Head in the clouds

Published 3:00 am Saturday, August 1, 2015

Amelia Earhart was my idol, my hero, my alter ego. She was everything my little frizzy-headed, knock-kneed, snaggletoothed self wanted to be.

Daddy was in the Army Air Corps during World War II, so I had almost everything I needed to be Amelia Earhart — a leather pilot’s cap with goggles, a wool scarf to tie around my neck, a heavy leather jacket and boots and gloves lined with rabbit’s fur.

All I needed was an airplane. Mother Nature provided me with that.

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While we were gone to Eufaula to visit Aunt Eleanor, a storm came and blew down a big pecan tree in our backyard. The minute we got home, I saw that an airplane had landed. The tree’s huge root system was a perfect cockpit, with all kinds of sticks to guide the airplane and guns to shoot the Red Barron. I was Amelia Earhart, and I was off across the ocean.

My pecan tree plane was the closest thing to an airplane that I knew about until I was in junior high school. My uncle was the ABC director, and my cousin, Net, and I spent the day in Montgomery with him. We got to eat at Morrison’s Cafeteria, which was a big treat for us. After dinner, Uncle James had a surprise for us. He was going to let us go up in the ABC airplane and help the pilot look for moonshine stills.

I knew right off Mama wouldn’t let me do that. I knew, too, that Daddy would say, “Go ahead, just don’t tell your mama.”

I had waited all my life to fly in an airplane. I was not going to miss that great adventure. For an afternoon, I was Amelia Earhart, aviator.

I don’t remember anything much about my first airplane ride. I was too busy being Amelia Earhart and getting the feel of being in the sky to notice the tiny world below me.

The next airplane ride I took was several years later when I was a college student working at Yellowstone National Park.

As YP workers, we got from place to place by hitching rides with tourists and that was not a very reliable way to travel. So, when my friend, Lois, and I were invited to visit former YP girls at their homes in Salt Lake City, we decided to fly via Frontier Airlines.

I thought the airlines were so named because the planes flew across the Frontier. Never did I think that the plane we boarded was the first plane to fly across the Frontier.

The airplane looked more like a 50-gallon oil drum than anything that could sprout wings and fly. The seats were salvaged from a ditched school bus and anything that was not tied down bounced around and rolled around.

“We’ll probably have some turbulence between here and Salt Lake City so you might want to buckle your seatbelts,” the pilot’s voice echoed off the tin walls.

I would have buckled my seatbelt, if I’d had one.

The ride was a little bumpy. I never found the fillings from two of my teeth. But I did find the barrette that was jarred out of my hair on takeoff.

We were “cruising” at 3000 feet then, suddenly and with no warning, fell to 1000 feet, climbed back to 3000 feet and fell again. We climbed again and fell again. This time, the pilot took the opportunity of being so close to the ground to just go ahead and land.

When we exited the antique plane, I fell to my knees and kissed the floor leaving my lips forever imprinted in Avon Ruby Red at the airport in Salt Lake City.

Strangely, I never thought of Amelia Earhart one time during the entire flight from Billings to Salt Lake City. But as I turned to catch a parting glace at the Frontier oil can, I remembered what Amelia Earhart said, “Adventure is worthwhile.”

All I had to say was “Bah! Humbug!”