In the Air

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The world is populated with enough people who love to fly, even attempt daring missions, that they have no cause to object to those inclined to stay grounded. People like me.

That predilection of mine emerged when I was around age six. My mother delivered me for half a Saturday into the hands of her younger sister Rose (so that Mother could go out to play cards). Aunt Rose was a stylish single lady engaged in a hopeful relationship with a desirable, handsome Gentile man named Herbert, who recently had come to town in search of a bride.

They had a date that Saturday evening, and, to look her best, Aunt Rose made a beauty parlor appointment for 11 A.M. She foresaw no conflict between simultaneously getting her hair done and taking care of me. Everyone liked me for being an obedient kid.

My aunt came for me at home, and we boarded the newly installed Harwood streetcar line to downtown Dallas. It was a trip I was looking forward to. Holding me by the hand, Aunt Rose led me to the office building where her beauty parlor was located on the eighth floor.

"Here we are," my aunt announced cheerfully, as we approached a bank of elevators. "We'll go up here."

The fun had changed. "I'm not getting in that elevator," I said.

Aunt Rose smiled. She figured I must be joking. But I wasn't. I shook my head. "I'm not getting in that elevator."

She seemed taken aback. "Are you sure, dear?"

I nodded vigorously, and after the replay, my aunt realized I wasn't kidding.

"But why?" she tried, finding my reluctance hard to explain. "It's just a little ride. Takes only a minute."

"Don't care."

Aunt Rose sought a new approach. "Well, maybe you'd like us to go for an ice cream soda later."

I shook my head, no.

That night's date with Herbert assumed no small significance to my aunt, and, the odds for its success, in her mind, stood to be not a little increased with a fresh hair style and manicure. "Stanley, dear," she said, worried now, "everyone rides in elevators. I don't know why you don't want to. I ride in an elevator every day when I go to work."

"I'm not getting in that elevator."

Nastily, minutes had sneaked away, and when Aunt Rose consulted her watch, it delivered the bad news that it was nearly the hour for her appointment.

Tempting as that might have been, she knew not to leave me alone downstairs. Exasperated, and coming up with no more ideas for a way out, she finally said, "All right, we won't go upstairs." She called to cancel her appointment, too embarrassed to explain why.

Aunt Rose took my hand, and we headed back outside. I was smart enough not to bring up the mention of an ice cream soda. We took the Harwood streetcar back to my house in South Dallas, without speaking. She called my mother to come home from her card game and let her know what she thought of her strange nephew. She washed her own hair.

This event occurred around 1938, and the good news is that Aunt Rose and (later) Uncle Herbert were married soon thereafter. The two eloped, since her marrying a man not-Jewish was plenty radical at the time, and that was the way that presented the least trouble.

Despite the family prediction, their inter-faith marriage lasted for decades. Not surprisingly, my feeling about elevators grew into something similar about airplanes, so much that there was more than a decade later when I did a full boycott. When at last I re-boarded a plane, I began to keep a tiny log of each trip -- just to pat myself on the back that I had done it.

Stanley Ely writes about travel in his memoir "Life Up Close," in paperback and ebook.