Orllyene and I are sitting in the waiting area, of the Surgery Center of Reno. Orllyene has patiently waited for 8 months to have a corneal transplant, and today is the day. I don’t think I’ve been this nervous since our wedding night. I sit still, for as long as I can, then walk over to the information desk.
“Hi. This is a beautiful facility,” I say to Vicki, the attendant. “Where are you from?”
“Sitka, Alaska,” she says. I hyperventilate. Most people have never heard of Sitka. It’s on the Alaskan Inland Waterway, and one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Spruce trees cover the mountainsides, and come right down to the water’s edge.
“We had the most delicious halibut cheeks at a shack out on the pier,” I boast.
“We used to have them, too. Sadly, the shack isn’t there anymore,” Vicki says.
My memories of Sitka are so vivid, that I press Vicki to keep talking. “You know, there are no roads into Sitka. You have to come by boat, or fly in. I used to go to school by boat. They’d pick us up on one side of the bay, and we’d go to school, on the other side,” Vicki says.
“How often did you go to the lower 48?” I ask.
“I lived there for 27 years and only went outside twice. If you’re familiar with Sitka, you should talk with the lady waiting over there with her husband. She was a flight attendant on Alaska Airlines,” Vicki says, and returns to her desk work.
As I walk over to the angelic, looking, lady Vicki mentioned, I motion for Orllyene to join us.
“Vicki tells me you flew for Alaska Airlines,” I say.
Her name is Olive, and she says,“Yes I did. I was their oldest flight attendant at the time. I started flying when I was 62, and retired at 79. Some of the passengers were greatly reassured, when they saw me coming down the aisle. By the way, where are you from?” she asks.
“Oh, you wouldn’t know the place. Smith Valley,” I say.
Breaking into a big smile, she replies, “I was at the feed store down there three days ago. I’m a commercial property, notary,” she tells me.
Hardly believing my ears, I reply, “Holy smoke, I live less than a mile away from that feed store.” How uncanny is that?
“Olive, I remember coming in to land in Sitka, and by the time the plane came to a halt, I looked out the window, and there was nothing but water beneath the wings. We’d just landed on a breakwater,” I say .
“You’re right. Soon as the pilot touches down, he hits the brakes. They really know what they’re doing. I wouldn’t fly with any other pilots in Alaska,” Olive says.
As our friendship deepens, I mention my two hip replacements, and Orllyene’s recent spinal procedure.
Olive tops the list. “I’ve had cancer of the bladder. In fact I have no bladder,” she says with a genuine smile. Remembering her time as a flight attendant, she quickly adds, “I could have lost my life one day, if it hadn’t been for my training at Alaska Airlines. I ruptured a blood vessel in my leg, so I made a tourniquet, and finally got the bleeding to stop. It saved my life,” she says.
I dredge up a story about dancing on the wings of an Alaska Airlines plane. “In 1967, our family was in Fairbanks, for the 100th anniversary of Alaska’s purchase from Russia. I was there to choreograph and direct a revue at the Exposition Park. One day, an Alaska Airlines executive came to rehearsal. He asked if the cast could do a commercial for the Airlines. Two days later, 20 singers and dancers from the show went out to the airport. They put a ladder up against the plane, we clambered up, and did a brief dance number on the wings. I still have a 16 mm copy of the dance at home.”
For a solid hour and a half, Orllyene and I are warmed by the spirits of Vicki and Olive. Angels come in many guises. Some have wings, and some put money into shows on Broadway. But, for Orllyene and me, two of them found their way to the Reno Surgery Center waiting room, and are we forever glad.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.