by Judith Allen
An early experience in an airplane has lasting effects on the life a young girl.
When Sara finds herself in an airport, whether it be a local field or the size of LAX or Atlanta she becomes the frightened 10 year old girl grasping her cousin’s hand and knowing she was going to die. When she boards the plane, being greeted by the smiling stewardess - or steward - she is sure that is the last smile she will ever see. As the other passengers chatter about the trip and push into the metal tubular instrument of death, only trying to stow their luggage in the overhead and secure their seatbelts, hoping for a window seat Sara hesitates at the cockpit door and checks out the pilot. Is he - or she- eating a balogna and cheese sandwich on Wonder Bread? Is there a Mountain Dew handy? Is there a bag of bar-b -q chips on the instrument panel? And worst of all does the pilot look ready to burst into song? Is there a co-pilot nearby just in case there is a problem, or will it be a duet?
Pa saw in the paper there was going to be an air show that Saturday and you could get to go up in a plane for 45 minutes or so. He told Sara and she got all excited. Ma wouldn’t go and didn’t think it was a good idea, but when Pa and Sara got something in their heads you may as well forget about changing it. Ma just gave Sara a hug and said a prayer. She didn’t say anything to Pa at all. They stopped and picked up cousin Tina along the way. It was only $5 a passenger and Pa thought he could afford $10.
When they got to the airport even Sara knew it wasn’t like airports she saw in magazines or on tv. It was just a dusty little strip with a wind-sock and a concrete building with a desk, some well-worn old chairs, a little tv on the wall and a couple of vending machines, one of which was out of order. There were a few little planes around and people were commenting on the crop duster and something that looked like it was lucky to have survived the War in the Pacific. The lady behind the desk took Pa’s $10 gave a ticket to Sara and one to Tina and pointed them to a plane in the middle of the runway.
Sara couldn’t believe her plane when she saw it. It was a two-seater, all battered and beaten up. She was sure there was duct tape holding things together, although she didn’t want to look too closely. She wasn’t the bravest person in the world, and although Tina was laughing and acting like she was having fun it was clear she was changing her mind, too. But, Pa said it would be alright and pushed them forward. She didn’t really think Pa wanted to kill them, and he would be sorry if something happened, but still she did wonder today.
It only got worse when they were greeted by Mick the pilot. He was someone that Ma would have described as paunchy, at best. He wore jeans, a cracked-leather jacket and a sweaty old baseball cap from a local team. He had a booming voice and a toothy grin and seemed really glad to have some customers. He got them seated and buckled in, bounced into his seat and took off down the dusty track he called a runway. The last thing she saw when she looked out the dirty little window was Pa smiling and waving. Then she closed her eyes.
Sometime between the circling of the airport and taking flight over tree tops and near clouds Sara began to relax a little. But then a terrible thing happened. Tina even held her hand so tight there wasn’t much circulation. The pilot started eating a balogna sandwich that his wife had probably made for him. He wadded the paper bag up and threw it into a corner, along with a rather large collection of bags and cans. He opened a can of Mountain Dew and took a long drink. And then he smiled that toothy grin and offered them some bar-b-q chips, which they politely declined.
But then the worst and most unbelievable thing happened. It haunts Sara to this day. With his booming, deep voice Mick began to sing. Not just any song, but “Call Me Irresponsible.” To this day the song gives her chills. She closed her eyes, put her hand that wasn’t being crushed by Tina over one ear and tried to block it all out. The nightmare so tinted through the sky and she feared she would never wake up.
Sara and Tina didn’t say much to Pa on the way home. Tina almost jumped out of the car while it was still moving when they got to her house. When they got home and Ma asked how it was Sara tried to get the circulation back in her hands and the song out of her head as she said “fine” and ran to her room. She heard Pa saying he thought they had a really good time and he was planning to take them again next year, especially if they could get that nice Mick to fly them around.