Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dad Was Clutch

Being an Air Force pilot since the mid-40's, Dad knew his way around most planes. In the early late 50's he decided to fly us in this Piper Cub from Ohio, where we lived, to Florida to visit friends as well as his sister and her family.

Many stories wander through my memory of that trip including us landing in Tampa at McDill Air Force Base without proper clearance. Dad talked his way out of that one and they even found a hanger for the plane while we were there. My dad was definitely a good one with words.

My most vivid memory of that trip though involves us on our return trip north putting down at a small airstrip in Georgia in the late afternoon to refuel us, and the plane. There was a tiny terminal, and I do use that word loosely, where we found a few vending machines and really dirty bathrooms with open boxes of mice poisoning in every corner. Mom was not a happy camper. The sooner we left the better in her firm opinion.

There was a big thunderstorm approaching from the west and it looked fierce. Dad was pretty sure we could get off the ground and up over it but it was going to be close. Our other choice was to stay the night in the terminal. The airstrip was in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing but farm land around for miles. I suppose there was someone manning the terminal that could possibly have taken us somewhere, but I don't recall them being very helpful.

And so we boarded up and taxied to the end of the runway to prepare to take off. I was always the navigator. Mom and my sister, Suzanne, sat in the back of our four seater. Our bother, Star missed the trip, he would not be born until a year later. A quick pre-flight check finished we head down the runway getting up speed. The storm is moving fast right toward us. Dad's giving the plane all its got. I'm at that age, a young teen, where my mind set is probably something like, "This is like a cool roller coaster ride, right? Dangerous, but safe."

Mom is screaming that we're not going to make it. The winds are crazy. My sister, ten years younger than me, is probably more worried about how much her hand hurts from Mom squeezing it than the take-off. Or Mom's got her eyes covered, or both. She, usually very vocal, is quiet.

Dad is cool. "Don't worry, Midge. I've got this."

We are getting really close to the end of the runway and haven't lifted off yet. The inevitable power lines that always seem to be right there at the end of every runway in every little airstrip loom just up ahead. This is going to be close. I look at Dad. He's focused, no worry shows on his face.

And then literally at the very, and I mean very, end of the bumpy runway, we lift off barely missing the power lines. We rise so fast we are over the storm in seconds.

Yup, my Dad was clutch, all the way.