We flew to Chicago last weekend to visit my in-laws. Seated next to me on the plane was an elderly woman who reminded me of Rosa Parks. We became fast friends after I helped her with her seat belt, which was twisted in such a way that it wouldn’t fasten properly. She later returned the favor by helping me pull my tray table out of the armrest between us.

We chatted, off and on, during the flight. I learned that she’s almost 91, that she’s lived in Atlanta all her life, that she has five children, and that she was on her way to Chicago to see her granddaughter graduate from medical school.

Halfway through the flight, she pulled out a bag from a fast food restaurant. I knew it was a chicken dinner even before she opened the bag, as the smell was making my mouth water – even though I ate before we left home and wasn’t at all hungry.

“I’ll never do that again,” she told me after she finished eating. She said she felt uncomfortable about bringing her lunch to eat on the plane, as she seemed to be the only person on the flight who had done so. I told her that if I had known she’d feel that way, I’d have helped myself to some of her chicken so she wouldn’t have felt self-conscious eating alone. She laughed, and squeezed – then patted – my hand.

After the plane landed and was taxiing to the gate, I retrieved her cane and handed it to her. She used the hook end to grab at the handles of her purse, which was stowed under the seat in front of her. I started to reach down to get it for her, but she stopped me.

“Thank you, Honey,” she said, “but I can get it.”

She did, of course. I sensed that she was very much a strong, capable, and independent woman. The fact that she was in her 90s and traveling alone from Atlanta to Chicago said as much. As we said our goodbyes and wished each other a nice visit and safe travels home, I found myself almost wishing the flight had been a longer one so I could have spent more time talking with her.

We had asked each other when we were flying back to Atlanta, and found that our return flights were a day apart. So it’s very likely I’ll never see her again. Still, I know I will think of her often. And when I do, it will be with a smile. With a sense of awe and admiration. With determination to live the kind of life that can help keep me strong, capable, and independent will into my 90s. Or longer.

Some people are just that way. Inspiring. Memorable. And absolutely delightful. It was a joy to sit next to one last weekend on my way to Chicago.

June 16, 2017
©Betty Liedtke, 2017