I remember my mother wearing her nicest outfit to the airport. I wore my Sunday khakis.

I am thirty-five thousand feet above the rest of the world. Below me is Texas. Or maybe it’s Oklahoma. I’m on a flight back to Atlanta, sitting beside a stranger.

The stranger is from New York. Earlier, he was talking on his phone before takeoff. He was using swear words like they were basic adjectives.

Folks on the plane were beginning to stare, like maybe the stranger and I were buddies. I just smiled.

But now that we are in the air, and he’s chewing ice cubes. That’s right. Big, loud, ice cubes. And he’s listening to rap music on headphones.

You should hear the music leaking out of his headphones. I cannot repeat the lyrics because my mother raised me in a fundamentalist home with a framed picture of Billy Graham on my nightstand.

So I will substitute all swear words using names from the 1953 roster of the New York Yankees.

One of the verses to the rap song I am overhearing goes like this:

“You no good sack of Phil Rizzuto,
“Yogi Berra, Berra, Berra,
“You stupid mother Whitey Ford,
“I mean, what the Johnny Schmitz?
“What the actual Johnny Schmitz?”

Commercial flying has changed over the years. The first time I ever boarded a plane was to visit my aunt in St. Louis. I was a kid, traveling with my mother.

We flew because my father didn’t like the idea of my mother driving long distances alone. He was afraid she would get a flat tire.

Once, to prepare my mother for a road trip, he taught her to change the rear tire on our station wagon. My mother got so good at changing tires, Daddy would clock her with a stopwatch.

Her unique skills were a source of entertainment at family barbecues for years thereafter.

One time my father’s friend, Buddy, lost a $200 bet when Mama changed the tire on a ‘62 Chevelle in under three minutes, then replaced the spark plugs.

The day of our flight, I remember my mother wearing her nicest outfit to the airport. I wore my Sunday khakis.

“Why are we in dressy clothes?” I asked Mama.

“Because we’re flying.”

And it was as simple as that.

It was a boyhood trip to remember. The captain let me visit the cockpit and pinned gold wings to my shirt. I pressed my face against a window.

“Is that our house?” I would ask my mother.

“Lord no, that’s Arkansas.”

“What about that?”

“I don’t know.”

“What about that?”

“Lower your voice, people are staring.”

“How about that?”

“Honey, why don’t you color Mama a picture?”

But what I remember most was how my mother made friends with a perfect stranger. You’d have to know my mother to know what I mean.

Some women are born Methodist, others are Presbyterian. My mother was a Conversationalist.

My mother engaged the young woman in conversation. Before the plane ride finished, my mother had learned about the stranger’s childhood, her parents, her kids, and her first two marriages.

Then, Mama gave the lady her mailing address so they could keep in touch.

At some point in the conversation, their voices became quiet, and the young woman even started crying. My mother just listened.

I remember when we landed in St. Louis, my mother spit on her hand to fix my hair. She straightened my collar. We stepped off the airplane.

My mother said, “We need to say prayers for her. She’s going through a lot.”

“Who was that woman?” I asked.

“A stranger in need.”

There’s no way I can be certain, but I would bet you $200 that my mother said a few words for that stranger before she turned out her light.

So the New Yorker has now turned off his headphones. He is looking out the window like he has something on his mind. And I can feel my mother inside me.

I start with an informal introduction. “How’s today treating you?”

He smiles. “It’s a good and a bad day, dude.”

Not quite the answer I expected.

“My wife just had a baby last night,” he goes on. “I’m a dad. A real dad. But my son’s premature, we’re real worried, he’s got some very serious problems. They aren’t sure he’ll make it.”

I’m sorry I ever thought ill of this man. Even if he does chew his ice.

He says, “I keep telling myself, ‘Holy Mickey Mantle, dude, you’re a father.’ Then I start getting all scared he ain’t gonna make it.

“But my kid is gonna pull through, he’s a fighter. I just know it. I’m not worried. No, I’m not gonna be worried.”

He chews more ice. His eyes turn pink. He looks out the window.

After our plane lands, I don’t know why, I give him my mailing address. Maybe, if for no other reason, because I am my mother’s son.

If you get a few minutes, say a few words for a stranger in need.

