Lillian Gallery, now in her seventies, was one of those wee cute (we're talking 50 years ago when you could say it and when it was true) airline stewardesses, one of the very first, and she was well aware yesterday that she's part of the history of our world.
Not because of the famous people she met in those days ("and I can tell you more happened to me 1935-1939 when I was an American Airlines stewardess than has happened since") but because she flew in the great old DC3s, the planes that for all practical purposes invented commercial passenger air travel.
"Eleanor Roosevelt was so pleasant. Some people just said, 'I want this' or 'I want that,' but Eleanor Roosevelt always said, 'I must ask you for a cup of coffee' or whatever she needed. I remember one flight from Dallas to Memphis -- you know she always traveled with a regular tote bag and then another bag for knitting. And she actually knitted, too. No, I forget just what she knitted. Maybe she just knitted."
Well, those were the days, before you felt like a slab of meat, and they called you by your name when you got on the plane, and they slept 14 people on the long 13-hour flights and the food either was better or seems so in dreams.
Lillian Gallery has since those days married (Tom Gallery, first chief of NBC sports, the man who first put the World Series and the Rose Bowl on television) and lives in Encino, Calif.
"Nothing much to do with planes now, except as a passenger. I never criticize."
Does this mean she holds her tongue or finds nothing to grumble at? Well, she keeps a few secrets, no doubt.
She was in the capital for a reception last night at the National Air and Space Museum, marking the DC3's 50th anniversary. The television series "Nova" will deal with this "Plane That Changed the World" at 8 p.m. next Tuesday on Channel 26.
The DC3 has flown more miles, and carried more passengers and freight than any other plane. Four out of five passengers who flew before World War II used this plane. Adapted for cargo as the C47, it contributed mightily to winning that war. Eisenhower called it one of the four main Allied weapons; MacArthur said the Pacific island-hopping campaign would have been impossible without it.
This year there were still 500 DC3s in service. They used to go 160 miles an hour a half-century ago.
"And still do," said Lillian Gallery. "It's still the same plane. And 10,000 feet up, as we always used to say, is a great equalizer." She's got the same merry blue eyes, and what's a pound or two. When it's hot coffee and the plane bumping around, you'd still hope to see a gal like Gallery trotting down that aisle, and Eleanor knitting like mad, because it was only three more hours to Memphis.