I’ve always wanted to write, and when I graduated from high school, I had every intention of attending my local college and pursuing the possibilities.
But on orientation day, for whatever reason, I didn’t go. Instead, I applied for a job and started working with a young man who would give me my first airplane ride in an old 1946 Luscombe 8A. I fell in love with the man that day. In the years to come, I would fall in love with the plane.
I finally made it to college at the grand old age of 27. I retired from chicken farming, a challenging job that paid for my house and my college tuition, and taught me that there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t do. I started classes full-time at a small private college that was located just six miles from my home.
Being an English major with a minor in history meant that I would write, write and write some more. I wrote myself to Valedictorian at the first school and Magna Cum Laude at next, but it wasn’t until my last English class that one of my professors thought I had talent and wanted to talk with me about my future in writing. It was too late. After seven years of farming followed by four years of school while working a full-time job at the college those last two years, I didn’t care. I was tired.
In fact, I didn’t even attend my graduation ceremony from the last school. Instead, that Saturday in June found me in Morraine, Ohio, attending the 1993 Luscombe Fly-In. The Old Man (who was not so old then) was nearly finished with the restoration of that Luscombe that won my heart. We drove to the fly-in so I could check out Luscombe interior options. I did and it was fun.
With school behind me, I was able to spend some time with him in his workshop while he finished the Luscombe. I learned to rib stitch. I bucked rivets. I picked out upholstery fabric, and all the while I studied my husband, the taildragger pilot, and thought what an interesting character he would be in a story about this illogical obsession with an old airplane.
I found my inspiration in that old workshop and started typing my first story on an old Brother word processor. All I needed was an audience for it. Taildragger Man found that when he put a copy of The Southern Aviator in my lap. “Send your story here,” he said.
That same pilot was so impressed that his wife’s story was published that he went out and bought her one of those fancy computers that had the new hot operating system called Windows 95. Even though I have about 800 pages of copy since that first submission, I’ve yet to pay for that machine with my writing.
Even so, the story was a hit. Apparently, at that time, there were as many interesting airport characters around the south as there were at Pickens County Airport in Jasper, Georgia. Fodder for stories abounded, and my readers didn’t mind that my writer’s voice was often tinged with a southern accent.
I did have to learn that more is not better and that formal writing doesn’t fit a rag page or the audience.
And I believe that is the most important rule in writing. Know your audience. Most of mine are obsessive recreational pilots. They love flying. They love their airplanes, and they know that the industry often leaves them without a voice. I wanted to be that voice.
You can write about pilots without being one, but you can’t make fun of them without becoming one yourself. One day the Old Man landed our C-172 in a less than delicate manner. The porch at JZP was full of onlookers. I mumbled that I was going to have to put a bag over my head after that landing. That comment didn’t sit well with him.
I flew my check ride in August 1997. It took a year to complete my training with family issues, instructor issues and weather issues. All the while, I wrote about my problems in obtaining that ever-elusive goal. My readers empathized.
I flew over 600 hours in that C-172. When the Old Man later taught me to fly his Luscombe, I fell in love with flying all over again. I bought my own Luscombe 8E that came to me already named Lester. We became good flying friends.
The Southern Aviator was bought and absorbed by General Aviation News. For the most part, this national audience didn’t mind my southern voice. I continued to find new characters and new places that made filling the page known as Short Final easy. In fact, I didn’t look for stories. They always found me.
I can’t say that any one Short Final column is my favorite. Some made me smile. Some made me cry. I did throw in a rant or two. I have met some really interesting people, made lasting friendships, and enjoyed many gatherings of like-minded individuals who share this love of flight.
Now, after nearly 20 years of writing a monthly aviation column and 1,600 hours of flying an old taildragger, I have become one of those airport characters that have so often filled that page. I think it’s time to make way for a fresher mind and maybe a new perspective.
I’m not going completely away. I’ll still check in from time to time. I have new fodder for columns. We are removing our old, tired farm buildings, and I am building my Old Man a new metal building that will house a workshop/man cave/garage for the Model A and tractor. Who knows what we will hatch up in there?
So until next time, here’s wishing you blue skies and calm air.