Ode to our days in the sun

As Sun ‘n Fun 2010 prepares to kick, our Short Final columnist Deb McFarland reminisces about past fly-ins:

If I were feeling perky, I would quip that the sun is shining, the air is warming and spring is finally here. It’s kind of hard to be perky after this past winter with its days of dreary cold and persistent wind. Instead, I feel more like demanding, “Spring, what the heck took you so long?”

Perhaps I’m a tad more curmudgeon than I thought.

My annoyance aside, April is here and the beginning of fly-in season is upon us. During our years as empty nesters, this meant flying down to Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland for the annual aviation rite of spring. For many of us at JZP, we’d spend weeks preparing our airplanes and our bodies for a week of sun and airplanes in lovely central Florida.

Since Keely came along, however, I can’t seem to convince our local board of education that the county’s spring break should correspond with this event. In fact, they don’t seem to mind that their scheduled breaks don’t correspond with any of the fly-ins that the McFarland clan enjoys, including Oshkosh, the big daddy of them all.

They don’t consider these type of events educational field trips, either. There are no excused absences for flying, only illness of the child or death in the immediate family. One can only kill off parents and siblings once before suspicions are raised, and Keely has already suffered the plague, malaria, typhoid and H1N1. We don’t dare push our luck.

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So while there is no Sun ’n Fun in our immediate future, we are still traveling down to the Panhandle for a few days of beach bumming and a stop at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. We even hope to catch the Blue Angels practicing their air show on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning while we’re there.

All this reflection of Sun ’n Funs past got me thinking about the years the Old Man and I flew there with friends, camped under our wing, savored the sounds of hundreds of airplanes and enjoyed the perpetual Florida breeze. There were the occasional wildfires, a storm or two and sometimes the temps would dip precariously low, but we survived and, come the next January, we were ready to start planning our next grand Lakeland adventure.

I recently reviewed some of those columns I wrote during the fly-in and contemplated on how time has changed my life’s perspective. I was always excited about getting my airplane and my body in shape for the spring, and in one column I offered this advice: “Two months before our departure date, I try on my shorts. Ladies, we have all learned the hard way that this is not something we should leave to the last minute. Too many females have fallen into despair after realizing their zippers will not zip unless drastic measures are taken. So, if my shorts are too tight or just plain impossible to get into, the diet starts now.”

Today, I don’t consider tight shorts a catastrophe. I just go out and buy bigger ones. Diets are for young women. I don’t mind looking like the granny I am.

“By early March, I begin to consider my hairstyle and color for the event. I try to determine my mood and objective for this particular year. Do I want to look young and sassy, sophisticated and glamorous, or go for the easiest style for a week of very primitive camping?”

In the years since that bit of fluff was written, I have found a solution for hairstyle dilemmas as well. It’s called a hat. Just wear it and no one can tell if your hair is styled properly or not.

“This year I decided I needed highlights to make me look vibrant. They turned out vibrant, all right. They were orange. I had brownish-gray hair with orange stripes. Yes, I looked like my neighbor’s tabby. It took the whole month to get that little boo-boo worked out. Good thing I didn’t wait until the night before!”

See, the hat trick works. It’s safer and cheaper than hair products gone awry.

“If I can give any Sun ’n Fun newbie a word of advice, it would be: Don’t buy new shoes. Your feet will thank you and, besides, those jogger’s specials won’t be so special when you return home. Wear your most comfortable and worn pair, that way when they turn black, you won’t care.”

I forgot to mention that one’s ankles turn black as well. I can remember departing Lakeland after several days of airplane camping in the dusty, black dirt. Our first fuel stop would be in northern Florida or southern Georgia. Often that waypoint would be my first contact with a flushing toilet and a mirror in nearly a week. I experienced an odd mixture of total delight for one luxury and abject horror for the other.

“However, new flops for lounging around the campsite are a must. Their color and style are of the utmost importance, as they will reflect your personality and sense of style. Just remember toenail maintenance. The sudden appearance of winter toenails in bright sunshine can be a shock to any system.”

At my age, I’m just glad I still have toenails, although I must admit I still have a fondness for the new spring colors.

“The night before we leave, I paint my toenails. Not because it makes me look like an aviation goddess (of course, they may do that), but because it helps hide the dirt I’m bound to get under them. If I can’t see it, I won’t worry about it.”

That’s good advice even after all these years. I think I will paint my nails in honor of spring’s return after all, but it will be hard to choose the best Revlon color for the occasion: Plum Seduction, Tropical Temptation or Red Hot Tamale.

On the other hand, if I choose Silver Screen, I won’t clash with Lester’s polish.

Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. She can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.

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