An Anchor in a Whirlwind


Helen seated below flag in stripped tank and blond hair-Monte Carlo 1932

Chum once told me that he never suffered from jet lag.  And he later flew jets.  The early flights didn’t reach ten thousand feet in altitude and the duration was relatively short.  Time zone hopping took a lot longer from the east to the west, and back again.  Flights landed before the body or even the mind was too zapped.  I asked him how he sustained himself waking up in a different place nearly every day.  He looked at me with a perplexed expression, as though he couldn’t fathom the question.  “I never had any problems,” he’d repeat.  “I never struggled to sleep, and my appetite was always good.”

Those few, still living when I began River of January told me, amused, that Chum made a habit of standing on his hands, heels against the hotel wall every morning on turnaround flights.  The man maintained his vitality with rigorous exercise, and few vices.  He knew himself well, and held his life together with discipline and purpose.

In a bit of a contrast, Helen, who also traveled a great deal, found her center in a circle of friends.  It seems her friendships melded easily and had staying power.  Despite waking up in Milan one day and Vienna the next, her fellow dancers provided a niche where she securely fit.  On the voyage to Rio, Helen made a friend of her cabin-mate and the two remained close during, and after the engagement.  Her place among others provided Helen a context in which she functioned well.

And in all her travels, she always knew her mother waited back in New York, expectant for the girl’s return.

As the scenery from the rail cars constantly shifted, the theaters and hotels changed, and managers varied, Helen never appeared to suffer from insecurity or alienation.  She didn’t waste time agonizing about her talent or if the company had a place to perform.  The girls had each other.

Despite the chaos inherent in their chosen careers, (flying and show business) plus living in the fall-out of the Great Depression and the ominous rise of fascism–the two appeared to cope with continuous change gracefully.  Young and excited, they both seemed to revel in the novelty of each new day.  The pilot found strength in the fullness of himself, and Helen among her fellow entertainers.  In a world torn by strife at home and abroad, they had little time for indecision, or hesitation.  Chum and Helen cultivated their own strong sense of certainty.  That inner strength lead to purposeful and consequential lives.

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