Flying by the seat of his pants

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 7, 2009

Truth is sometimes stranger — and more amusing –than fiction.

And it was certainly strange “fiction” when the whole nation watched as a shiny, silver balloon carrying a runaway six-year-old wibbled and wobbled high in the air over the rocky Colorado terrain.

After a couple of tense hours, the balloon finally fluttered to the ground revealing the truth that there was no little boy inside. The whole thing had been a hoax.

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Although there was mass relief that the little boy was alive and well, there were probably those who were a bit disappointed at the lack-luster turn of events.

But it was not that way years ago when a man from down around Rocky Head took to the sky in a runaway airplane.

Those who frequented Black’s Grocery in Brundidge can verify the story of the day “Uncle Clevester” flew. I’m going to tell the story just the way it was told to me and you can put it in your pipe and smoke it, as Uncle Clevester would say.

The story goes that Uncle Clevester had “rode in a car but he hadn’t never drove one.”

But he hadn’t ever “rode in no airplane and there he was up in the sky flyin’ one.”

Clevester hadn’t intended to solo that warm, sunny afternoon. In fact, he hadn’t even intended to go for a ride in an airplane. But some “hot dog” pilot in a two-seater airplane was giving rides to brave souls. Well, Clevester bridled his fear and climbed in and got strapped down.

What happened next is still unknown but, when the pilot was out winding the propeller to crank the airplane, it just took off … with Clevester aboard.

The pilot was hanging on the wing and hollering to Clevester who was gripping the wheel and gritting his teeth. The pilot held on for a distance but then dropped to the fast sinking ground.

Down the road and across the pasture, Clevester’s family was waiting to wave to him as he flew by on his first ever airplane ride.

When the plane came in view, a cheer went up from the family gathering and “everybody went to waving” but, to their surprise, the plane didn’t fly by. It went straight up and straight down and way up again and way down.

“Lord, have mercy,” cried Clevester’s wife, Pearlie May. “He’s a-scarin’ Vester to death. How come him a-doin’ such!”

About that time the pilot topped the terrace, waving his arms and shouting. It didn’t take Vester’s folk long to realize that he was in the airplane and the pilot was in the pasture.

Pearlie May fainted dead away.

Now, you can imagine the confusion and hysteria that occurred in the next little while as Vester’s folks watched the plane go up and down and around and around.

Pearlie May was taken to the house and put to bed with an ice bag on her head. The preacher was called to be by her side.

Men hopped in their trucks and tried to follow the airplane but with Vester at the controls it was impossible to know which way the airplane was going next. Search parties were quickly organized to locate the plane when it went down.

A long time later, one of Vester’s friends was searching along a logging road and saw a form coming toward him. At first, he thought it was a haint or a ghost or something.

He hid in the bushes and, when the form got closer, he thought it looked a lot like Vester.

“Vester, is that you or is you a ghost?” he called out.

“You idiot, it’s me,” Vester yelled. “I fell out of the sky but I ain’t dead yet.”

The man ran out of the bushes and hugged Vester and kissed him and took him home where folks were already gathering for his wake.

Just imagine the euphoria when Clevester climbed out of that old pickup truck. Everybody was laughing and crying and praising the Good Lord for sparing Clevester’s life. Everybody except Pearlie May. She was too weak to get out of bed but rose when Clevester finally said “Get up, woman, and get supper on the table.”

Clevester said he was so scared at first but then reconciled himself to the fact that he was probably a dead duck, so he just let the airplane come down. Luckily for him, the airplane came down in a swampy area and the trees cushioned the landing.

Clevester was cut, scratched and badly bruised but he was alive and that was all that mattered.

He vowed that, from that day on, he would never ride in anything that he couldn’t get out and change the tire on.

And, to his dying day, he didn’t.

Jaine Treadwell is the features editor for the Messenger. She can be reached at