Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Saturday, October 30, 2021

A Quick Trip Before Knee Surgery; A Bit of Nostalgia; A Surprise Visit With Old Friends

 At Turkey Creek RV Park, Hollister, Missouri...

I can't help but cringe at my expectation of a dressing-down from Janice for my irregular posting; In fact, I'm surprised she hasn't scolded me again already. She's probably saving it up for just the right time. I'm really struggling to explain my inattention to this, except two circumstances are at play: 1) I just can't bring myself to post about unremarkable days and 2) we took a quick trip to Branson, and we have just been too busy to sit down and put something together. 

When I ended the last post, I was describing all the updates to Phannie that we had done at Red Bay, Alabama, the tiny town that is the home of the Tiffin Motorhome factory. There was one photo that I forgot to add to that post, involving a sign that I saw while we were there. Red Bay is a quirky little town, as I previously described in three ancient posts, published in sequence beginning with this one (click on the link). You can add to those quirks this sign, which appears to be relatively new:

If you read it through carefully, the Red Bay Hospital is trying to promote its outpatient care, but the sign is not large enough to read the smaller print as you dash past it in a car.  All you see is, "We Make it Easy for You to Stay Home." As I zipped by the sign, not reading any further than that, it instantly brought forth my proper English language obsession and love of its comedic butchering to produce unintended meanings; I turned the car around to take another look. In reading only the large print, of course, the sign gives the impression that the hospital's function is so abhorrent that a prospective patient would prefer to stay home and take his or her chances rather than to use its services. The explanation, in small print below the larger lettering, made it more sensible. However, the designer obviously didn't take into account that only a speed reader would notice more of the message than I did as he or she passed by.

With that little oddity out of the way, I'll go ahead with more current events. After Red Bay, we went to Searcy, Arkansas to visit friends Carolyn and Larry for a couple of days, then we were off to my ancestral homeland, Nacogdoches, Texas, to visit more friends. We even got a fine catfish dinner and a tour of the beautiful Lufkin home of Ray (a former employee but forever friend) and his wife, Carolyn. Naturally, I forgot to take a photo. We also had a nice lunch at the Lufkin, Texas airport, where I was based shortly after I landed my first real job as a pilot (pun intended), flying mail every night to and from Dallas with a stop in Palestine. It's hard to believe that was more than 50 years ago. The following photo was taken from that era:

I was all of 23 years old at the time, and the airplane was a Beech 18, which was an upgrade from the old WWII-era C-45. Because the airplane was not particularly forgiving to pilots who weren't on their game, I took some pride in having pretty well mastered it at such a young age. 

Airplanes were not automated then as they are today, and these small airports had ancient navigation aids; GPS used today hadn't even been invented. I can't tell you how many VOR and ADF approaches I hand-flew at night in bad weather in these airplanes with no autopilots. With the advent of modern avionics and GPS, such hand-flown approaches would be somewhat of a curiosity to today's pilots--as the old Radio Range approaches were when I began flying. (Yes, they still had a few of those back in 1963.) Most older pilots will know what I'm talking about, but the young ones probably don't have a clue.

Writing about the changes in aviation I have witnessed throughout my lifetime doesn't really bring with it the feeling that I have missed out on anything; in fact, I am not unhappy that I actually had to fly--with hands on the yoke and feet on the rudder pedals--the airplanes instead of watching a computer fly them.  I'm glad I was there when the airlines were still switching from propeller-driven airliners to jets. In fact, it occurs to me that I may be one of only a handful of active pilots still remaining who have actually flown a Lockheed Super Constellation which, in my view, was the most beautiful airliner ever built. I think there is only one left in the world that is still flying. The photo below shows the Connie I flew; it was taken during a stop in Acapulco in 1968:

Leaving all this nostalgia behind, let's get back to Phannie and Mae and the current day.  After a brief stay in my home town, we then made a quick stop at Livingston to pick up our mail from Escapees before pausing at Conroe for doctor appointments and a visit with the kids. We couldn't stay long, because Sandy had yet another medical appointment in San Antonio, so we were off for our digs in Hondo, a small town near San Antonio. We were pretty worn out after all that, so we spent a few days at our Lone Star Corral property for some downtime after the doctor visit.

