SHORT FINAL By DEB McFARLAND
Today, the man I married nearly 30 years ago, the man who suffered through my flight training and later patiently taught me to fly his Luscombe 8A, retired. After 35 years of service to the federal government, my best friend has come home to stay.
It’s not a coincidence that a young Henry McFarland learned to fly the same year he became an engineering trainee. His boss and mentor with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Felton Flournoy, flew Stearmans in World War II. He never advanced to more complex aircraft since the war ended, and he didn’t carry his new skills into civilian life.
So while he and Henry traveled the roads of rural Georgia servicing the farming community, they talked. They talked about the job. They talked about their lives and the world in general, but after a while, they exhausted their knowledge of noteworthy topics and decided to spice up their days of roaming the roads in the country. They decided to take flight lessons.
The challenge was on. Since Flournoy had already flown, he soloed in seven hours in the Cessna 150 that the flight school at the Perry-Houston County Airport used in 1975. Henry wasn’t far behind him. He soloed in nine, and since his brain matter was still young and pliable, he aced the written as well.
Starting in July, he flew on his lunch breaks, after work and whenever time allowed. By September, he was a private pilot. Flournoy followed shortly thereafter. Now, they had something to talk about. For Henry, flying was something new. For Flournoy, the flying he learned in a Stearman in 1945 and the flying he learned in a little Cessna in 1975 were worlds apart.
Almost immediately, Henry bought his own straight-tail Cessna 150 that could whisk them away on grand adventures or short hops, but that soon changed when he was appointed project engineer on a detail that would last well over a year.
Wherever he was sent to work, he took his airplane with him. He sold the C-150 and immediately regretted it. He bought a C-140 and, later in 1978, a 1946 Luscombe 8A. I guess with that airplane, it was love. Since then, he has bought and sold an airplane or two, but that old Luscombe has remained with him for life.
By 1980, this energetic 30 year old had lived in five cities working multiple engineering projects, and I was lucky that one of those projects sent him my way. In December of that year, he gave me my first airplane ride in the Luscombe from an old tar and gravel strip in Eastman, Ga. It was breathtaking, and it was probably during that flight that I decided I would keep him.
Women often think they know a man’s mind, but in reality, it takes about 20 years for us to understand that the man we marry is going to be the same man we have down the road, unless we exchange him for a different model. They aren’t going to change. I could live with my Old Man’s quirks as long as he could live with mine, but I just didn’t really comprehend until later that I didn’t just marry the man. I married the airplane, too.
In our relationship, there was, and still is, another woman.
In the years that followed, I didn’t mind packing up and moving with less than a week’s notice because he had found a house for us to rent with its own grass strip. I didn’t mind driving the chase car as he moved the airplane to another airport and another job detail.
I didn’t mind taking a flight after work or washing the airplane on the weekend. I didn’t mind when he took a position that was permanent. I didn’t mind that later I couldn’t always go with him to the airport because of kids, house, farm or family obligations.
However, when he brought his girl home to recover her wings and decided a full restoration was needed, I did mind. All the cooing over her disassembled parts was troubling. That he spent most of his time in his workshop working on this airplane started to bug me.
When we did have a spare day to do something together, he would recommend shopping. Wow, what an agreeable man. He wouldn’t tell me until we were well on our way that we were going “shopping” at Alexander Aeroplane, which later became Aircraft Spruce.
In my mind, this airplane was given a name, and it was not a flattering one. She was the one who called to my man with a siren’s sweet song. She was the one who filled his thoughts, and she was the one who claimed his time and attention. She was…just an airplane.
I finally realized that I could have my man back from his temporary insanity if I helped him get the job done. By then the kids were in college, and I was retired from farming. Why not help get this airplane back in the air, so I could have the evenings and weekends with my husband?
I never dreamed I would work on an old Luscombe and catch the aviation bug with as much or more fervor.
We laugh as we reminisce about those days in his shop. I learned that I can quilt just fine, but I can’t remember how to tie the knot on the wing stitch once I step away from the work. I learned that Poly Tac will make you happy if proper ventilation isn’t used. I learned that my man’s needs are simple. Eat, sleep and fly. I learned it is better to fly together than to be apart.
Our 10 years as empty nesters were filled with flying adventures. I learned to fly. We bought and sold an airplane or two. We became experts at airplane camping. He purchased the airplane of his dreams, a Cessna 195B. As a federal employee, we could only afford a project, but it was his just the same. This project was a restoration, not a repair. Still, disassembling, checking, priming, painting and replacing take a lot of time and money. It was like old times, except I embraced this project because it was mine as well.
Then it happened, another transfer, a promotion, but a transfer nonetheless. Were we shocked? Yes. Were we unprepared? No. After so many job details, when we finally put down roots, we were there to stay. I farmed until our property and home were paid in full just in case this scenario happened again. When it did, we looked upon it like another adventure.
Although the C-195 project was put on hold, we handled the change so well that family and airport friends couldn’t tell that our life situation had changed. We left on Sunday evening for our work home and came back Thursday or Friday as the work environment allowed. E-mail and cell phones closed the distance and kept us connected.
Then Keely came into our lives, and we had to make some tough choices. Our family was at home. Our second family, the airport gang at JZP, was at home. The school where our other kids and family attended was one mile from home. A child needs home, and we wanted her to be close to those she knows and loves.
So Henry made the sacrifice. On Sunday evenings, he left all that was warm and loving to him and on Fridays he returned. Again, cell phones and e-mail kept him connected, but Sundays were hard in our family. We both learned not to think past the moment, and by late afternoon, all emotion was held in check, as yet another parting was at hand.
It was a bittersweet time. We had a job at a time when many folks didn’t. We had our health when many folks didn’t. We had our children and grandchildren, and we had Keely, who brought so much love to us. It’s hard to complain when one has been so blessed. Still, I wanted such a simple thing. I wanted the pleasure of waking up and looking into twinkling green eyes.
This morning I did just that, and the effect was ruined when the mouth attached asked, “What’s for breakfast?”
Retirement is one thing, but coming home to retire is another. Henry has eight years of honey-dos waiting for him. Still, his workshop has been pimped out with his apartment furniture. A recliner sits beside the C-195 and an old wood heater. I’m not sure how much productivity will suffer with an old TV and DVD/VCR player in the mix. But we’ve learned from friends that tomorrow is often a better time to work than today.
We shall see. We shall see.
Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport (JZP) in Georgia. She can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.