It was June of 1968, and I was fleeing for my life, carrying my two-month-old, baby daughter. My brother had managed to scrape together enough money for a First Class ticket on an airplane traveling from Atlanta to Detroit. My first marriage had become too dangerous, and as I flew home to be with my family, I felt very agitated. Anything, God, I silently prayed. Anything to break the monotony of my own tortured thoughts.
Across the aisle from me was a very handsome and very friendly man. We started talking to each other. I introduced myself and he told me that his friends called him “Chuck.” As we were visiting, I just could not get out of my mind, that I knew this man from somewhere. I certainly knew no one who traveled First Class. The only reason I was in First Class was my brother. It would have been unlikely that we had ever met. He was traveling from Los Angeles. I was traveling from the south and we had no similar points of reference, except Atlanta.
His voice was mesmerizing. It was so familiar. Strong and evenly tempered. Where had I heard that voice? All of a sudden, I knew him! I was sitting across from a very famous man- Charlton Heston! I couldn’t believe it and we were talking like we were old friends! Should I tell him that I recognized him? What could I say?! “I just loved you in The Ten Commandments?!” How stupid would that sound? Tell him that he was the famous Charlton Heston? I don’t think so. I was pretty certain that he knew exactly who he was. I didn’t think that he needed me to inform him. And breaking into his privacy, to ask for an autograph, was simply not going to happen. So, I never said a word.
He was charming and kind. He held my little girl and he played the typical baby games, speaking to her in a warm and coaxing way. She crowed in his face and giggled. I don’t remember what we talked about. Ordinary things. We visited for three and a half hours. I didn’t tell him that I was fleeing for my life from a sour marriage and he never told me that he was a famous movie star.
All too soon our trip was over. The plane landed and we both got our carry-ons. Mine was a diaper bag. His was something more Samsonite. He gathered his things and I picked up my infant daughter. He left the plane to be greeted by the press and cameras. I left to obscurity. We both hugged our families and my last sight of him was to see him smile and nod his head at me, as he began to answer questions from someone holding a microphone. I smiled back and we parted forever.
I didn’t watch the news. I didn’t see the interview. I don’t know the rest of his story. I did tell my parents, who doubted that the man was famous. After all, on the plane we were simply two travelers passing time. Somehow, this event was a pivotal point in my life. I had respected the privacy of a famous man, simply because I could. After eleven months of married hell, he had made me feel, well, normal.
Now, that he has passed-on, I remember a man who gave me my first glimpse into a normal life, one where humor and kindness saved the day. Mr. Heston could have been aloof and superior, but somehow I don’t think that was a part of his character. Often in the tumultuous days of my bitter divorce, I would think of that very famous man, who touched my life with so much grace.
Now, nearly forty years later, it occurs to me, how blessed I am, that I did not invade the privacy of that famous man. He did give me an autograph; he wrote his autograph upon my life. For a few precious hours, he shared himself with me.
Jaye Lewis Chicken Soup for the Soul