Just call me Amelia Earhart

Published 5:54 pm Friday, July 2, 2010

Mama didn’t know I was up in an airplane. If she had known, I wouldn’t have been.

Uncle James was the director of the ABC Board and he had made arrangements for me and my cousin to fly with an agent who was scanning the countryside for moonshine stills.

I’d never been in an airplane before and had no idea that I would be that day. But it was a turning point in my life. I became Amelia Earhart.

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I had read her biography in school and thought that she was the bravest, most daring, most adventuresome person in the world. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to fly across the Atlantic Ocean all by yourself. The very thought of it made me shutter.

The highest I had ever been was to the top of the water tower on schoolhouse hill in Brundidge. That was on a double-dog dare and I promised the Good Lord if He would just let me get down without killing myself, I’d never do anything that stupid again.

But flying in an airplane didn’t seem as stupid as climbing a water tower. And, too, it wasn’t against the law. It was against Mama and that could be worse.

The world from the sky was more amazing than I could have ever imagined. I could see why Amelia Earhart was so fascinated with flying.

I don’t know if the ABC agent spotted any moonshine stills that day. I just know it was the most exciting day of my life to that point.

The next time I flew, it was in on Frontier Airlines from Seattle to Salt Lake City. The plane was evidently the first to fly across the Frontier. It was a tin can with wings and the inspiration for the song, “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” Again, I promised the Lord, if He would just get me down from there, He would never catch me on anything that I couldn’t get out and change the tires on.”

But then I had to put a tag on that promise. If one of my children was far, from home … maybe.

Forget that it’s the safest way to travel. That doesn’t matter when lightning is flashing all around you and the plane is dropping and shaking and rain is whipping and you fully expect to see that terrified face from the Twilight Zone at the window. You can’t slam on brakes and get out and run to safety. There’s not one thing you can do except pray and promise the Good Lord, “If you’ll just get me down from here …”

That happened to me twice. Once when our plane skidded to the very end of the runway during a rainstorm in New Orleans and again in Atlanta when radio control brought the plane I was praying in right in on the tail of another plane. Our plane shot straight up like a rocket and every face became a model for Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”

“That’s it, Lord. Never again. I don’t care where my children are. I’m going Greyhound.”

But deep down inside was a bit of bravery that made me want to be like Amelia Earhart. Flying wild and free above the clouds, with a leather cap on my head, my scarf trailing behind me in the wind and the sun on my face. Just like a bird in flight. What a feeling that must be. But I wasn’t a bird. I was a chicken so that was a chance I wouldn’t take and a feeling that I would never know.

But the chance did come. My friend, David Holmes, called me to say a friend of his was coming up on his gyrocopter – a two seater — and, if I wanted, I could go up. David had one of those gyrocopter that’s nothing more than a flying bicycle with an eggbeater for a propeller. He would fly around on that contraption like he had good sense, which he didn’t to my notion.

“It’s the closest thing to heaven that you’ll ever experience here on earth,” he would say. So when he presented that ‘heavenly” opportunity to me, I decided that, if Amelia could cross the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane all alone, surely I could, for one time, in my life be like Amelia.

But the morning of, David called with the disappointing news. His friend was unable to make the flight because of “bad” weather. I gave up the idea of ever flying wild and free until last weekend at the Catch a Smile Bass Tournament.

My heart soared as I watched an ultra light take off from the water at Campbell lakes and fly through the sky like a bird, wild and free. The Amelia in me resurfaced. What would that be like? Up there in the sky with nothing surrounding you but the wind and the sun beaming down on your face and the earth far beneath you. It must be, like David said, the closest thing to heaven. What if I could be up there?

In that moment, a voice came from behind me, “You want to ride?”

My heart skipped a beat. “Sure. I do.”

Just how Kenny Campbell knew that I was standing there soaring with my feet flat on the ground, I don’t know.

When I climbed in the plane, if butterflies could have lifted a plane into flight, I had enough of them. But once I got buckled in and the earphones on my head, I was transformed. I was Amelia Earhart.

If there are words to describe the feeling of soaring like a bird, I don’t have knowledge of them. Flying in an airplane is one thing. Flying wild and free like a bird is another. And, the funny thing was that I didn’t even have to make any promises to the Good Lord. I just thanked him – and Kenny Campbell – for giving me wings and one heck of a heavenly flight. I was Amelia Earhart.