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On a Wing and a Prayer!

1950s-tail-of-commercial-aviation-airplane-on-tarmac-with-passengers-AAKN1J
This is how we boarded the airplane in the 50’s and 60’s.

As I climbed the stairs into the airplane I stopped and glanced down at John who was waving goodbye to us. Then I entered the dimly lit cabin. The feeling of being alone hit me; I’m flying for the first time on a commercial airline and traveling with my 14 month old baby girl. We were flying from the San Francisco airport to the Bradly airport in Connecticut.

The stewardess walked us to our assigned seats, she was very friendly.  Susie was sitting on my lap when the pilot announced that we were to fasten our seat belts for take off. Reality set in that I’m buckled in for my safety and it was only my arms that were around Susie would keep her safe.

Eventually I relaxed and enjoyed a lunch we were served. It wasn’t wonderful but it was handed to me fully cooked and I didn’t have to wash the dishes. Susie ate some of my food and a jar of baby food. The next experience was changing a wiggly baby out of a wet cloth diaper as we bounced around in the tiny bathroom. That was the time before disposal diapers! Who could even imagine such a thing. Don’t ask me what I did with the wet diapers, I have no recognition of that.  It was just something we dealt with.

After many hours in the air and one stop over at Chicago airport where we changed planes, the pilot’s deep voice came over the laud speaker “we are approaching  Bradley airport and will be on the ground in 10 minutes. ”  When the plane came to a stop I hurried down the stairs and stepped on to the hot pavement. Running over to greet me was Jenny, my childhood friend, who was holding her little baby in her arms. We hugged each other then walked to her car and catching up with our lives.

How times have changed. In the 50’s and 60’s our friends and family were allowed to meet the plane as it taxied closer to the airport. Now if you saw your friend Jack in the waiting room and you hollered “Hi Jack” you would be wrestled to the floor and thrown in to the interrogation room!

The babies were tried when we reach Jenny’s house and they needed a nap so we put them both in Lori’s crib. Later that day Jenny’s brother came to visit. The first thing he did was to look into the bedroom at Lori and Susie, who were standing side by side holding onto the crib. Dereck couldn’t tell which one was Lori, his niece, who he had seen since her birth. That is how much the girls looked alike! When we were in public people would remark “what adorable twins.” We had fun with that and dressed them alike. Now they don’t look anything alike.

The next day Jenny drove me to Vermont to visit  my father. He had rented a cabin on Lake Champlain for us to stay.  I had not been back to Vermont since I left five years ago.

The two weeks that I planned on staying in Vermont were going by fast. I spent a few days visiting my sister Ellen and her family. After making the rounds of other relatives and friends it was time to drive back to Connecticut.

The next day Jenny drove us to the airport to catch our early morning flight back to San Francisco. I was anxious to be back home, but I knew I’d miss Vermont, my friends, and my family. I was already planning my next trip back. Since John worked for United Airlines, family could fly on a free pass.

Once on the plane I enjoyed my second cup of coffee that day. Susie had fallen asleep in my arms. It would be a couple of hours before we landed at O’Hare Airport where we would change planes and then go onto San Francisco and home.

The weather prediction was calm and clear, no storms in sight. We could look forward to a smooth flight. I had a wonderful time on our trip and Susie seemed happy most of the time. Either I’m delusional on that fact or I blocked out any negative activity.

The transition from one plane to the other went smoothly. I was tried and glad this was our last trek before home. We were in the air about a hour when the pilot announced he had turned the plane around and was heading back to O’Hare airport.  I remember thinking it looked as if the plane had turned around.  The sun was in a different place.

He told us the stewardess would come around to each person and prepare them for a crash landing. She came around with a pillow case and said. “any thing that is on your person that could fly through the air goes in the pillow case.” That included eye glasses, false teeth, shoes etc. I had a pair of high heeled shoes and a hat on that went in the pillow case.

Now the bone chilling instructions came. The landing gear was malfunctioning and could not be released to let the wheels down to slow the plane as we came in for a landing. The sad news is the plane would have to land on its belly at a high speed. The stewardess talked us through what to do if the plane could not stop before running out of runway. If the plane tipped over, it would catch on fire.

The Shute would open up and we could slide down it. There was silence for a moment then the babies that were onboard begin to cry.  No one showed emotion.  It was eerie!

Then the stewardess instructed us to tighten our seat belts and bend so our head was between  our knees and hold on to our ankles. I was frightened for my baby. what was I to do?  The only option I could see was to wrap her in a blanket and hold her on the floor by my feet which I did.

The plane hit the runway with a load thud.  The pilot continuously applied the breaks and let them up.  The screeching of the breaks was deafening as the plane rocked back and forth. The seat belt would tighten as we were thrown forward and felt as if it would cut into you. Then the pilot would apply the breaks again, the plane would rock violently until he let up on the breaks. The plane went the length of the runway and finally came to a stop. I instantly picked Susie up and looked her over, she had bruises on her upper body where I held her so tight and on her legs from hitting the  seat in front of us.

The pilot did a great job of keeping the plane upright.

People got up from their seats and headed in single file to the exit. The stewardess stood in the door way with the open pillow case so every one could retrieve their belongings. I sat for a bit longer then slowly moved to the door and collected my shoes and hat. As I looked out the door of the plane the severity of our situation struck me. Lined up along the runway were firetrucks and many ambulances, also the runway had been foamed.

I was really on my own now no one, not even the stewardess, asked me if my baby was all right. I continued following the passengers as they were directed to another airline only to find out that I was not allowed on this flight because I was on a pass from United Airlines.

I went back to the lobby to look for a clerk that could  make some change.  I wanted to call my husband to let him know I wouldn’t be on that flight.  He wasn’t home so I called our next door neighbor Kenny. Susie was in the phone booth standing on the floor beside me. Once more I called the operator deposited my coins and to my relief Kenny answered the phone. I was holding up pretty well until I heard his voice then I started to cry.  “Our plane crashed. They wouldn’t let me on another airline. There isn’t any restaurants to buy food and I don’t have much money!” I cried out.

There were not many people in the terminal during that night. It was a little creepy. Susie slept some but mostly she wanted to run around. I didn’t sleep at all as I needed to keep an eye on her. There were two flights going to San Francisco during the night and I stood in line both times only to be turned away because the flight was full.

Back to the terminal to wait for the next flight out which turned out to be in the morning.  When it was announced that another flight was leaving for San Francisco I got in line, was almost up to the entrance of the plane, and once again was told the plane was full. I turned around to leave when an older couple stepped out of line and told me to take their place. In all my years I have never forgotten their kindness. It taught me to more mindful of other people who might need a helping hand.

Susie and I were literally dragging our way to the lobby when I spotted John. He  had waited all night at the airport to be sure he would be there when our flight came in. At the sight of John I was overcome with relief. He picked Susie up, then walked to our car and headed home. I didn’t need to be in control any longer! I could now have a good old fashion meltdown!

Until we meet again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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