The day Vernie flew

Published 2:00 am Saturday, July 4, 2015

Every time I start to re-tell a story, my children roll their eyes and make long, loud sighing sounds.

“Not again.”

But I tell it anyway. So, I was very pleased when a gentleman asked me if I remembered a story that Grace Black told at Black’s Grocery Store some long years ago.

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I remembered. Here’s the story of the day Vernie flew, just the way it was told to me.

Vernie of Rocky Head 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.”

Vernie 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, so Vernie 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 Vernie aboard.

The pilot hung onto the wing and hollered to Vernie who was gripping the wheel and gritting his teeth. But the pilot could hold on only for a few seconds before he had to drop to the ground.

Down the road and across the pasture, Vernie’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 Vernie’s wife, Pearlie May. “That man’s a-scarin’ Vernie 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 Vernie’s family but an instant to realize that he was in the airplane and the pilot was in the pasture.

Pearlie May fainted dead away.

You can only imagine the confusion and hysteria that occurred in the next little while as Vernie’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 Vernie 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.

Some time later, one of Vernie’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. He hid in the bushes and, when the form got closer, he thought it looked a lot like Vernie.

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

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

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

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

Vernie 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.

That’s the story, the true story, of the day Vernie flew.