Born on his father’s birthday

Eric and Dad at the old Atlanta airport, sometime in the mid 1970's

Eric and Dad at the old Atlanta airport, sometime in the mid 1970’s

“He was born on his father’s birthday, a gift that keeps on giving.”
George F. Will, writing about his eldest son Jon

This month I pay tribute to the two men who, other than my husband, have had the most lasting influence in my life.  My father was born in April, and his first child was a son born on his birthday.  As George Will can attest, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Daddy had the good fortune to grow up right along with the aviation industry, first seeing a biplane during his childhood in the early 1930’s, learning to fly in the 1940’s, going on to train Air Force pilots to fly during the 1950’s, and eventually retiring as captain on a wide body airliner after over 30 years with Eastern Air Lines.  I really can’t think of any other job I’d rather my father have had; there were no down sides to it that I could ever see (other than occasionally having him gone on holidays).  I grew up listening to dinner table conversations about places he had been that day; New York or the Caribbean or the west coast.  More than once, we dropped everything (including school) to take off for a quick getaway.  The world always seemed small enough to be a friendly place and accessible enough to become familiar.

Although my sister, brothers and I are close in age, my older brother often took on himself the role of a second father to his younger sisters and brother. While this could be exasperating at times, it was also comforting.  No one was surprised when he followed his father’s contrails into the sky, first as an F-100 pilot, then as an airline pilot for Northwest.  As my father did, he gave me the opportunity to travel on passes (including the trip I wrote about here) but more importantly, brought back stories of his experiences that widened my world considerably.

I worked for USAir (formerly Piedmont) for five years, although I never served on a flight crew.  The airport gates and tarmac were familiar to me, the airline lingo a vocabulary I learned from birth.  I have watched the changes in the industry with interest and a bit of nostalgic sadness when I remember how special it used to be to fly.  It’s now almost universal to talk of airlines, and flying itself, with contempt; to complain about the many irritations that have been an inevitable result of deregulation and the harsh reality of global terrorism.

As for me, I will never completely lose the sense of wonder I had as a very young child, looking down on fluffy white clouds lit up with brilliant sunlight, thinking to myself, “my Daddy works up here.”  The next time you are on a flight, I hope you will be able to close your mind to the many irritations (crowded seats, full overhead bins, repetitious announcements and runway delays) and realize for a minute that you are able to do, often and without much thought, something your great-great-grandparents could scarcely have imagined.  For me, flight is a gift, one that keeps on giving.

Seven years ago today it was Easter Sunday. Because my posts for Easter weekend were themed to coincide with that holiday, I am holding them for Easter weekend this year, and using the posts of those days, April 10-12, for this weekend. So this is the post originally published on April 12, 2013, and on April 12 of this year I’ll post the March 30, 2013 post. As usual, the original post and comments will be linked below under related posts.

8 Comments

  1. Dear Julia,
    It IS a wonder to look down at the tops of clouds, or see the sunrise over the ocean from 30,000 feet! Even after I started traveling weekly for work, I still request the widow seat. I’m amazed that so few people seem to cover those spaces. Even after I started watching movies on most flights, I still keep my shade open just a little, so I can look out at the beauty of the earth and sky below me.
    One disappointment for me was in flying from Chicago to Tokyo, a couple asked me to trade my north-facing window in business class for a south-facing window. The reason that this was an issue was because rather than shades to pull up or down, the entire window could be made opaque or transparent via a remote control, and these long flights, which take place during daylight bringing you into the following morning across the International Date Line, are conducted as though they were overnight flights. So after dinner, everyone dims their window and goes to sleep. What I really wanted to do was peek out at the terrain, over which I may never fly again: the Aleutian Islands, Kamchatka, the Bearing Sea…. Sadly, there was no way to look out my window without flooding the entire cabin with blazing sunlight, so I un-dimmed (?) the window slightly, to at least see a glimpse of North Russian terrain. Maybe it’s good that I had the South window. If I’d had a North window, I may not have slept at all!

    • Well that’s what you get for not flying coach! 😀 I can just hear some snob saying “Looking out the airplane window is sooooo Middle Clahss…” 😀 Well what do they know? Seriously, I’ll definitely keep that in mind if I ever take a flight across the date line. I would tend to want a seat that turns into a bed and I might get grouchy if someone flooded the cabin with light, but if I wanted more to get a good view (though I wouldn’t be able to tell what I was seeing if someone didn’t explain it to me) I might just sit in coach or else ask for a window that faces in whichever direction I could look out my window without making anybody mad. The way things are going on flights these days, you might actually get attacked for doing something like that.

      • I’m not sure if it was better, or worse, to know what we were flying over – there was a flight tracker program available, so I could see the names of the little towns we were flying over in Alaska. Then I could go on Google maps on my phone, and look at some of them. Over Russia I just tried to sleep, although I really wanted to see out.

        • Yes, I find those flight tracker programs only mildly interesting. I think the kid in me wants to imagine what I’m seeing and maybe add some fictional enhancements 🙂 to go with reality. I love it when we are low enough that I can see cars creeping along like bugs, and imagine who might be driving those cars and where they are going.

  2. Chris

    Julia, great post. Wow! Really enjoyed all the comments from 7 years ago. Not on the same day, but my family has a few birthdays close in November. My brother was born on the 3rd, my uncle on the 4th, and my Dad on the 5th. Then, I waited a few days for the 8th of November. So, did I understand between the lines? Were you and Jeff born on the same day?
    Cheers!

    • Jeff and I had the same birthday, but I was two years older than he was. His sister and cousin also had that same birthday. People sometimes joked that he married me because I had the right birthday. 🙂 I always loved having someone who had my same birthday, because even as a very youthful person, I never liked birthdays. I always felt like a monkey in the zoo when people sang Happy Birthday to me. With Jeff, there was always someone else there to share the focus. Now I pretty much think as little as I can about my birthday. I actually like being officially a year older, but the day itself is as sad now as our anniversary, so I think about it as little as possible.

  3. Dorothy

    The first time I flew anywhere was on our honeymoon, nearly 58 years ago now! Neil and I drove from Sydney to Brisbane and then a domestic flight to further north and then by boat to South Mole Island on the Great Barrier Reef. I remember being so excited on the plane. In the late 70s we flew to New Zealand with our three children. This was the beginning of more trips with the children the last one to California and Mexico in 1979. This I believe captured their imagination and all have travelled to and lived in many different countries. I can just imagine how as a little girl you loved to hear stories about different destinations. How wonderful that must have been. After this world crisis Julia I know you’ll keep travelling.

    • Dorothy, I hope that someday I will be able to travel again. I had no fewer than FOUR trips already booked through June (one to Europe, including a cruise, one to England for the Chelsea flower show, one to Omaha for the Berkshire-Hathaway meeting, and one to Alaska, including another cruise). But none of it was meant to be. My friend and I have a trip to Australia penciled in for next year, but who knows whether we will be able to go. It’s certainly near the top of my list, though. And a friend of ours who has traveled the world as a tour guide tells me that New Zealand is the most beautiful place on earth. Do you still travel much now? If you ever come to the USA, I hope you’ll let me know so we can meet in person!

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