After almost six years of fulltiming, our tiny cabin at Hondo has begun to remind us of why we sold our house and hit the road: There is always something that needs to be done, even to such a small and simple place. Some guys thrive on piddling around and tweaking things, but I'm not one of them. So far, there are only a few positives to owning this thing: 1) We have a permanent place to store the small amount of personal stuff we still have; 2) I finally have a piano again, and 3) we have some nice friends in the park. We can appreciate the fact that, if we must own something that resembles a house, this is about as basic and low-maintenance as one can get. It is unfurnished, however, and we still have a few minor repairs to make that were caused by the hailstorm last April.

After resting up a bit, we hit the road toward Branson, where we were to meet our friends from Arkansas--Larry and Carolyn. We had an uneventful trip and began a ten-day stay. What we didn't know was that some old friends from earlier years of RVing were going to be there, too!  Imagine our glee when we met up with these folks; they represent years of friendship and millions of laughs:

From left to right are Ed, Bob, Denny, Jackie, Janet, Marilyn and Sandy. Ed and Marilyn are off the road now, but the others are part-timers. It was wonderful to see them again, as we don't cross paths as often as we once did. One thing that hadn't changed was our ability to laugh and tease each other unmercifully. Seems like surprises like this make them even more special.

Of course, we had already purchased a number of entertainment tickets with Larry and Carolyn, as we had planned the trip long in advance, and we had the added pleasure of having dinner with their son, Scott, wife Melissa, and their grandson, Gabe:

One could get the impression that all we do is eat out at restaurants in Branson and, well, that wouldn't be far from the truth. We did take in some shows, the best of which was the unbelievable spectacle at the Sight and Sound Theater:

There's one more show that we always see when we visit Branson--The Hits of the 50s and 60s--that has been playing here without interruption for 19 years: 

We notice that they are now beginning to include music from the 70s--as those who come for the 50s are ever dwindling in number (that would be our bunch). It doesn't matter how many times we've seen the show, it always gives us a nostalgia high. Corny? Maybe; but ask me if I care.

As I write this blog, we are preparing for our departure to Fort Worth tomorrow, where we will be staying for more than a month while I recover from my first knee replacement surgery. I am using the same surgeon who replaced my right hip and who replaced Sandy's knees. With those successes, we have great confidence in him. I'm not exactly looking forward to the surgery and the therapy afterward, but I am looking forward to getting behind me the pain and instability that has gotten progressively worse as I have obviously outlived my joints.

I can't help but look behind and ahead as I approach my 75th birthday. I find it fascinating that I seem to think more of the past much more than I used to--probably because so much more of my life is behind me than is ahead. I feel blessed to have lived during those years--especially during the fifties and sixties, when there were still vestiges of the Mayberry-type lifestyle. When I was growing up, crime was almost unknown. We didn't lock our doors at night, and we usually left the car keys in the ignition. With our bicycles, all outdoors was our world, and nobody ever feared harm from some perverse individual. The only rule we had was to be home for supper. Our neighbors watched out for us, but it really wasn't necessary. We prayed in school and proudly stood for the flag with our hands over our hearts. Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that our beloved country would turn into the dystopian, perverse cesspool that exists today. And I know when it began: 1963, when prayer was forbidden in schools. Little did I know that the year I began to actualize my aviation dream would be the year my country began its downward slide into who-knows-what. We pray daily for our loved ones, who will have to look for the good and run from the bad as they navigate the storms.

On a more positive note, attaining an advanced age without life-threatening illness or loss of mental faculties (some may question this) is indeed a blessing, of which we are ever mindful. It is odd that I don't sense in my mind that I am old. I don't notice any lessening of, say, my ability to drive a car, fly an airplane or play the piano. I'm sure my reflexes are probably not quite as good as they once were, but it seems impossible to have attained 75 years--it all went by so quickly!  There are a few annoyances--like the incessant medical appointments to obtain medication refills and yes, I do forget a few more names than I used to, but I never was very good at that.

What is important is to thank the Lord that Sandy and I have been privileged to live--both as individuals and then as one--for all these years. So many are not afforded that privilege. 

I will keep you posted on the progress of the surgery, which is scheduled for November 8, and the recovery process.  Not a few of you will have this in your future, I'm guessing.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood