At Ranchito Hondo, Hondo, Texas...
As I have been doing lately--since we haven't hit the road yet--is to republish a monthly column I write for my hometown advertising newspaper. I hope you enjoy it, even though some of the information here appeared in previous posts of Phannie and Mae. My guess is that few readers will comb back through 18 years of posts and perhaps a half-million words or even use the search feature to find it. That's one of the nice things about having a very old blog...I can write about something that's mentioned before and get away with it! Anyway, here goes--a lot of reminiscing here, for sure:
I have no
way of knowing if readers have been following with any interest this series of
columns on my flying the mail here in east Texas some 50-odd years ago when the
U. S. Postal Service reprised for a while an effort like the one in the
earliest days of aviation. It hasn’t really occurred to me before now that the
few hundred of us flyboys who formed this second cadre are likely retired or
have “flown west,” as we pilots say about a fellow aviator whose earthly life
are curious about how I became infatuated with airplanes and where it led
besides flying the mail. I can’t squeeze it into one post, but let’s visit
the earliest days with this one.
knows the experiences parents give their children that may create within them an
epiphany—irrespective of how young they may be—that could have a profound
effect on the rest of their lives. Sandy and I have tried to follow the example
of my parents and expose our daughter, Mindy, to as many experiences as
possible—including sharing with her some travels in Europe. Noting her
fascination with medicine, we made sure she had access to all kinds of medical
journals, which she read voraciously. She is now a senior nurse at one of two
level 1 trauma centers in Houston.
And so it
was when my parents—perhaps through fate or Divine inspiration—stopped their
1950 Chevrolet one day at the airport in tiny Center, Texas, of all places,
when I was about eight years old. On that day, local airplane owners were
giving short rides to the public for a donation to charity. I begged my parents
to allow me to go flying, to which, surprisingly, they agreed.
It was only
a short flight in an ancient fabric-covered 1946 Aeronca Champion, but I was instantly
hooked. I knew from that moment my career would be that of a pilot. As I grew
up after that magical experience, I would drag my parents (reluctantly, I’m
sure) during our travels around the country, to countless airport detours so I
could watch airplanes. Then, as soon as I was old enough, at age 16, I began
taking flying lessons and flew my first solo flight at the Nacogdoches airport
after about eight hours of instruction. Ironically, that momentous flight was made
in the same type of aircraft—an Aeronca Champion—in which I had taken my first
flight eight years earlier. I will never forget that first solo flight—realizing
that only I, with the help of the Almighty, could cause this machine to return
safely to earth. It was pretty much a non-event—a smooth landing on runway 6—a
grass runway that is doubtlessly no longer in use. But oh, the exhilaration!
I never tired of the thousands of subsequent flights and safe landings, either.
I always felt that I had intruded, by way of these machines, built through
human ingenuity, into a part of the planet reserved for winged creatures, for
which the experience was not magical but merely ordinary, I’m sure. What
ingrates they must be!
first solo flight, I spent more time at the airport than at home—fueling and
washing airplanes, mowing the grass runways with a tractor—anything to make
money for more flying lessons. With this laser-like focus and with help from my
parents, I obtained a commercial pilot’s license and a multi-engine rating
before I graduated from high school. I can’t find any statistics on the number
of such advanced flying credentials obtained by high school students, but it
certainly must have been a rarity.
occurred to me then, of course, that today would come--a day when I would be
retired from flying and writing about how it was in the beginning. In my teens
and twenties, I had not thought of what it would be like now, six decades later,
as I remember those days of unbridled excitement at what lay ahead. For me, time
was almost standing still, creeping by so slowly that it appeared my journeys among
the clouds could not possibly end. But end they did, quite unwillingly; the increasing
physical limitations of aging are, alas, inexorable.
A photo of
my first kind of airplane to conquer the skies—an Aeronca Champion. This one is
in an aviation museum in Oregon:
Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.