Monday, March 21, 2016

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Ice on the wings.

That’s all it took to fell a plane. Thirty-four years ago Florida Flight 90 crashed. Those of you who are over 40 might remember the coverage of the catastrophe on TV. The flight took off in icy conditions, and because of ice of the wings, it couldn’t gain altitude. It crashed into the 14th Street bridge in Washington D.C., breaking apart and sinking into the Potomac.

We watched as only six survivors clung to wreckage amid ice floes in the frigid water. Heroes were born that day. And one died… I’ll get to him later.

Survivors were saved by heroics from the shore, and one bystander, Lenny Skutnik, flung himself the icy water to pull a woman to safety.

And some were saved by a helicopter rescue. Don Usher, the pilot, hovered precariously over the handful of survivors, while his partner, paramedic Gene Windsor, dropped a life line to the victims in the water.  Their bodies nearly frozen, their fingers stiff, they had trouble holding on.

On one occasion, Usher flew so low that one victim was pulled onto the skid of the helicopter. So low that Windsor—standing the on skid to reach her—had his shoes covered with water. Here’s a video.
All this happened while we watched on TV. Horrified. Praying. Spellbound.

And one thing we saw—that has still haunted me these thirty years—was seeing one man repeatedly hand the lifeline to others. Over and over he gave the line away rather than save himself.

And when the others were safe, and the pilot went back for him? He was gone.

His name was Arland D Williams Jr..  He died while offering his fellow passengers--strangers--the greatest sacrifice.

Of the 74 people who died in the plane (and four died on the bridge), all but one died of blunt force trauma.

Only one died of drowning. Arland Williams. Because of that fact, they were able to identify the brave man who gave his life so others might live.

In 1983--the year after the crash--they named the 14th Street bridge the Arland D. Williams Memorial Bridge in his honor.

Here is a story on Mr. Williams.  He also has a Facebook page in his honor.  There is an Arland D. Williams Elementary school in Mattoon, Illinois, and the town has a college scholarship fund in his honor. The Citidel, a military school in South Carolina, has an Arland D. Williams Society, "to recognize Citadel graduates who have distinguished themselves through community service, heroism and bravery."  He also received many posthumous honors. 

That makes me glad.  And humbled. One ordinary man who stepped up, who gave up everything . . . I'm an ordinary woman.  What would I have done in his situation? What would you do? 

I have always been so moved by this event, and in Mr. Williams sacrifice, that I wrote a book inspired by the crash and the rescue: The Seat Beside Me. Although my characters are fictional (in deference to the survivors who are still living) I explored the humanity of the crash.  For it all comes down to this: You’re sitting in a plane, chatting with your seatmate—who is quite an amazing person. But then the plane crashes. They die and you live. Why them? Why you? How can you live with the burden of being a survivor?

Let me tell you, writing the scenes with my characters in the water, writing the scenes from the hero’s point-of-view . . . it was one of the most excruciating and emotional things I’ve ever done.  And because of that, it's the book of my heart.  My heart broke a hundred times while writing it.

I wrote it for the heroes of Flight 90, but also for the heros of  9/11, the heroes before and since, the sung and the unsung.  I wrote it for the men and women who unexpectedly rise to their greatest while helping others.

But above all, I wrote it for Arland. //Nancy

Friday, October 23, 2015

Why Don't We Wear Hats?

When was the last time you wore a hat? It can be two degrees out, and only reluctantly do I pull on a warm cap. Considering the nylon of my coat can freeze within seconds and crackle like paper, it would be a wise move. But unless you’re British royalty, a construction worker, a cowboy, or any male under the age of thirty (I detest baseball caps), you’ve probably been bare-headed more than not.

Through the ages, why did people wear hats? For warmth, for protection, to show humility—and status. It’s fascinating how mankind moved through nearly two-thousand years in the A.D. of the world before we made the choice to say no-thanks to daily headgear.  How audacious of us to change everything.                                                                    
Not that I want to return to the absurdity of the cone-heads of medieval times, or the massive hair-hat creations of the French court, but the nice bonnets of the Regency period and the sweeping hats of the Gibson Girl era are rather pretty. 
Actually, it wasn't too many years ago that a woman (or man) wouldn’t dare be seen in public without a hat. It was the topper to many a smart-looking outfit. 

I like the idea of hats--so much so that I've collected 200 of them on my Pinterest Board.  Take a look and drool--even if you don't want to wear them.

I doubt there’s a definitive moment when hats went out of favor, but from my own recollections I think Jackie Kennedy was one of the last to wear a snappy pillobox hat and look good doing it. Did hats die with the assassination of the president in 1963? Might they represent something innocent and crisp and elegant that we, as a country, relinquished when our president was murdered in front of our eyes?

