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I got my first taste of Southern hospitality on a puddle-jumper, sitting next to a completely-deaf-in-one-ear, Southern gentleman in his 90′s. “You should just call me Uncle Jim!” he exclaimed – loud enough for everyone around us to hear.
I learned a lot about Uncle Jim on that short flight. He told me about his children, his grandchildren and his GREAT grandchildren. He talked about his arthritis, his bad knee, his medical history (Parkinson’s), his hobbies (fishing and flying remote control airplanes), family holidays and pets. He insisted on buying me coffee and asked me a lot of questions about life in Kuwait and my family. (“You mean they didn’t marry you off at 16?!” he wanted to know.) He was fascinated by everything I said – but mostly by the fact that I spoke English.
When we arrived at Jackson, I helped Uncle Jim down the stairs and pushed his wheelchair to where his daughter was waiting – his daughter was a tired 40-something year old woman in pastels who would not have been thrilled with her father for divulging family secrets to an Arab. She whisked her father away as he called after me, “don’t forget to call me, young lady! I’m gonna take you fishing!”
Oh yes. We had a date.
Uncle Jim and I became buddies on that flight and at some point he invited me over to his place. And “his place” sounded like a secluded shack in the middle of nowhere. He said he would teach me how to fly toy airplanes and take me fishing. Yes, I realize how creepy that sounds now but at 30,000 feet in the air I thought it was a brilliant idea. I jotted down his number and promised to visit. It was not until I related the story to my friends a few days later that my old man sounded a lot more sketchy and less grandfatherly. ”He must be a pervert!” They said, “or a serial killer! Or BOTH.” I argued that he was real sweet, mainly trying to convince myself that the old man was harmless and not in fact a psychopath out to get me.
Maybe it’s a good thing I did not tell my friends he wore a patch over one eye and clutched my hand a little too long when he was talking to me. Maybe it’s a good thing I never got around to paying Uncle Jim a visit…