First Flight

By: pbcmedia

Jun 29 2008

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Family, Father, Life, Photography, Random, The Single Life


Focal Length:8.5mm
Shutter:1/0 sec

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


14 comments on “First Flight”

  1. Wow! This is a wonderful story, Pat. I would have been utterly terrified. I’ve never loved flying, but I was never afraid of it … but suddenly in the last two years I have a little fear when I fly. I don’t know what has suddenly brought it on. Weird. I love the feeling of your father’s calm here, the gentle way he reassures the flight attendant (and everyone else). Really amazing.

  2. What a beutifully written remembrance of your father. I hope some day, fifty years from now, my children can recall me with such clarity, and in such high regard. Of course, I hope to still be alive fifty years from now, so that should make it easier.

    When you say that your fear of flying is properly seeded, do you mean that you still have this fear to this day because of that event? I would have assumed that because of your ability to survive such a harrowing event simply by remaining calm and recognizing the danger without succumbing to it, that you would have overcome your fear. I guess I would be wrong in assuming that.

    Do you fly despite your fear?

  3. Great story well told.

  4. Hello, girlgriot! Last night I went a callin’ to your blog and was simply too tired to leave a comment but I’ll go back today! Yes, gentle, the man was.

    twobuyfour, I have always flown but in varying states of anxiety over the years. The anxiety was at its height the years when I had the responsibility of my aging parents. I think it must be like the feeling some parents have when they fly..some even fly on one plane, the other takes another plane.

    Of course, I don’t think I knew this at the time. Fear aggregates whatever prevailing winds there are at the moment for its fuel. At any rate, right after 9/11/01 I had to fly to DC to see my niece. My mother had died in February of 2001 so this was the first time I was flying and if I went down in a fiery crash, people would miss me but not be abandoned. So, anyway, I go to the airport armed with my little bottle of anxiety pills, thinking that if one was the usual dose to get me through the flight, I might need 3 for this one. The first thing I see are armed gunmen at the security checkpoints (remember, Boston’s Logan airport, was one of the airports from which the planes left that 9/11 morning) and I think, oh, jesus, I may need an IV of this anxiety med instead of a pill form.

    I got through the security and these big menacing state troopers were standing every 50 feet or so. I looked at the US Airways shuttle plane taxing in and awaited boarding and thought, well, babycakes, here we go.

    It was halfway through the flight when I realized I had forgotten to take my pill. And, I haven’t taken another one since.

    Go figure.

    Planetross, everytime you leave a comment anywhere in the blogasphere, I see your face emerging from the toilet seat. Your response to the 6 word memoir challenge with image. People, this is not me making this up. Go to planetross land and see for yourself.

  5. hey, people! Forgot to tell ya’: Tysdaddy is coming home from hospital today! So, leave him a welcome home message. I told him I was going to send him a casserole until someone reminded me that we wanted him to get better, not worse.

    Also, go check out sweetiegirlz’s response to “What’s the Friggin Point?” challenge. Hilarious. The girl has an eye for the absurd.

  6. People, it’s a busy day! Go to see planetross’s Local Knowledge Necessary. I’m not kidding. It’s got melville (How do I love thee, Herman, let me count the ways) and stephen crane and planetross words that shall end our world tour’s night of entertainment. Razzman will of course be giving an in service pyrotechnic seminar or perhaps airborne motorcycle riding lessons as we speak them as a chorus.

  7. Alright, this has to be a record of some sort. I have written the most comments in my own comment section. But, one last place you gotta visit and I mean now. Our pomeroy, father of a 3 month old and without time or sleep, has had to retread one of his blog entries. Don’t read with something in your mouth.

  8. Pat I can honestly say that this story touched more than my heart, it touched my heart, I know you know what I mean.
    It makes me the happiest reading stories such as this, so warming and heartfelt, forget the fact that I adore flying, the fact that you have these happy memories, wows. Thank you for sharing each and everyone in the way that you do, with heart and humour. You miss him and now I do to, lets eat broccoli…

  9. Lucky for you the cabin wasn’t pressurized.

    I envy you for your father.

    The ancient Greeks believed that immortality could be achieved by being remembered after death.

    Your father is still here with us.

  10. That’s exactly what my father explained to me, Razz! The pressurization thingy is a bit different at 30,000 feet than what? Our plane would have been at what maximum height? 2000 feet? I dunno. All I know is that my Dad would have loved you. He was a ham operator from a very early age and talked to people all over the world, knew their stories, and loved to hear about their worlds. Oh, yeah, he’d have loved the Razzman.

  11. Fantastic post!
    Your father sounds like quite a man. It’s during times like the one you describe that we see who people really are. It’s those individuals who can calmly look around the burning building and make the level headed, well thought out decision that impress me the most.
    I think the aspect that makes me respect these people above so many other is that it is simply who you are. Money, influence, craftiness, or intelligence have nothing to do with it. You either have it or don’t.

    It sounds like your father had it in spades.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    Turkish Prawn

  12. As I’ve gotten older, I find myself quoting my mothers’ sayings more than I’d have imagined. I used to bristle at them when I was 15 but now they’re more accurate than I even knew.
    There is no better way to honor someone than to recall those moments and keep them alive.
    What a touching and moving story.

    And there’s so much more you and your father have in common than your physical attributes.
    It’s that innate knowing.
    Some have it, and some never will.

    Every time I visit your blog, which is every time, I find the unexpected. That’s why I keep coming back.

  13. I LOVED your story..there is so much a person can pick up about your dad in just that one event. I bet you miss him.

  14. You bet correctly, DM. I miss him more and more as I get older, too. Why is that? Oh, well. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment! Pat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: