Come Fly the World by Julia Cooke

(Book 153) It is hard to believe we’ve already had our first meeting in our new year of reading! Five of the girls met at my home, where I made them go deep into a theme of airline travel. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t the PanAm fine china and lamb chops sliced at your cloth-covered table kind of airline travel. My VIP lounge served bags of nuts, trail mix and other snack items with tiny bottles of wine poured into plastic cups. They received little suitcases with travel-size necessities packed inside, including the all important pill bottle of mini M&Ms. Also included were those hand-powered face rollers, because we have to keep ourselves looking young(ish) and because the product looks so 60’s.

Once dinner service began, the food offering improved significantly. Our menu was Vietnamese, because that was the most fascinating aspect of the book in my opinion. I served the whole meal at once in little dishes on today’s airline-sized trays. I take no credit for making any portion of this meal; the food was brought in from Bon Bon, a Vietnamese restaurant in our neighborhood. The appetizer was a portion each of shrimp and tofu spring rolls served with peanut sauce, the soup was Chicken Pho (Pho Gà), and the main course was three sections of Bánh Mi sandwiches: the Char Siu Pork, Biulgogi Beef and Coconut Curry Chicken. The official dessert was a Lotus Paste Mooncake, because the Vietnamese eat them in celebration of the harvest. Though it is not September or October, one of our absent members recently harvested stem cells for medical treatment and we celebrated Geri’s good harvest with mooncakes, mango and melon. The unofficial desserts were other Asian pastries that I had to buy as long as I was there at the bakery. Below you see the tray and those darn plastic cups!

I want one of the Báhn Mi now, please.

Now to the book. Everyone enjoyed the book. On a five star scale, its average among the six of us was 4 stars. Some of the girls made comments that the research that went into the book was on par with David McCullough or Eric Larsen. There were facts made fascinating. While some of us (Melissa) had exposure to women who had flown in the early days, most of us were not aware of the education and language requirements that PanAm required. Because many of us were “coming of age” in 1972, we were surprised to realize that 1972 was the first year that unmarried women were allowed to obtain birth control pills. I was pretty sure that was the year I started taking them and one of the girls was able to get them at Planned Parenthood the year before.

We were all very intrigued by the connection to Vietnam. Chris talked to a Vietnam veteran about it, who told her that he clearly remembered taking R&R vacations out of Vietnam. We wracked our brains trying to remember whether we were aware of the baby or orphan airlift as it happened or whether it was something we only learned about later. We talked about some of the stewardess’ stories and had a little trouble keeping them straight.

The only negative that I could voice about the book is that the emotional tone is low. This is true even when a stewardess faces a horrible situation when Guinean passengers are removed from the plane. One of the passengers grabs her arm but is wrenched away, yet the aftermath is summed as “Tori stood at the top of the stairs, catching her breath” and later “she wondered what happened” to the women who gripped her arm. Perhaps because the women related these stories to the author so much later in their lives, the original emotional response is missing, but it sometimes felt a bit blasé for the circumstance.

I know I’ve failed to report plenty of information but it’s hard to keep notes when I’m a guest, and it’s even more difficult when I’m hosting I shouldn’t complain though, because I received so much help from my daughter Frances; she helped by getting the meals on the trays and making the “overhead announcements” about dinner service. And to add even more realism, my grandson came downstairs at one point in the evening and bumped into the back of all the girls’ chairs! It was a fun evening.

Our next meeting will be at Mary’s house to discuss The Known World by Edward P. Jones. We have settled on Monday, February 27.

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