Our airplane, dropping from cruising altitude, not only made me woozy, but caused my ears to pop. Each painful altitude adjustment dramatically lowered my ability to hear. Strange, crackly static from above my seat made me aware that an announcement was imminent.
In a smooth, suave voice, a way of speaking that I am positive is practiced in flight training, our pilot silkily purred, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We will be landing soon, but…”
“POP!” My left ear drum changed so painfully that it felt like someone had jammed a hot needle into it. Cupping a hand over that ear and grimacing, I turned to my travel-companion-daughter and asked quietly, aware that hard-of-hearing people tend to shout, “What did he say?”
Tammie gave me a concerned look and dug around in the seat pocket. Finding a barf bag, she handed it to me and said, “There’s debris on the runway. It has to be cleaned up before we can land.”
I indistinctly heard her words in the background of the noises my ears were making, “Click! Snap, crackle!” What she said sounded like, “There’s pee on the runway and someone is throwing up.”
The pilot’s next announcement I heard despite my hearing loss. He crooned softly, as if he was really happy for the prolonged opportunity to be flying an airplane, “We will be circling the airport for another ten or fifteen minutes.”
Ignoring the barf bag Tammie had offered me, I clutched an empty glass that had contained ginger ale given me earlier by a flight attentant. It seemed a much more fitting spot to deposit any sickness.
Willing myself to relax, I reached inward for comfort and consolation. I thought, “Getting older has its advantages. I know that if I can hold things together, I’ll be all right in about fifteen minutes. When I was small experiences like this would have sent me around the bend.”
To distract myself, I began to trace in my mind every new experience that I remembered from my youngest years. The first times that strangers were at my childhood home, my system was on heightened sensory alert. Their clothing smelled differently, not bad, just different. Various ones carried the scent of smoke, machinery, barn or gasoline. During one visit, it began to rain. A window was open. I breathed in the sweet, comforting smell of love from the clean earth, green grass and heard the lovely voice of a robin’s carol.
My first ventures into our backyard and to visit the neighbors with my older siblings, were like going for space walks. Preparing to leave the house had Mom and my sisters working together, bundling me into wool clothing that was heavy, bulky and restrictive. When we walked to the neighbor’s house and I met the nice children who lived there, I thought with amazement, “Other people have homes…like I do. I want to do this again.”
In first grade, my classmates and I were still sheltered and inexperienced babies. It was the mid 1950’s and most of us had never been away from our mothers for more than a few hours. Several children cried. I didn’t, but remember sitting quietly in the classroom. The mimeographed papers that Sister Donna had given us smelled funny, but the scent of crayons was familiar. From the lunchroom kitchen downstairs, I smelled the familiar aromas of cooking and was comforted.
Finally, the nauseating circling of the airport ended and my thoughts returned to the present. Our pilot landed and applied the brakes. I pictured him mashing the pedal to the floor. The force of the rapid slow-down made the plane sound as if it howled in protest.
While waiting for passengers ahead of me to collect their belongings and exit the aircraft, I thought about my 17-year-old granddaughter’s having flown for the first time in January. She and her mother had gone to Washington DC with friends to attend the March for Life.
Excited about flying for the first time, the young girls had acted silly and giggly. As their airplane took off and quickly gained altitude, Anne and her friend had screamed with excitement.
A passenger several rows back muttered loudly enough to be heard by everyone, “This must be their first day off the farm!”
Turning to my daughter Tammie, I heard myself say through muffled ears, “Remember Anne’s first airplane ride and how a passenger grumbled because she and her friend screamed with excitement? We should live every day like it’s our first day off the farm.”
As if from a great distance, I heard my daughter answer, “If this was your first day off the farm, you wouldn’t know that your hearing was going to come back!” I nodded. That was so true.