Crestwood’s club house was full and everyone seated as Sam began talking of his boyhood love for flying. A few gossiped until hushed by a neighbor.
“Is that your wife?” Marge Holloway blurted, pointing at the top left corner of the photo board.
“That’s just a good-lookin’ woman who happened to be walking by,” Sam said, avoiding any further discussion by turning to the photo and examining it himself. It was Ruth standing alongside a twin-engine Cessna in front of an open hangar.
“I can’t see her very well.” Marge squinted, leaning forward in her seat. “You should blow it up so everyone could see it better. Maybe you should use a computer?”
“How the hell’s a computer gonna help?” her husband asked.
“They use computers for everything,” Marge retaliated. She cast a bleary eye on Sam and again she pointed. “Is that your boy, Bobby? I can see him better.”
Sam wasn’t five minutes into his presentation when the Holloways derailed him. Payback from the morning’s recycling fight? The other residents and guests, nearly fifty gathered, stared straight ahead or squirmed in their seats, anxious to get to the Christmas dessert table.
“Yes, Marge that’s Bobby. But for now how about everyone just listen,” he said, nailing the Holloways with a dark stare. He brushed the side of his head with his hand and glanced at the floor, a soothing gesture.
“When I’m done you can take a closer look,” he said matter-of-fact, having had dealt with rude pilots, flaky customers and bad weather forever. An old lady in the front row wasn’t going to distract him. He walked behind the easel and nimbly slid it forward a few inches with the grace of a man much younger helping a woman into her seat.
Sam liked the picture of Ruth with the Cessna 310 that Marge had spied. Both leggy and fast, he thought to himself. And with his wife gone now for nearly three years he felt comfortable showing off the regal pair. A few in the audience knew he had flown the P-47 Thunderbolt in the Pacific theatre but none of them took notice of the missing war bird.
“Maybe show a movie next time,” Mrs. Holloway said. “Did you ever fly jets?”
“His son flew jets,” her husband informed. “Not everyone can fly jets. It takes a special person.”
“Like hell it does,” Sam boomed and the arguing couple stopped, mouths open. A few in the audience muttered their disbelief.
“You see this plane.” He slapped the picture of Ruth and the Cessna with a thick middle finger. “I flew this twin by myself and did everything—navigated, worked the radios, operated six controls for the engines—throttles, mixtures, props. You’re right, my son flew jets and I’m proud of him. But instead of six controls he had two and he shared the workload with another pilot. He never had to land on small strips with half the runway lights out and a foot of snow. He never fumbled with a sandwich and a cold cup of coffee because he always had some flight attendant serving him hot food.”
“I was just voicing my opinion–”
“Well, damnit, Marge, wait till I’m done,” Sam charged, done with finessing his responses. “This is my last talk about this stuff. So sit still and listen.”
Gabe, standing off to the side, shot Sam a dirty look. Sam returned it and continued.
“I didn’t interrupt your husband when he talked about his career at Thanksgiving. You two are worse than the kids I visit at school.” Scattered chuckles arose and quickly died. “A few of them at least try to sit still and listen.”
Marge croaked loudly, “It’s a free country. I’ll ask my questions.”
“Yes, you’re right, it is a free country,” he countered, finding a new foothold. “But that doesn’t give us the right to ignore our responsibilities.” He stood tall and his voice boomed a second time—“We recycled in the War. We did our part.”
A collective moan escaped the seniors.
“And it helped to put this country on the fast track utilizing every bit of scrap metal and rubber to build new ships and planes. Freedom comes with a price and we paid that price. All of us should be proud of that. But we’ve lost our guts.” He approached the Holloways.
“Marge I know you weren’t a complainer during the war. You were just out of high school and yet you helped out in the hospitals around Cleveland, volunteered, even with a fulltime job at Higbees. No mouthing off, you were there for your family, for the war effort—”
Ray Holloway growled something and Marge told him to be quiet. Memory softened her face. She looked down and Gabe walked over and put a hand on her shoulder. The quiet in the room deepened until she knocked Gabe’s hand away and glared at Sam.
“I’m not stupid, Sam,” she said. “That was a long time ago. It was an important time—many of us did things that really mattered. I know that. But that’s not our time any more. Now we just hang on for dear life—pills, hospitals, friends dying; the money never goes far enough and our kids want what’s left. See, you’re making me sad. I didn’t come here to be sad. Why do you always screw up a perfectly good moment? What the hell is wrong with you?” She fully recovered her pinched, old woman’s face and her husband shook his fist against the ‘spoiler’ standing in front of them. Sam figured Ray was already working out the steps, devising his own special dance for Sam.
Gabe started to say something when Sam broke in.
“I get it” Sam said, head bowed, hands on his hips, a general hearing field reports from a ragtag company of old geezers. “You’re right in a lot of ways, Marge.” The resignation in his voice didn’t dampen the fire in his belly. Unafraid, he returned nervous looks, belligerent stares with moist eyes and a loud sigh.
“Well, I got the perfect flying story before we all run over to the refreshment table and push our sugar levels off the charts.”
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