29 comments

  1. Sandi in FL. - April 27, 2019 8:07 am

    I’m praying for that new father on the plane, as well as his newborn son. May they BOTH be strengthened through countless prayers and modern-day medical miracles.
    And Sean, bless your big heart for reaching out to stangers and making us readers care about what happens to them.

    Reply
  2. Karen - April 27, 2019 11:00 am

    Bless your Mama for helping to shape you into the man you are. Bless you for learning from her. Praying for the New York stranger’s son. Thank you for your writing.

    Reply
  3. Suzanne Cahill - April 27, 2019 12:07 pm

    Wow. I mean that response in the best way possible. We never know what someone is going through. More love and less judgement is the way to go.

    Reply
  4. Meredith Smith - April 27, 2019 12:16 pm

    You are your mothers son. God bless both of you. And I have prayed for that stranger and his son, a prayer that wouldn’t have gone up had it not been for you. And your mom.

    Reply
  5. Verena - April 27, 2019 12:26 pm

    I can relate. I just flew from Panama City Beach to Kansas City this week by way of Atlanta, of course. The airline overbooked the return flight from Atlanta back to Florida due to a jazz fest. I sat between two ladies…one from Texas, one from West Virginia. In the course of their excited conversation about the festival across my lap, I jumped right in with expert suggestions as a native Panhandle Floridian. I turned the conversation to Hurricane Michael and discovered the lady to my left had traveled from Texas with the Salvation Army for hurricane relief. We compared cell phone photos of the devastation. It was therapeutic. General conversation ensued from which we learned the lady to my right is widowed with no children, has gone through cancer treatment, has a 4,000 square foot home and moved her elderly mother in with her. As the plane was descending, I mentioned to not expect to step out onto the world’s most beautiful beach. They had a short trip by car to get to their respective destinations. The lady from West Virginia with the big house was having trouble with her Lyft or Uber app. In true Salvation Army and southern style, the lady from Texas said, “You can ride with me! I’ll take you there. I rented a car and it’s on my way to Seaside.” A friendship was formed right before my eyes. I’d be willing to bet they are now Facebook friends…and yes, I said a few words over both of them.

    Reply
    • throughmyeyesusa - April 27, 2019 6:43 pm

      Of course you did, Verena!
      What a gem you are and how you make me miss my “Flor-Ga” family!
      This is a beautiful story, worthy of Sean.
      Thank you

      Reply
  6. Jane Chandler - April 27, 2019 12:30 pm

    This is a beautiful story. Your Mother was a wonderful lady.

    Reply
  7. Mitzi Privette - April 27, 2019 12:40 pm

    I would not have had the courage to reach out to that young father, and I am no shrinking violet. Thank you for the reminder we all are carrying burdens. Prayers for this father, his son and family. Prayers for the blessing of your mother and her influence on all of us today.

    Reply
  8. Anne P. - April 27, 2019 1:15 pm

    Sean your mama is precious and so are you. God Bless!

    Reply
  9. Cathi - April 27, 2019 1:22 pm

    We can never really know what someone is goong through, even if their behavior seems outrageous to us. Thank you Sean, for being your mama’s son and offering him a lifeline. I’m praiong for him too. Flying brings out the worst & best in people and it’s amazing what a kind word can do to flip that switch. Big smiles in Alabama! War Eagle!.

    Reply
  10. Cathi - April 27, 2019 1:34 pm

    And my typing & missspellings are from not enough sleep, please forgive!

    Reply
  11. Eiizabeth - April 27, 2019 1:36 pm

    Very moving essay. Tx. My dad made me wear a dress while flying lol

    Reply
  12. Debbie Beach - April 27, 2019 1:41 pm

    Immediately after reading this I prayed for this young father and his newborn son. I will continue as your mother would have.

    What an example of a Good Man you are Sean. I treasure reading your posts and is the highlight of each day I’m allowed to witness. Blessings, Debbie from Bushnell, Florida

    Reply
  13. MermaidGrammy - April 27, 2019 2:04 pm

    I just did and will continue. You are exactly where God can make His best use of you. Thanks, dear Sean

    Reply
  14. Norma Norton - April 27, 2019 2:05 pm

    A good one!

