded, so we began to speak. I dropped the reserve usually employed to keep talkative strangers from ruining a flight. What were the chances we’d be seat mates?

Sushi was wide, heavy and plodded slowly up the aisle after I had stowed my gear and sat down. She checked her boarding pass and smiled at me. I was on the aisle, she in the middle seat. I got up, raised the armrest, as did the woman in the window seat. Our seating companion would need a little extra room.

Conversation resumed right away. She lived in India where she had all her married life. That’s where your home is she told me, no matter where you were born and reared. She had grown up in South Africa. Now her two sons were living in America, in Cleveland and San Antonio. She refused their efforts to move with them, preferring her Indian “village” of over one million people. She did visit them for several months each year. She would be celebrating her seventieth birthday with her son in San Antonio in a few weeks. Her young granddaughter speaks Gujarati, English, and French, but, of course, now that they have moved to Texas she is taking Spanish lessons. Of course. Shushi’s boarding pass was not heavy paper stock, but flimsy paper like mine. From my observations, she was one of the few on board who had used the new e-ticket system, handled strictly by computer. She had had seventeen back surgeries, had knee problems, lived half a world away, was in her seventh decade, yet was as modern and brave as any on the plane I’m sure.

Though anxious to see my sister and niece after several years apart, I walked at Shushi’s pace the long way to the luggage counter. Just as I spotted the two familiar blondes I was looking for, waving frantically to me, Shushi grabbed my arm and pulled me over to meet her son. He was not surprised we had talked all the way. I introduced her to my relatives and then we went our ways.

I took a lot of kidding about being like my mother, always picking up strays. They would tell everyone that their first thought upon seeing me shake hands with Sushi’s dark-skinned son was that I had befriended a terrorist. No, but I had been befriended by a fascinating woman.

***

When another very openly friendly woman occupied the window seat on my return flight from SA to Houston, I was not afraid to respond because once the middle seat was occupied, I’d be able to finally open the book I’d been anxious to start. When the cabin doors were shut I realized that, incredibly, no one filled that seat. It was only empty one on the plane.

This woman was my mirror image. She was from Florida, but living in Texas, and on her way to oversee her elderly mother’s medical care. I, on the other hand, was from Texas, but living in Florida and had been overseeing my elderly mother’s medical care. She was still in her forties and running families in two states on a regular basis, but what was most remarkable about her was that she was unremarkable, she was “every woman.” If you are a woman, you know her. She doesn’t do small talk. No “how ’bout those Bucs?” Our conversation ranged from the Bushes and the stock market scandals to how new acquaintances “qualify” you for friendship with their questions, from the tobacco lawsuit, to which body parts could be salvaged at our age and how we planned to dispose of the rest of our bodies after death.

***

I haven’t even gone into the lady in the window seat whose three-month-old grandchild had TWICE swallowed her tiny ruby earrings. I’ll save that for Women With Wings of Humor.

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