Fly­ing in sum­mer

Rappahannock News - - OBITUARIES • NATURE - Slewka is an award-win­ning tele­vi­sion pro­ducer and writer who lives in Woodville.

BY STEPHANIE SLEWKA

Half­way through his con­cert, Lyle Lovett strolled cen­ter stage in shirt­sleeves and in a dead­pan drawl quizzed mu­si­cians in His Large Band. He asked Brad Leali, pro­fes­sor of jazz sax­o­phone at the Univer­sity of North Texas and an African-Amer­i­can, how the fu­ture looked from the vantage point of some­one who in­ter­acts with young peo­ple every day. “The fu­ture looks bright,” Leali replied.

It’s hard to say whether that com­ment jan­gled the nerves of Char­lottesville res­i­dents. The swel­ter­ing night air was tight with the fear, if not the pos­si­bil­ity, of vi­o­lence. Heather Heyer was killed not far from the con­cert dur­ing a white na­tion­al­ist rally. Her fu­neral had been held that morn­ing a few blocks away.

Lovett told the au­di­ence that re­silient Char­lottesville res­i­dents were a tes­ta­ment to the coun­try’s cit­i­zens. He ended his con­cert with hymns belted at full vol­ume, a touch of balm for the crowd.

The next morn­ing, hymns ringing in my ears, I boarded a plane from Char­lottesville bound for Char­lotte, North Carolina. Scrunched against the win­dow of the small com­muter jet was an African-Amer­i­can man from cen­tral Louisiana sport­ing a new Univer­sity of Vir­ginia t-shirt. With his wife, who was in the back of the plane, he had helped their eigh­teen-year old son set­tle in his dorm at UVA. The pro-white rally that had turned vi­o­lent was not some­thing he wanted to talk about, at least to a stranger.

The fa­ther spent near on two decades work­ing in a card­board fac­tory mak­ing laun­dry de­ter­gent boxes. The son had grad­u­ated from a new pro­gram at the lo­cal high school that gave him a high school di­ploma and an as­so­ciate’s de­gree. The boy had a schol­ar­ship to study aerospace en­gi­neer­ing and French. He could have gone to col­lege closer by fam­ily in Louisiana but chose UVA where he did not know a soul for its su­pe­rior aerospace pro­gram.

The idea of study­ing French seemed a bit puz­zling to the fa­ther, but aerospace was a given. “He wants to be the first man on Mars,” he an­nounced with pride and awe and the glint of pos­si­bil­ity in his eye.

On my next flight from Char­lotte to Denver, a white preacher from South Carolina was stuffed into the mid­dle seat. A ner­vous flyer, he needed to talk to dis­tract him­self. I in­dulged him.

We talked about hunt­ing and dogs — he got a lump in his throat show­ing pic­tures of the Labrador retriever he had to have eu­th­a­nized the month be­fore. We talked about the opi­oid epi­demic that had touched even his fam­ily, and pol­i­tics.

A proud son of the South from a town that was a sup­ply hub for the Con­fed­er­ate Army in the Civil War, he had voted for Don­ald Trump be­cause he could not bring him­self to vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton. She em­bod­ied cor­rup­tion, he thought.

It would be a long flight in tight quar­ters so I de­cided to ask ques­tions rather than en­gage in de­bate. His town was al­most half African-Amer­i­can. The preacher said that his church had “em­bar­rass­ingly few” black parish­ioners.

“We’re try­ing to find ways to change that,” he added. Al­most in the next breath he said he’d dis­cov­ered that a rel­a­tive was an ac­tive mem­ber of the Ku Klux Klan. “There are more of us than you know,” the rel­a­tive had ad­mon­ished him. It sounded like a threat.

I told the preacher about the AfricanAmer­i­can kid from Louisiana who wanted to be­come the first man on Mars. The preacher nod­ded and sin­cerely wished him luck.

Maybe the fu­ture does look bright for the next gen­er­a­tion.

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