Although I have flown both the friendly and unfriendly skies many times, especially during my time in the Air Force, I faced the flight to Florida to be with our daughter and family at Christmas with foreboding.
I’ve had a couple of very unpleasant experiences in the air.
Once, on a flight to Montreal, the pilot came on and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed that for some time, this plane has been flying sideways. That’s because we are unable to access the fuel in our left wing-tank. We’re returning to home base in Columbia, South Carolina.”
On another occasion, an hour out over the Atlantic on our way to London, the pilot announced that the plane had lost its navigation system and that we were flying to New York for repairs. As we were landing, the pilot announced, “Now, as we go down, you may notice firetrucks on one side of the runway and ambulances on the other side. Try not to be alarmed.”
Now, every time the bell signals a pilot message, I automatically assume impending disaster.
The prospect of fighting the Christmas mobs in the airports, as well as a forecast of heavy rains, also worried me. I imagined what it would be like coming home the day after Christmas, along with zillions of other homebound souls. Also, it would be a night flight.
My wife had spent considerable time wrapping gifts for a family of five. Imagine her dismay when she called the airline to check baggage weight limits and was told, “Remember, you can’t take wrapped gifts.” She unwrapped them.
Going through security went more smoothly than anticipated. As a concession to age, wisdom or whatever, I was not required to remove my shoes.
To me, takeoffs are the tense times of flying. As the powerful engines propelled the plane down the wet runway, it seemed we surely were running out of runway. But the big bird finally lifted itself into the turbulent sky, and we were on our way.
At Tampa, we stepped out into 75-degree weather and into our daughter’s waiting arms.
On Christmas morn, we gathered around the handsome tree as gifts were given and received.
Books are standard gifts in my daughter’s family. The only gifts that are unwrapped on Christmas Eve are books – one for each family member. I came home with Mark Leibovich’s “This Town,” a best-seller behind-the-scenes account of Washington politics. Excellent!
One of my gifts was a supply of Band-Aid-type bandages. On each is printed an insulting quote from Shakespeare, as in, “Thou art a beetle-headed flap-ear’d knave,” from “The Taming of the Shrew.”
I also amused myself by thumbing through a little book by Richard Benson, “F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Answers,” a gift to my grandson. Question: What does “terminal illness” mean? Answer: When you become ill at the airport.
Our visit afforded me the chance to meet the newest member of the family, Boscoe, 6, adopted from the Basset Hound Rescue Association. Boscoe oozes charm and vivacity, much like some pol running for mayor of St. Petersburg or Congress. He insisted on sprawling across my lap whenever and wherever I sat.
After four days in the never-never land of palm trees, balmy weather and precious time with our family, we bade a reluctant goodbye.
While waiting for our return plane, 50 minutes late, I noticed that the guy across from me wore a T-shirt reading, “Gods Child.” I resisted my editing impulse to remove my shirt pocket pen, walk over and insert an apostrophe in “Gods.”
As I studied the sea of faces in the milling crowd, I noticed that the glow of anticipation I had perceived on the way down had given way to expressions of weariness, anxiety and/or boredom.
The prospect of Groundhog Day, the Super Bowl, returning to textbooks and test times and estimated tax payments can’t compete with Santa, gift-giving and family love-ins.
At RDU, after an uneventful plunge through the night skies, we stepped out into the harsh reality of Raleigh’s 29 degrees. We were home, almost.
Next morning, we awakened to find, pecking bread crumbs on our windowsill, not a partridge in a pear tree, but five handsome bluebirds singing to the tune of “Hello Dolly,” “Well, hello, Snows, it’s so good to have you back where you belong.”
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