I don't know.  In some cases even hindsight is blind.  Yet I can truly say I'm okay with the no-hat style of today.  Unless we change the whole of fashion to be classy and classic, unless we get the entire country to agree to give up jeans, jogging suits, and teeshirts, we don't deserve the luxury of wearing lovely hats.//Nancy Moser

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Etiquette Then--and Now

As I wrote my novel Love of the Summerfields, which is set in an English manor house--and after being a Downton Abbey fanatic since Mary and Edith first argued--I became aware of the details and delicacies of proper etiquette. 

ETIQUETTE:  The act of behaving in an utterly proper way so you won't get your hand slapped or be shunned from the members of society who made up the rules which are almost impossible to follow.

Here are some gems from The Essential Handbook of Victorian Entertaining (adapted by Autumn Stephens) with a few asides from me.

• Do not dress above your station; it is a grievous mistake, and leads to great evils, besides being the proof of a complete lack of taste. So we're to dress down? I hardly think "slovenly" would be appreciated.

• Do not expose the neck and arms at a dinner party. These should be covered, if not by the dress itself, then by lace or muslin overwaist. How about a nice plaid stadium blanket?

• Do not fail to try the effect of your dress by gaslight and daylight both. Many a color that may look well in daylight may look extremely ugly in gaslight. But facial lines and wrinkles look marvelous!

• When a gentleman is invited out for the evening, or when he hosts an evening entertainment himself, he is under no embarrassment as to what he shall wear. The unvarying uniform is black pants, waistcoat, and jacket, with white tie, shirt, and gloves. How about jeans and a tee-shirt? Or the ever popular khakis and a polo shirt?

• Prior to the dinner party, the hostess will acquaint herself with the social standing of each guest. If necessary, she may consult a reference volume, such as Who's Who. She then pairs each gentleman guest with a lady guest of equivalent social status. Does consulting Facebook and You Tube count?

• A few well-chosen words of praise for any dish that you happen to know is a matter of pride to your hostess will be well received. As a rule, however, the fewer remarks about your food, the better. Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub? Or how about "These Doritos are simply divine!"

• Do not hesitate what to take when a dish is passed to you. Nothing displays a lack of breeding more than not to know your own mind in trifles. Trifles? Is that in the same family as truffles?

• Do not refuse to take the last piece of bread of cake; it looks as though you imagined there might be no more. Hey now. If the plate's empty in my house, there ain't no more. And the last slice is mine.

• Do not carry anything like food with you from the table. Anything "like" food? I suppose a doggie bag is out of the question.

• Never leave the table before the end of the dinner, unless from urgent necessity. I won't go there.

• Young ladies seldom drink more than three glasses of wine at dinner; but married ladies who are engaged in a profession, such as authors and teachers, and those accustomed to society and the habits of affluence, will habitually take five or even six, whether in their own home or at the tables of their friends. Who are these winos? And who's the designated driver?

• Do not wear gloves at the table. I wouldn't think of it. I can't lick my fingers with gloves on.

• Be moderate in the quantity you eat. You impair your health by overloading the stomach, and render yourself dull and stupid for hours after the meal. Which gives you no out for being dull and stupid during the meal. And since the antidote for overeating is napping, I'm all for it.

All kidding aside, I grieve the loss of manners and etiquette. Baseball hats in restaurants incense me and I want to kiss any man who holds a door open for me. Actually, nowadays we need a new set of rules:

• No phone calls or texts while driving or dining. Or while in line. And if you can't talk on a cell phone without shouting, go outside.

• No tank tops on men. Ever. And especially not at a meal.

• Regarding gum: no popping, clicking, chomping, or blowing bubbles. And if I can see it in your mouth when you talk, you're toast.

• Never (ever) bring a full sized pillow on a plane.

• Unless you are a toddler, never (ever) wear pajama pants in public--including on a plane.

• If "muffin-top" applies to your figure, do not wear skin-tight tops or show skin. Even if you're skinny don't show me your midriff.

  • Leggings are not pants, and need a blouse or top that is long enough to cover your bottom.  If your top doesn't touch the tops of your legs, it's too short to wear with leggings.

  • • Flip-flops don't belong in church.

    • Thank you notes are still necessary. Whether emailed or snail-mailed, say thank you. Your mama will be so proud.

    • If you must have music blasted into your brain every second of the day, get those headphones that keep it to yourself. Earbuds aren't private and secondary music is annoying. And BTW, if you have music blasted into your brain every second of the day, your brain has no chance to think a real thought. Think about it.  Or try to.

    My list was longer than I thought it would be (and could be longer.) What are some of your etiquette requests?//Nancy Moser