Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"When we are up there, I am going to try to see God!"

John Roth sends along a delightful account of his first airplane ride - on a Boeing Stratocruiser, no less!

I was four years old in 1954, living on 73rd and Russell in West Richfield, an area known to many Minneapolis residents as "the sticks."  To the North lay the downtown area with its department stores and streetcar tracks, and the awesome and majestic Foshay Tower.  To the West lay the great unknown and undeveloped Edina:  largely sand and gravel pits around what would become France Avenue, and rolling hills of green grass and trees.  Southdale was still on the drawing board.  Just to the South was the Kramer farm, where as boys we would slip under a wooden fence and pick a few forbidden fruits off of the green apple trees that lined the gravel road called Penn Avenue.  Cows grazed in fields that would become Southtown Center.  The bells of St. Richards tolled out their random three-toned melody every morning as I awoke, and I waited for the occasional moment when all three bells would sound simultaneously.
But it was the mysterious East that held the greatest fascination for me.  It was out of the Eastern sky that a roaring sound would frequently announce the arrival overhead of three dark-colored and ominous airplanes flying in a formation which my neighbor friend called a "maneuver."  These planes flew LOW to the ground, and my father still recalls a time when he was sure they were about to crash.  They did their routine, and returned dutifully to wherever it was that they went.  I believe these planes still make their runs, and are called C-160s.  They belong to the Reserve.  Eventually, of course, I knew that they made their home at Wold-Chamberlain Field, because our family took an occasional jaunt Eastward on 66th Street to the airport for a close-up look at the planes and runways from the "Observation Deck."  A tiny bag of popcorn from a quaint lobby machine was the usual refreshment.
Another part of our trips to the airport was a stop at the Airloha Drive-In, with its Stratoburgers, exotic Hawaiian look, and incredible "Mike-to-Mike" ordering system.  That was living!
Imagine my surprise when Dad announced that we were going to fly.  His father was ailing in Detroit, and we would board the Stratocruiser to go for a visit.  I would become part of this world of wonder that the airport represented!  I had no dog named Toto following behind, but I surely felt as Dorothy must have when arriving at Oz.  We boarded the majestic airliner, and were escorted by smartly clad stewardesses to facing seats!  We were handed little paper Dentyne-sized packages of what I believe was an orange-flavored gum to chew.  (My Mother explained something to me about air pressure and the equalizing action of the chewing).  The very idea of going up into the air caused me to exclaim to my parents, "When we are up there, I am going to try to see God!"  They handed me an air sickness bag, and likely instructed me in its use.
We took off.  And suddenly, we stopped in mid-air!  Or so I thought.  When the inertia of the takeoff settled, I THOUGHT we had stopped.  My parents chuckled lovingly at my statement, but every part of this experience was new and mysterious to me.  I was making a quantum leap from that quiet, dusty little corner of the world called Richfield, into a new reality.  And the Stratocruiser was my ship.  God did not appear to that little boy in the facing seat, chewing gum and looking out the window, but the little boy came back to Richfield a little wiser, and eager to share what he HAD seen with anyone who would listen.
So it is 2008.  The Foshay has been dwarfed by a new Minneapolis skyline.  Edina is developed, to say the least.  The bells of St. Richards have long been retired.  The International Headquarters of Best Buy Corporation occupy much of the land along Penn Avenue in Richfield.  The airport has grown astronomically from its humble origins, as have the planes.  My oldest son works for Northwest Airlines.  I have personally flown around the world, and still love the experience.  Even with the changes, I still get that thrill I first experienced when boarding the Stratocruiser.  Maybe I'm still hoping to see God "when I'm up there!"


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