March 14th, 1973 & 2013: Today's blog is all from memory. 40 year old memory. A little speculation. A few details as razor sharp now as they were then. Dad, mom, and I, flew to Lakewood, Washington to visit Lynn and her family. Lynn is dad's daughter from his first marriage.
Dad's sister, my Aunt Betty, drove us from Pittsfield to Lambert Field, the St. Louis airport. We flew into Sea-Tac, the airport that sits approximately halfway between Seattle and Tacoma, Washington.
Dad was showing what the disease was doing to him. I know this from the benefit of photos that were taken on this trip. Weight loss was the most obvious. His skin was turning an odd color, too. No one had any idea of how much time he had left. Everyone hoped for the best. But, just in case... And, we'd never visited Lynn and Roger as a family anyway.
The drive from Pittsfield to St. Louis was always a beautiful one. And it usually meant a special occasion. Once across the Mississippi River at Louisiana, Missouri, the trip down Route 79 was fantastic. Rolling hills, the bluffs to the right, the river to the left. Little towns. Clarksville, Annada, Elsberry, Foley, and finally, O'Fallon, where 79 met Interstate 70. From there, it was 70 East to the airport, or on into St. Louis.
Forrest Keeling had a good-sized nursery along the route. We'd made stops there in years past. Usually on Mother's Day. Mom would shop for flowers and plants while dad walked with her and waited patiently. I'd be bored to death and pouting. There's a house in Clarksville that sits on the east side of Route 79. For as long as I can remember, even now, that house is painted a bright purple. Clarksville also had a small ski lift that went up the bluff to a lookout point and souvenir shop. South of Clarksville, dad once pointed out an old box car. It sits off the road a ways. Been sitting there since it derailed in a train wreck years and years ago. It's still there today, weathering away.
Annada was known as a speed trap. Somewhere in this area, is a big farming operation. For years, a ribbon of white, wooden fencing, carved the property into pastures. I believe it's wire fencing now. In other changes, much of Route 79 bypasses a few of those little towns now. But then, it was pure Americana.
Trips to St. Louis meant something special. Far and above rides to Quincy, Jacksonville, Springfield, or Hannibal, Missouri.
The Beatles concert in 1966. Visits to the St. Louis Zoo. Christmas shopping with mom, Aunt Betty, and Aunt Erma at Famous Barr and Stix, Baer & Fuller. Route 79 was the road that led to those events. Another such trip was a Cardinals Vs. Packers football game that dad and I attended in December of 1970. It ended in a 10-10 tie. That trip with dad was one of only two, real, "father and son" type things that we were able to do. The other being the Indianapolis 500 earlier that year.
There's lot of history along that highway. As a kid, as a teenager going to concerts, and as an adult on a motorcycle ride. It all floods back to me when I ride up or down that route these days. Usually 2-3 times a summer. Tears have been shed under the visor of my helmet. Happy tears. Good memory tears.
It was good that Aunt Betty drove us to the airport. For two reasons. One, the traveler that she was, she knew that airport forwards and backwards. I remember mom and I picking her up from one of her travels abroad. I'd taken a wooden dowel and a clothes pin. I used the clothes pin to attach a home made sign to the dowel. "Welcome home Ant Betty," was the message. My spelling is fair now. It was worse when I was 7-8 years old.
Secondly, Aunt Betty was also good at keeping the mood as light as it could be. She could steer the conversation in positive directions. It's about 90 miles from home to St. Louis. The airport would be slightly less. There was plenty of time for lost thought.
We parked, got our luggage checked in, and went to our gate. Of course, in those days, Aunt Betty would have been allowed to go to the gate with us, and see us board.
The covered passenger walkways that lead from terminals to planes were not common in 1973. Sea-Tac had them, due to all the rain they get out there. Not in St. Louis. As I recall, we walked down a couple of flights of steps and out the door to walk across the tarmac to the plane, and up steps to board it.
This was a big moment for me. I was the kid. But I was doing something for the second time in my life, that dad and mom and never experienced. Flying. In my mind, I was "supervising" my parents.
And I remember this next moment like it just happened a few minutes ago. As we were making that walk from the terminal to the plane, I was off to dad's right, just a couple of paces behind. I could see excitement in his expression as he was about to experience something for the first time.
"It's a Whisperjet," he grinned, noting the model of the plane, painted across the tail wing of the Eastern Airlines jet.
Mom wasn't as thrilled. She was tense. She looked tense.
Once in the air, I think everyone relaxed a bit. Smoking was routine in those days. Mom probably consumed a half pack. Other passengers too. Four hours in smoke filled, aluminum tube. Ah, those were the days.
I can't remember if the trip was full of talk, or quiet. I might have played my supervisor and experienced one role, and explained to my parents, what to expect in Washington.
The plane came down over the firs and pines that border the airport property, and we were there. Lynn and company were there to meet us, and drive us to their home. Maybe a 45 minute trip.
We'd be in Lakewood, at the Cory's for the next week.