The First Flight

In a wooden jewelry box on my bedroom dresser, along with some old beads, a bunch of unmatched earrings, and a broken wristwatch, is a metal coin bearing the raised image of an airplane and the words “DC8, United Airlines Inaugural Flight.” On the back: “NEW YORK  LOS ANGELES OCTOBER 21, 1959.”

I found the coin among my mother’s keepsakes after she died in her house in Santa Monica, and I brought it home to New York. She and my father had taken that first DC-8 coast-to-coast flight after deciding to leave Tupper Lake, the Adirondack village where they’d lived and raised a family for 27 years, to start a new life in Southern California.

It was brave of them to dispose of decades of belongings, sell the family home and my father’s baking business, and set out for a place where they’d never been. It was a good time for them to leave; my younger sisters and I were grown and on our own, my father’s health was questionable—he’d had a heart attack a few years earlier—and he needed to escape the harsh Adirondack winters as well as the stressful relationships with his ever-complaining mother and two sisters, who lived nearby.

I’m not sure how they got from Tupper Lake to what was then Idlewild Airport. Probably they hired someone to drive them down the long winding roads through the mountains to New York City. I was living in the city’s suburbs then and had two small children, so I didn’t make the trip to the airport to see them off. But I can picture them there, waiting for their flight—my mother wearing a neat dress, pearls, a modest hat, and white gloves, and my father in a suit, starched white shirt, and tie.

Back then flying was an adventure, one that you got dressed up for. In a promotional video about the new DC-8 that I found online, all the passengers are looking their best. We see them relaxing in what the narrator describes as “ample room for stretching out,” being served “unsurpassed meals prepared by continental chefs” by a smiling stewardess who “always has time for a friendly chat.”

While my parents were speeding across the country in this elegant aircraft, I was at home, picturing them in the land of palm trees and sunny skies. Before long my mother telephoned from their California hotel to tell me they’d arrived safely.

“Imagine,” I recall her saying, “it took us longer to drive from Tupper Lake to New York City than it took to fly across the country.”


Categories: Airports, Airlines, Trips

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