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Flying dreams


Ralph Thomas


  The magic of flight was indelibly etched in my soul some 77 years ago. My father worked in Nome, Alaska and my mother and I left the Oregon coast to join him there. Unfortunately, Nome was a bitterly cold, harsh and primitive environment for my mother and it was decided that she and I should return to Oregon. Being as the Bering Strait was frozen, the only transportation linking Nome to the outside world was by an airplane on skis.       

  I vividly remember standing on the ice with my teddy bear while watching my father help the pilot load our luggage onto the plane. My teddy bear was as tall as me and was dressed in a white clown suit with red polka dots. What made this such a memorable memory was that I can sill see my forgotten teddy bear laying on the ice as the plane made a circle as it headed toward Anchorage. My mother said I cried all the way to Anchorage. Several weeks later my teddy bear was returned to me in Oregon. But, I also remember the magic of flying  . . .  being able to see the earth from a perspective few others at that time had experienced. I was hooked.

  A couple of years later, we returned to Alaska to be with my father in Fairbanks. He was a mechanic at the airport and often flew the airplanes he worked on. One day he took me to work with him. I remember sitting in the co-pilotís seat in a vintage Ford Tri-Motor airplane as he took it for a check ride. The hook was set even deeper.

  About a year later, my mother and I left Fairbanks in a twin-engine cargo airplane, again on our way back to the Oregon coast. When landing in Ketchican the plane slid sideways down the icy runway which to me was great fun, not realizing my mother was close to heart failure as was, most likely, the crew. From that time on I knew I wanted to fly airplanes. The freedom from the bonds of earth became an irresistible goal.

  Then came life as most of us know it  . . .  school, family, career, and not enough money to pursue my dream. Then, as a member of the Civil Air Patrol, I was able to spend many hours in small airplanes as we searched for those who had gone missing. In addition I racked up a considerable number of miles in commercial airplanes as part of my work. Every flight would find me sitting by the window dreaming of one day becoming a pilot. But, time takes its toll.

  In my sixties I was finally able to begin taking flying lessons at Peachtree Dekalb Airport, one of the busiest private airports in the nation. In addition to the organized chaos of piloting a small Cessna two-seater while surrounded by much larger planes, as well as corporate jets, I realized my efforts to get my pilotís license was, perhaps, not a good idea. It was then I knew I had a hearing problem. I could hear the control tower operator but I couldnít understand what he was saying  . . .  a sure recipe for disaster. My dream was not to be realized.

  Over the past few years I have shared my  feelings about flying with one of my  grandsons. He then surprised me one day by telling me he had decided to get his pilotís license and later become an Air Force pilot. Even though he is still in high school, he has worked two jobs to pay for his instruction and is soon to take his solo flight.

  Last week, he called to tell me to stand out in our pasture in twenty minutes as he was going to fly over the pasture so we could see the Cessna 172 he was flying. And, there he was, flying with his instructor, a beautiful blue and white airplane. I admit that even at age 80 I can still cry. My grandson was living my dream and I was up there with him.


  Ralph Thomas is a Locust Grove resident and the author of Doing Great, but Getting Better and Getting Old Can be Fun.




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