Lucky — Nope, make that blessed

I’m not one to whine. Well maybe I am, but this year has been challenging for us, to say the least. Several of our family members have decided that the Pearly Gates hold more appeal than this rat race on Earth. They packed up and left in about two week intervals, so I can honestly say that my meals for about six weeks were garnered from hospital vending machines or generous Southern spreads laid out in the back rooms of funeral homes.

Vending machines and hospital cafeterias are set up solely to gain more business. Their offerings are deadly, and if you’re a country-raised Southerner, you know that funerals are events where mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins console the family and each other with food. I was well comforted, and I try to think well-meaning thoughts now that I can no longer find my waistline.

Around the time that Sun ‘n Fun was to take place, we decided our run of family bad luck was at it’s end, but we were wrong when we had to turn back and rush to the side of yet another family member in critical condition. This time it was our 16-year-old nephew Adam. His four-wheeler flipped and mashed his head. It wasn’t even running. How unlucky — and unlikely — is that?

Adam survived his mashed head ordeal. In fact, his doctors and specialists deemed his recovery miraculous. In the process of transporting him to his outpatient rehabilitation sessions in Atlanta, I also learned that transplanted folks from the North do not use the verb “”mashed”" when referring to heads or any other body part. They don’t use it as an adjective or adverb, either. I tried to educate them and told them their communication skills would blossom if they just stopped and listened to the voices around them.

My waistline became history during Adam’s recovery. Family members actually brought homemade chocolate cake to the waiting room, much to the consternation of the hospital volunteers. “”You can’t eat in here,”" they’d say. We’d nod and look repentant, then ask someone to pass the cornbread as they turned to walk away. My nerves, my figure and, finally, my health suffered. By the time Adam was home, I was wheezing with a good dose of bronchitis, compounded by an asthmatic reaction to pollen.

So, I’m fat, I’m gray (my store-bought hair color faded during our tribulations) and I wheeze. Little flying has been done and a frustrated female pilot at home is not a scenario the Old Man wishes to endure for long.

Rains alleviated some of the pollen and antibiotics controlled the bronchitis. As long as I kept the load light, being fat and gray were not obstacles to my being airborne. If that were the case, a lot of my peers would remain on the ground. The sticky valves on Lester were repaired promptly, and I finally put five tach hours on him in two days to ensure that the repairs were on par.

It was important to confirm my airplane was running properly because another gentleman promised me a good time, and I had every intention of taking him up on his offer. Dale Faux’s promise was simple: “”Our goal is not to be the biggest event in the world, simply the best.”" I think that sounded like what I needed and the Mid-Atlantic Fly-In was the place I needed to be in mid-May. I announced to the family that all suffering and funerals can be experienced without my presence during that time.

As it turns out, we didn’t get to fly due to weather. Instead we loaded Keely and our bags into the old Honda and drove to Lumberton, N.C., with about a dozen or so of our best buddies. Instead of a flying adventure, we had a road trip, and our mode of transportation didn’t stop us from having a great time. The event offered a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere that appealed to all, from the youngest to the oldest.

I enjoyed the airplanes and shows. I enjoyed the camaraderie. I enjoyed the ice cream vendor. But most of all I enjoyed the kindness from the volunteers who made us glad that we unloaded two Luscombes and switched to Plan B. Several months of stress had taken its toll on me, and I was not the sharpest tack in the box when I arrived at Lumberton, but as I was sitting on the flight line on Friday night, a little miracle happened.

We were watching my favorite formation flight team, the Aeroshell Team, start the night show when my friend, Johnny, whispered, “”Would you look at that.”" In the fading twilight, four T-6s, in tight formation and lights ablaze, were headed our way. The ethereal sight took my breath away and for a small moment in time the world faded and there was nothing on this Earth but them and me. In that moment, the thought popped into my head: They look like “”the angels come to take me home.”"

A sweet peace settled around my heart and found a home there. When I left Lumberton, it went with me.

In the following weeks, a box of sable brown hair color restored my youthful looks. The heat and humidity stifled any mass pollination, and my feet became familiar again with an old jogging trail. I’ve jogged eight straight days, have worked up to two miles and have established that fat chicks can run. They can fly, too. At one time, I would have said that I’m lucky, but I know better now. I’m blessed.

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