In 2011, our family was flying back from Salt Lake City early morning after an enjoyable Christmas ski trip in Park City, Utah. We had managed to get first-class seats, but in the small jets that make the short flight to Los Angeles, that only meant we were in the front of the plane. There were four seats in a row, two on either side of the aisle. I had a window seat on the left. My son, Walker, was to my right, by the aisle. He and I were both looking at our phones before take-off. A text popped up from Walker. Surprising, since he was sitting right beside me. It said, “Don’t freak out, but Robert Redford is across the aisle from me.”
Don’t freak out? He knew me too well. Almost anyone would get excited to know they were in close proximity to Robert Redford, but as an actress and environmentalist for 30 years, it was especially exciting for me to meet someone who I greatly admired. Meet? I’m fantasizing. Even though I live near Hollywood, I’ve always kept my cool whenever I have happened to see stars going about their daily lives. If I were them, I wouldn’t want to be constantly approached, and this was before the selfie obsession began! Still, it was all I could do to mind my business and steal a few glances. Robert (can I call him that?), who has just recently said in public that he will no longer be acting, was intently reading his newspaper the entire flight.
Robert Redford was one of the first celebrities to spend countless hours fighting to preserve the environment. (Leonardo DiCaprio took over the mantle.) No one made a fuss. And I certainly wasn’t going to either. But, when the plane landed, he was the first in line to disembark. I was the second.
He was facing forward. The stewardess had asked him about the next role we might see him in and he answered her. He wasn’t much taller than me. He turned back and caught my gaze. I said, “Happy New Year,” (the only legitimate, unobnoxious thing I could think of) and he replied, “Everybody needs one.” Everybody needs one. Yes. Indeed. And then he was off. We followed him, from a distance, out the terminal. I just spent a half hour looking through files for a photo following him I was sure I must have taken, but found nothing. He was wearing soft brown loafers and had a Scottish cap pulled down over his head. My mother and father went to one of Redford’s films that screened in Nashville back in the ’70’s, and he was there. She said she wore an Oscar da la Renta dress and was “right proud” she was dressed up. She said hello to him in the lobby afterward. “There’s just something that oozes ‘movie star’ out of him,” she’s always said.
During my photo search, I found a folder of photos from New Years Day 2010, before the Late Bloomer garden had been conceived. There was general garden cleanup going on, pruning the bamboo; my neighbor, C.L., warming his hands by his makeshift fire pit in his front yard, which, on another day got out of hand and burned a bunch of his junk and the fire department had to be called; there was Walker picking up lattes from Coffee Bean (for others, he doesn’t drink coffee); and there was the Southern New Years meal I prepared, cornbread, cabbage, black-eyed peas, and chess pie. It pays to look back, so that we may look forward.
2106 has been brutal, literally and figuratively, all over the world. We need a Happy New Year more than ever. Everybody needs one. Thank you, Robert. You made my day.
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