DARLIND DAVIS: Airplane Rides With Uncle Jim
My Uncle Jim was a unique character.
An avid prankster, he contrived situations to test the patience of his brothers and friends each day of his life, once putting a pot of warm water next to brother George, asleep on the couch, dipping his hand in it, to see if it would make him pee.
Gales of laughter woke George who chased him around the barnyard, onto the roof, finally landing in the hay. Granddad was furious, so the story goes.
"You know how Jim is, and he is not going to change," said Granddad to George. "And you," to a contrite Jim, "what ever possessed you to do that? Shake hands. We won't have any grudges in this family."
Jim was short and compact like a boxer. With Popeye-like forearms, he could smack a golf ball past all the others in the scratch group at his club. During the war he wrote to Daddy that he had just played behind a "sensational 16-year-old golfer" in the local Calcutta. "This kid is going to be great," he wrote, "he is from nearby Latrobe, and his name is Arnie Palmer."
Redheaded Jim was quick to show his emotions. His weathered face seemed to be conveying a devilish smile that seemed to warn us that "something's up."
A ventriloquist, he liked to tease people by saying ridiculous things that seemed to be coming from another part of the room, sounding like a man, a woman, or a child. We watched him tease waitresses or clerks, calling to them from afar, "Hey Midge, Hey Miii--ddd--gge, come over heeerrrrreee!" They would excuse themselves and go to the back of the restaurant looking for the imaginary caller.
No one would ever forget him. Dad would meet people on the street who would say, "Is that your brother, the guy who throws his voice?" He owned a wooden dummy. He manipulated little strings and rings through a hole in the dummy's back. My cousins and I loved to sneak upstairs to open the trunk and pay homage to the dummy.
A successful businessman, he was able to buy a two-seater airplane in 1959 so he could spend his leisure time soaring above the Appalachians. Sunday afternoons he took to the sky.
We lived on a golf course about 20 miles away, so he would often land on the long par five atop a plateau over-looking town -- perfect landing strip. He'd buzz by a couple of times and Dad would point up to exclaim proudly, "There's Jim!"
I would beg my folks to let me go up for a ride. They would send me back and forth like a pingpong ball to ask each of them. Mother was always reticent, so Dad would say "If your Mother says it's OK, then it's OK."
Jim would belt me in the back seat behind him, and we would be weightlessly airborne as the fairway ended. We took a few circles above town.
"Where's your school?" he would say, and I would point to the bell tower on the state college campus and, spot the lab school next to it. We would buzz down closer to see the dirt spots on the softball field and the playground.
The trees looked like little broccoli florets and the ponds shone with reflections of pine trees and shrubs. From the tiny plane, they looked like big puddles. The kids at school wouldn't believe me that I was up in an airplane above the brick school just the day before. It did seem incredible, even to me, at the time.
We bonded together on those rides. In silence, we shared the exhilaration of freedom, gliding among the misty clouds, touching the face of heaven. Now I know why humans love to fly -- as the plane passed through the cotton ball puffs, showering moisture on the windows. You know you will soon have to head back home, but you want it to last forever.
Mother hugged me tightly when I returned safely to earth. Babbling about my adventure, I hardly gave notice, as in no time Jim was back in the sky on his way back home.
From atop No. 8, with a grin on my face, I waved and called out to him, "Bye, Uncle Jim. God bless you."
Darlind Davis is a Pinehurst freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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