When my sons come to visit me, they often fly into the Omaha airport. It seems very easy and accepted to be flying. That wasn’t always the case.
The first time I got on an airplane I was in my 40s and going to Phoenix to visit my sister Ruth. There were no security checkpoints and no jetway. We walked from the Eppley Airfield terminal across the runway and up the portable stairs at the side of the airplane.
The food was delicious. We had a full dinner, with plates and silverware, served to us in our seats by friendly flight attendants.
Smoking was allowed in the back rows of seats. The rows further forward were for non-smoking passengers. I don’t know how the airlines expected the smoke to stay in the rear of the plane.
My son Bob told me that he was 20 the first time he flew, and it was also to go to Phoenix. He remembers wearing a coat and tie. Dressing any less formally just didn’t seem right when going on a plane trip.
My mother was 80 before she took an airliner trip. She was living in Des Moines at Wesley Acres retirement home and wanted to go to Phoenix to see Ruth. She bought a bright new pink outfit with a skirt and a little jacket to wear on the plane. She was not nervous at all. In fact, she seemed very excited about the adventure of flying across the sky.
When my son Jeff was in graduate school in Bozeman, Montana, I planned to fly out to see him. A gate agent asked to see my ticket. Unfortunately I had left it in my billfold in the car.
The agent told me they would hold the plane while I got the ticket. I hurried out to the parking lot to grab my billfold. When I got back, the plane was still there and I was able to board. I’m not sure an airline would have the patience to let that happen today.
Robert had been in the Army Air Corps during World War Two and gone through pilot training in California and New Mexico. He had never been in a helicopter, though, until he was with Craig on a special trip to Alaska. I wrote about it in a 1998 column.
Robert had told his boys that he had always wanted to go to Alaska to see the giant cabbages that grow during the very long summer days of the far north. He had heard they grew large because they receive 20 hours of sunshine each day.
Craig arranged for Robert to come to Seattle and join him aboard the Good Land, a cargo ship bound for Anchorage. They were the only passengers. During the three day passage, they got to know the crew and learned about ship operations.
Once in Alaska, they drove off in a camper pickup to explore. They saw grizzly bears dining on salmon in a river. They passed enormous mountains. On farms in the Matanuska Valley, they found cabbages that weighed a hundred pounds or more.
Their final stop was Valdez where they climbed aboard a helicopter for a flight to glaciers that could only be reached by this means of transportation.
Robert said he was speechless as the pilot lifted off and flew above the mountain peaks, rugged valleys, and over to one of the most awesome sights on the continent, a glacial river of ice moving slowly, relentlessly down through a valley of its own making.
Robert was amazed at the deepness of the crevasses and the jumbled chunks of ice as huge as some of the trailers the freighter Good Land had carried on their trip up to Anchorage. The pilot set the helicopter down on the glacier so Craig and Robert could walk across the rugged ice.
When their time in Alaska came to an end, Robert found himself in a window seat for the flight home. As they flew over the snowcapped peaks, he had glorious views of the Alaskan frontier.
Bob is flying to Omaha from his home in Seattle in a few days. If he walks through the door wearing a coat and tie, I will know it is not because he had been on an airplane, since those days of formal air travel are long good. Maybe he will be dressed up just because he is coming to see his mother.
With all the snow, this is a good time for stick to the ribs meals. Here’s an easy one with plenty to go around.
Hearty Bean Casserole
1 15-ounce can yellow butter beans
1 15-ounce can kidney beans
1 16-ounce can pork and beans
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup catsup
Salt and pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1 pound hamburger, browned
1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
2 Tablespoons vinegar
Combine ingredients and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour. A fine large casserole for covered-dish dinners.