Written by Lydia Benedict.

A few days ago Jeff gave a speech in Connecticut. When Jeff goes on the road for business, the kids and I usually stay home. Not this time. When he inquired about transportation, the person in charge said, “I’ll fly down and pick you up in my plane.” Since there’s room, Clancy, Maggie, Clara and I tag along. We don’t check bags with TSA or go through airport security, but simply meet our friend and pilot on the tarmac. Once aboard the Turbo-Prop, we help ourselves to the seats—there are four of them, not including the two seats in the cockpit.

Clancy, Maggie, and Clara Belle about to board plane.

It is a bright fall day and once off the ground I look at the mountains stretching out to the horizon like the waves of the sea. I remember when we left our ocean-side New England community for the Shenandoah Valley. A friend had said that the mountains would have to take the place of the ocean. From 11,000 feet, the Blue Ridge Mountains becomes my sea of calm.

Blue Ridge Mountains from our airplane window.

The sky is a pastel painting changing from blue to pink to orange, the sun setting on the western horizon. As we near Manhattan, street lights flicker into life below. Soon we begin our descent into White Plains, New York.

Later that evening, the kids and I listened as Jeff spoke to the Greenwich Republican Roundtable. The next morning, we catch the train to New York City.

Maggie, Clara, and Clancy at train station in Greenwich, CT

We have a date with a certain red-headed girl and her dog. Ever since the kids were little, we watch Annie starring Kathy Bates as Miss Hannigan each Christmas-time.

But there is nothing like seeing this classic on stage—especially if the stage is on Broadway. The curtains—staggered layers of old-fashioned white laundry, stretching from the floor to ceiling—lift, revealing Miss Hannigan’s orphanage.

Stage curtains of laundry in background.

When Annie and her fellow orphans start singing “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” I can’t decide whether to watch the stage or my kids’ faces. But by the time Annie joins up with Sandy—a stray dog—I’m glued to the stage as much as any child.

When I’m stuck (with) a day that’s gray and lonely,
I stick out my chin, and grin, and say—
The sun’ll come out, tomorrow
So you gotta hang on ‘til tomorrow
Come what may
Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya tomorrow!

It is a night to remember. My only regret is that my 16-year-old son isn’t with us. Tennyson didn’t want to miss his college classes, and he volunteered to take care of our animals. Plus, he is committed as a stage-hand for Southern Virginia University’s (SVU) production of Little Women. Still, I wish Tennyson was with us in the Palace Theater tonight.

I can’t help myself; I break theater etiquette to text Tennyson. (Don’t worry. We had the whole stage right box seats to ourselves and my phone volume was off.) Somehow, messaging him during the show makes him feel closer, like he’s there with us.

“Rooster just came on stage,” I texted Tennyson.

When he was little, Tennyson simply could not sit still while “Rooster” Hannigan danced and sang “Easy Street.” Tennyson would jump out of his seat and dance around the living room, singing along with Rooster on the TV screen. My phone vibrates in my hand as Tennyson texts me from backstage at SVU’s Chandler Hall.

Easy Street, Easy Street…
Where you sleep ‘till noon….
Yeah, yeah, yeah…

The words appeared on my screen even as I listened to them live, and I could see seven-year-old Tennyson dancing and singing, the living room his own private stage. I laugh to myself. As we exit the theater into a cold and crowded New York night, the tunes and tonic of Annie still warm us.

Outside the Palace Theater

You know you’re in NYC
Too busy
Too crazy
Too hot
Too cold
Too late
I’m sold

Morning dawns cloudy, gray, and cold and we start home. Our friend picks us up at the train station in Connecticut and we drive back to the airport. I look out the windows at the bare, brown landscape, the clouds sagging along the tree-line. I don’t miss New England winters.

Aboard the plane again, we taxi to the runway. The little single-engine plane picks up speed quickly and soon we were off the ground and enveloped in a fog of clouds. I could see nothing. The instruments in the cockpit are guiding us now. With my head resting against the window, I watch as we break through the gray to the sunshine that exists above the clouds.

About fifteen minutes before landing, it’s my turn to sit in the cockpit. Even with sunglasses on, I squint in the bright sunlight. From my cockpit window, I recognize the city of Lexington, Virginia and Jeff spots our home. Then I get to steer the plane. In the other pilot seat, our friend directs me to turn the wheel a little to the right and then left just to get the feel of it. Next he says to push in on the wheel a little and I feel the nose of the plane dipping. I can feel the plane responding to my touch.

I pull back on the wheel and the nose of the plane comes up. As the runway comes into view in the distance and I line the plane up with it. We near the mountains and the plane bounces and shakes. Turbulence feels different from the cockpit. Perhaps it is responsibility that transforms the turbulence into something more than wind, like steering through the challenges of life. Then the pilot takes over and in a matter of minutes we are safely on the ground.

As we step off the plane into the 55 degree sunshine, coats and gloves are no longer needed. At least for today, winter is forgotten in the warmth of fall and in my mind I hear a little girl’s voice singing about New York and sunshine and tomorrow.