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By River Stillwood
It’s Wednesday morning and I’m running late. Late waking up. Late getting out the door. Late getting to Springfield’s airport. But not too late. I made it to the gate with plenty of time to look over my fellow passengers and reorganize my carry-on luggage. Plenty of time to listen to the Delta rep ask if there were any volunteers among us to catch the next flight.
Plenty of time to pull out my laptop and the package of dried fruits and roasted nuts I’d brought to nibble on the plane. Plenty of time to tap out a few lines on this column, then watch as the Delta rep informed the last gate arrival — a middle aged frumpy man with a partially unzipped carry-on and a rumpled newspaper — that the plane was overbooked and he’d have to catch the next flight out, go to Nashville, then catch another plane to Atlanta, getting there only an hour and a half late.. (That’s where we’re all headed. Atlanta). The rep added that, to make up for the inconvenience, he’d be giving the frumpy middle aged man a $400 voucher to use the next time he flew Delta, plus a meal voucher so he could grab a meal while he was waiting for the Nashville plane. I couldn’t see the man’s face or hear what he said, but from the way his back tightened and he slammed the newspaper on the counter, he didn’t seem pleased.
It’s a shame, really. I would normally have volunteered to be bumped to the next flight and used the voucher to visit family over Thanksgiving.
But as it turned out, everyone at the gate, including me, had reasons to not volunteer. So the man got bumped and we didn’t. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. Though, now that I’m safely sitting on the plane waiting for the rest of the passengers to load, I’m breathing a sigh of relief that the frumpy middle aged man arrived at the gate later than me. If not for him, I’d probably be sitting in the airport restaurant eating a free meal and frantically trying to reach Dad to tell him I was going to be arriving late.
We’re in the air now. A few minutes ago, the electronic bell rang announcing that it was safe for passengers to turn on their portable electrical devices. I immediately pulled out my laptop. Other passengers turned on cell phones and MP3 players. Earbuds went into ears. Books, magazines and newspapers opened. A baby cried during takeoff, but has settled down now. A kind flight attendant and a bag of miniature pretzels helped.
I’m on my way to Atlanta to see Dad. We’re going to take a Trip Down Memory Lane together, visit the homes where he grew up, see his elementary school. We’ll go to Decatur, Avondale Estates, and Stone Mountain. Heaven knows where else, but wherever it is, it’ll be great. Just being with Dad makes it that way. Absolutely terrific.
He’s planning on sharing tales of his youth and I’ll collect them like gold coins. Dad is a wonderful storyteller. Like Hemmingway. He doesn’t fabricate or exaggerate. (He was a career military man, after all. And a college professor. And a legal advocate. The man knows his facts). He lays them out in order, one by one, then drops a killer punch line or meaningful ending, and when it’s over, he’s given a wonderful gift.
I’ve got a lot of questions to ask him. About his childhood. What it was like to grow up in the south. And the north. Ask about his mother and father.
Dad’s father I knew and loved for a long time. His name was Benjamin Branche Talley. An orphan who pulled himself and his siblings up by the bootstrap, worked as a guard at a glassiers, and put himself through college, BB (as he was called) graduated as an engineer with a ramrod straight back and stainless steel integrity. After college, he enlisted in the military, built Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, airstrips in the Aleutian Islands and was on the 12-person team who engineered the Invasion of Normandy (Operation Overlord). By the end of his military career, he’d risen to Brigadier General. Later, he headed the reconstruction of Anchorage after it was devastated by an earthquake and tried unsuccessfully to have the Alaska state capitol moved from Juneau to the center of the state. He lived in Mangum, Oklahoma and Anchor Point, Alaska. He loved the country, believed he served it well. He died at the ripe old age of 94. I was 36. In the annals of Talley history, BB was a giant and his accomplishments, gigantic.
Dad’s mother, Grace, I knew for a much shorter time as she died when I was 19. I’m not sure how old she was as she had changed her birthdate from whatever it was to Valentine’s Day, and she completely refused to mention the year she was born. I loved Grace dearly, but knew her before things like ‘family history’ and ‘roots’ really mattered to me. So I didn’t pay close attention to her life stories and failed to ask the thousands of questions I would ask her today. I know she had been a Georgia debutant. That she and BB married, had dad, lived in Nicaragua, and divorced when Dad was a young boy. That she remarried. Several times. Worked as the secretary for the president of the Coke-a-Cola Company (before it was the Coke-a-Cola Company), and lived for awhile in Los Angeles, where she, Dad and Mom befriended Perry Mason actor, Raymond Burr. And, she loved to play bridge and attend socials. What I don’t know is where her people came from, or what she wanted out of life, or if she ever found it.
Well, my plane has landed. Dad’s, too. I’m at the gate waiting for Dad to disembark. We are about to set off on a grand adventure, treasure hunting into the past.
Fuel to drive to the airport: $22.00
Flight to Atlanta: $245.00
Time with Dad: Priceless!