    Reply
  15. Jack Darnell - April 27, 2019 3:24 pm

    Yep nice to think of strangers in need and assist if you can. when I hear language of today (which is not often since I don’t hear too well) I wonder how they were raised. Then I made the mistake of reading my grand kids FB. I try not to do that too often. Glad you had a good flight! That WAS once my favorite way to travel…

    Reply
  16. Shelton A. - April 27, 2019 3:40 pm

    Sometimes the words people use offends us…until we find out why. Thanks for a great story and life lesson, Sean.

    Reply
  17. Edna B. - April 27, 2019 5:14 pm

    You really can’t judge a book by its cover. Great story Sean. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  18. throughmyeyesusa - April 27, 2019 6:23 pm

    Sean, you are a true observer. And while your stories sometimes make observations that might lead the rest of us the the brink of being judgmental, you never judge. In the process you teach US to be less judgmental as well.

    There was a “Conversationalist” in my life also. This Southern lady even had a Native American name: “She Who Knows No Strangers” (Isn’t that wonderful?). Like your Mama, she struck up conversations everywhere, with everyone. They frequently exchanged names and addresses and her list of friends grew ever longer! I read this to my husband and asked him who “The Conversationalist” reminded him of. I was certain he would immediately say, “SUE!”. Instead, his response, just as immediate, was, “YOU!”. I was honored.

    Please keep teaching us stuff!

    Reply
  19. throughmyeyesusa - April 27, 2019 6:35 pm

    Oh the “good old days” of flying;
    Ladies in dresses, and HATS, GLOVES & HEELS! (how their feet swelled in those heels!)
    Men in business suits…always…many in hats.
    Children well dressed and on their very BEST BEHAVIOR!
    BIG, Comfortable seats, and MEALS….In every class!….
    Served on real plates with metal utensils with drinks served in real glasses, not plastic.
    Blankets and pillows…for everyone.
    Playing cards!
    And ‘chiclets’ gum or mints handed out before takeoff to help passengers avoid ear discomfort!

    And I’m not even 101! (I’m not even 75!)

    Reply
    • bk kimbrough - May 27, 2019 7:49 pm

      Flew from Mississippi to Turkey via New York City. Mom bought me a new 3 piece pant suit and new heels. With a 4 y.o. and 6 month old. 3 hour layover in NYC. Made the mistake of removing my shoes (they were killing me!) after boarding for final leg of trip. Could not get my shoes back on when we landed in Turkey so got of the plane barefoot! LOL!

      Reply
  20. Vaunda Noerenberg - April 27, 2019 11:33 pm

    Prayers here for the fragile family, and thanks for your Angel mom!

    Reply
  21. Vaunda Noerenberg - April 27, 2019 11:40 pm

    Sean:
    (from Vaunda Seetin Noerenberg in East Cobb, Georgia–
    -I am familiar with Garden and Gun magazine because of a gift subscription from a daughter in NOLA. Their monthly feature “A Good Dog” –have you submitted one of your stellar stories of your “Good Dogs?

    Reply
  22. Charaleen Wright - April 28, 2019 4:01 am

    Reply
  23. Janet Mary Lee - April 29, 2019 7:27 pm

    You and your family and readers…wise people in the sea of humanity!!

    Reply
  24. Mary Bond - April 29, 2019 8:33 pm

    this is great
    just to share a smile with anyone
    life is going so fast we’re all in need

    Reply
  25. Linda Moon - April 30, 2019 12:42 am

    I missed church Sunday. Today, it’s a day too late to go to church. But, I went to “church” Saturday – not in a building, but while I was reading FLYBOY. You reached out to a stranger in need, just like the Jesus of my church would have done. Your mama should be proud of the son she raised!

    Reply
  26. trey - May 10, 2019 7:20 am

    I will say a little prayer for your new friend, because I’ve been there. I had a premie son born in 2000, 1lb., 9oz. My wife had to have a C-section and I was in the operating room with her. As soon as the doctor got him out and the nurse took him to clean him up, he started to cry a little. Not real loud like a full term newborn, but he was making noise. We had been told not to expect to hear anything. From that moment I knew he was going to be OK. We took him home after a few months in the NICU, and now he is a healthy, spunky pain in the you know where 19 year old!! Prayer works!! Also, Sean, there wasn’t a Chevelle until 1964, just letting you know for future reference LOL!!

    Reply
  27. bk kimbrough - May 27, 2019 7:38 pm

    Like Mother like Son. You are also a born Conversationalist. Love your words!

    Reply

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