Monday, April 07, 2008

A Time for Remembering Charlton Heston

Hello friends,

All of us have memories. Some are good, and some are not so good. The following memory that I wish to share with you, is one of the most precious memories of my life..

Charlton Heston: The Autograph By Jaye Lewis

It was June of 1968, and I was fleeing for my life, carrying my two month old, baby daughter. I had been rescued by a compassionate church group in Key West, Florida, and my brother had managed to scrape together enough money for the only seat left on an airplane traveling from Atlanta to Detroit, Michigan. It was first class. I’d never flown first class, before. Not being a drinker, I declined the offer of champagne with breakfast.

My first marriage had proven to be a nearly deadly experience, and as I flew home to be with my parents, I felt very agitated. Anything, God, I silently prayed. Anything to break the monotony of my own tortured thoughts.

At that moment, my baby bobbed over toward a smoker, a bit of drool dripping from her chin. As she studied him with wide-eyed wonder, she let out an enormous belch, right in his face! It was all I could do to keep from laughing! The man gave a disgusted grunt, and stepping over us, he retreated down the isle into the back of the plane. I never saw him again.

Behind me, across the isle, I heard a man laughing. Turning to look at him, I saw a handsome man with a beet red face, nearly helpless with amusement. Our eyes locked, and we both cracked up.

“Out of the mouths of babes!” Said my conspirator, with a wicked twinkle in his eye. We laughed for some time, and then we began to visit.

He was heading home to visit his parents in Detroit, Michigan. My daughter and I were also on our way home to stay with my parents, who lived just south of Detroit.

“What a beautiful child,” he said, gazing at my little girl, with her soft dark curls and her big brown eyes. I agreed. Something about this man was vaguely familiar, but I just couldn’t place him. We talked. He was warm, kind, and funny. I was pensive from time to time, but it was a relief to have a kindred soul to distract me from my troubles.

I introduced myself, and he told me that his friends called him “Chuck.” As we were visiting, I just could not get out of my mind, that I knew this man from somewhere. I certainly knew no one who traveled first class, and since I was raised in the south, it would have been unlikely that we had ever met. He was traveling from Los Angeles. I was traveling from Key West, Florida, and we had no similar points of reference.

His voice was mesmerizing. It was so familiar. Strong and evenly tempered. Where had I heard that voice? All of a sudden, I knew him! I was sitting across from a very famous man. Charlton Heston! My God! I couldn’t believe it, and we were talking like we were old friends! Should I tell him that I recognized him? And what could I say?!

I just loved you in The Ten Commandments?! How stupid would that sound? Tell him that he was the famous Charlton Heston? I don’t think so. I was pretty certain that he knew exactly who he was. I didn’t think that he needed me to inform him. So, I never said a word.

He was charming and kind. He held my little girl, and he played the typical baby games, speaking to her in a warm and coaxing way. She crowed in his face and giggled. I don’t remember what we talked about. Ordinary things. We visited for three and a half hours. I didn’t tell him that I was fleeing for my life, and he never told me that he was a famous movie star.

All too soon our trip was over. The plane landed and we both got our carry-ons. Mine was a diaper bag. His was something more Samsonite. He gathered his things, and I picked up my infant daughter. He left the plane to be greeted by the press and cameras. I left to obscurity. We both hugged our families, and my last sight of him was to see him smile and nod his head at me, as he began to answer questions from someone holding a microphone. I smiled back, and we parted forever.

I didn’t watch the news. I didn’t see the interview. I don’t know the rest of his story. I did tell my parents, who doubted that the man was famous. After all, on the plane we were simply two travelers, passing time. Somehow, this event was a pivotal point in my life. I had respected the privacy of a famous man, simply because I could. After eleven months of married hell, he had made me feel normal again.

Now, since he has recently passed-on, I like to think of a man who gave me my first glimpse into a normal life, one where I could expect to be treated with respect. He didn’t have to be kind. He could have been aloof and superior, but somehow I don’t think that was a part of his character. Often in the tumultuous days of my bitter divorce, I would think of that very famous man, who touched my life with grace and humor, and then I was able to feel normal again.

Six months after this incident, my Dad watched an interview with the famous Charlton Heston on a nighttime talk show. He was talking about the pleasures and hazards of being recognized by his fans, while going about his personal life. Charlton Heston shared a story of one of his most special “fan” experiences.

It seems that he was traveling east with a young lady, who was going home with her baby. She seemed troubled at times, but he had thoroughly enjoyed their visit.

“What made that encounter so special?” the interviewer inquired.

“She didn’t ask me for my autograph,” Mr. Heston replied. “She made me feel totally normal. She didn’t recognize me at all.”

The next day, my Dad couldn’t wait to tell me about the talk show. He urged me to write to Mr. Heston, but I refused.

“Dad, trust me. Thousands of women are writing to him as we speak!”

Now, nearly forty years later, it occurs to me, how blessed I am that I did not invade the privacy of that famous man. He gave me a precious memory, and, by the way, he did give me his autograph. He wrote his autograph upon my life!

With love,
Jaye Lewis

Email Jaye