I have his hair. I eat crackers the same way, too. My three fingers down, holding the end of the cracker steady with thumb and index finger. And, I love technology and am good in a crisis. You are about to find out why.
In honor of my father’s birthday, 6/28/07, I share this true story of my first time flying in an airplane. He would have been 101 years old today. He’s been gone for 19 years. It still takes my breath away to write that sentence. I am about 10 years younger now than he was in this picture. My guess is he was around 73.
It was 1952. I had never flown before but at the age of seven I knew a C-47 when I saw one. It had carried thousands of Allied paratroopers on D-Day 1944 and through this doorway I was now crossing, soldiers had jumped silently into a moonless night sky.
A beautiful woman in a gray form-fitting suit met us at the entrance to the plane. We sat across the aisle from the door. My father let go of my hand and took out his large linen handkerchief from his pants pocket. He wiped my damp, trembling hand and fingers dry.
He chatted with the stewardess; I looked for the track of ceiling straps that latched to each soldier, as he stood by the door, ready to jump.
In the 1940’s, my father made his living selling vacuum tubes, the technology inside the first television sets. I sat in front of our TV any chance I could, mostly watching an endless loop of black and white newsreels of WW II and sensational crime stories.
My father held my hand during take-off and talked about how he had gotten his pilot license after Charles Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic non-stop in 1927. That flight had taken 20 hours and 21 minutes, he said. This one was twenty minutes, tops. As we leveled off, he pointed to the beetle cat sailboats and their sherbet colored sails in Cape Cod Bay.
“Lindbergh?” I said in a rising thin voice. “His baby was kidnapped and murdered in 1932.”
Suddenly, there was a sharp, metal groaning sound off to our left side. The plane door had disappeared or been forced open and was now flat against the outside of the plane, as it was when we boarded. I am not making this up.
The stewardess came rushing down the aisle apologizing, telling us to stay calm, as her face drained of color. She said that it was her fault for not securing the door properly.
“We don’t need the door, honey,” my father said to the stewardess, loud enough for other passengers to hear. She turned toward him, grateful, eyes brimming.
He took out his package of Lucky Strikes and his silver Zippo lighter from his pocket and promptly lit a cigarette, took a long drag, blowing out smoke rings, one after another. Those rings drifted like incense, a final benediction, through the doorway of jumpers, disappearing into a summer’s sky.
We landed safely and on time in Nantucket ten minutes later with my father kissing the red-faced beautiful stewardess and my lifetime fear of flying properly seeded, along with the memory of the tall, confident man with a calm center who had an understanding of aviation, technology, and women of all ages.
©Pat Coakley 2008
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