Sky Song: A Little In-Flight Entertainment

Opinion / Aug. 10, 2017 11:33am EDT

Flying With Heather
By Heather McKeown

Music. I have a passion for the sound and effect of nearly every sort. My dad would get home from work and whip up a Tchaikovskian frenzy on our old upright piano. Then he’d crash out “In the Mood,” before toning it down onto a softer piece, like “Abide with Me.” It was joyous.

My paternal grandmother recorded “O, Holy Night” for my grandfather and, for years after she’d gone to meet her maker, Grandpa played that recording. Then it broke along with his heart. Yet he’d often tell the story of a Christmas during World War I.

He was stationed at a British military base and felt very homesick. He wandered into a huge room where a piano sat all by itself. He sat down and began playing his repertoire, ranging from popular dance tunes to the hymns he’d heard all his life. Though an agnostic, he did cherish holy music.

He played for over an hour and the last few offerings were songs of the season. Finishing with “Silent Night,” he gently pulled down the keyboard’s cover and stood up, turned, and realized there were hundreds of enlisted men sitting or standing in silence in that room.

Grandpa said that there was no sound from any of them. He did notice a lot of tears rolling down the faces of these young soldiers, but not a peep did they utter. He slowly walked through the crowd and out the door.

He’d given such a gift to those boys and released his own sadness at the same time.

Music. It lifts hearts and calms waters of discontent and entertains. Good or bad, it’s still better than silence, in most situations.

I sing on nearly every flight.

Not as talented as most, but not as inhibited as many, either, the muse strikes hard and out pours some appropriate love song for couples, lullabies for the wee ones, or anything that may suit the individuals in need of a song. Am I good? Like I said before: better than silence, in most situations.

The best result is when a singsong erupts after my opening note. The people we fly around have talent and know lyrics much better than I. It’s such fun and, with only one exception, there’s been no negative response to the spontaneous concerts resulting from the vocal chords of our customers.

Then there was Mrs. S. and her long-suffering spouse. They boarded first because both arrived at the plane via wheelchair, and were seated within earshot of my jumpseat. I welcomed them with the usual bon mots and down they plopped into their seats.

First impressions? One would have compared them to the Bickersons on that old TV sitcom. Demanding of me and of one another, they seemed totally incompatible and bitter. How wrong I was.

Mrs. S.: “Take his bag.”

Mr. S.: “No, I want it.”

Mrs. S.: “Stop. She’ll put it up.”

Mr. S.: “I........” fade to silence

I put it up, of course. I imagined Mr. S. had learned to give in since day-one of the relationship.

Mrs. S.: “Get me water. He has to take a pill.”

Mr. S.: “So, everybody should know my business?”

Mrs. S.: “You need to take your pill so she’ll get water!”

I got the water, of course.

Me.: ‘How long have you been married?’

Simultaneously: ‘Too long!’ / ‘Forty-seven years.’ / ‘Five children. Eighteen grandchildren.’

I could tell they were in sync and their eyes twinkled because the banter and instant responses composed a language only spoken by such couples.

They were obviously tolerating one another but with such a huge amount of pride when asked about their couplehood. Such duos are deaf to the negatives and accept the inevitability of acquiescing to one another in equal or unequal measure. It’s how these lucky ones manage to stay together for so long. Each taking turns at giving in or demanding. I had yet to witness what little battle this wife would allow herself to lose. Soon the answer came.

From my jumpseat, right after take off, I could hear a loud droning sound. It got louder and louder and was without inflection or rhythm.

Before 10,000 feet there was added a thump, thump-thump, thump, thump-thump pounding of a hand on a tray table. Nobody else seemed to notice, because everyone was plugged into their own electronic device.

As soon as I could get up and get a good look at the sound’s source, I had to smile. There was Mrs. S., earplugs in place, listening to Music of the ’60s on Sirius Radio. She got louder and louder, banged that table harder and harder and not once did she get off that one note. One note!

To diagnose her as tone deaf would be a compliment undeserved. I think she was just plain deaf!

I then looked at Mr. S. He was looking over at his wife and his chest was puffed up, his smile beatific and one of his hands was holding one of hers. They were dancing in their minds! They were transported to a time before their legs were weakened by age and they could hold each other on a dance floor as they tripped the night fantastic. Even as late as the 1960s, they must have celebrated their love by clearing a dance floor!

When there was a lull in her monotonous outpouring, I ventured, “You certainly love singing, eh, Mrs. S.?”

“No. I hate it. But, he loves my singing so, for him, I sing.”

With this, I looked over at the husband and he looked up at me with great pride and added, “And she can dance, too. Such a dancer! We met dancing and now, we pretend. When she sings, isn’t she beautiful?”

Mrs. S. shrugged. “What can you do?”

Music. Is there a better glue? A better memory jogger? A better anything?

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