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History lessons close to home

Submitted by on Monday, 25 May 2009 No Comment

img_2714It was the kind of event I would have done anything to dodge when I was a young reporter : Stand in the sun for hours on a weekend at a “fun” event and pray you stumble on an interesting way to write the story.

The events seldom were fun for me. OK, so maybe the day-long blue grass concert where I met someone I wound up dating for a while worked out, at least in the short run. Otherwise, most were pretty painful. Sunburned nose, near dehydration and endless walking in search of a new angle on something that happens every  year.

A flashback to those days explains why I had so little enthusiasm when Big Guy bounced on top of me at the crack of dawn this morning and reminded me that today is air museum day. “Give me 10 more minutes,” I said, trying to suppress the groan.

Last year, Big Guy had been the one groaning. His first disappointment was that we weren’t going to fly on airplanes, but were merely going to see military craft at nearby Castle Air Museum.

Once I sold him on the idea that he could sit in the pilot’s seat, he ceased groaning until we hit a two-lane tree-lined rural road that had him convinced I’d hijacked him to West Virgina. “Are you sure we’re not going to Mawmaw’s? There are no airplanes here.”

Once we got close enough for him to start seeing jets, I couldn’t get the car parked quickly enough. For the next five hours, the guys ran from plane to plane, mostly happily. Not always, though. They were 2 and 4 and prone to meltdowns when exhaustion from too much running and climbing hit.

I figured this year would be more of the same. I figured wrong.

The first plane we toured was a KC-97L Stratofreighter, which looks close enough to the commercial jets the guys are used to that it felt comfortable. The guys ignored the rear of the jet, joining the line at the front for a chance to play pilot.

On the way out, though, Big Guy actually started reading – or attempting to. He listened attentively as the docent showed him a map of missions the tanker had flown and glanced at the photos that were part of the exhibit.

A few hours later,we wound up on a KC-135A Stratotanker, the freighter’s second cousin. Following Boots’ lead, Big Guy scampered down to take a look at where the refueling boom operator sat, if you can call being enclosed in a near-vertical case “sitting.”

On the way out, the exhibits caught his eye again. He stared at the black and white photographs of the Stratotanker reaching out to another jet in midair. “So it’s putting gas in that other plane?” he asked. Close enough. “Yes,” I said.

“And the guy who sleeps back there does it?”

“You got it,” I replied.

He nodded as if he understood. About an hour later, he showed that he had understood when he carefully examined the plane from the outside for signs of the boom, trying to confirm that everyone wasn’t trying to fool him.

Sure, snow cones and police cars and pilot’s seats still were the highlight of the day. But in the span of a year, Big Guy had gone from a kid who wanted only to run around to someone genuinely interested in learning about what was around him.

I guess it’s not so hard after all to find something new in an annual event.

There is, of course, a lot more for him to learn at Castle. Tomcats and Skyhawks. World War II-era craft with their scantily clad women – as fascinated as he is with anatomy lately, it’s stunning he didn’t notice those today. The reason for the bombs painted on the sides of some planes. The role all of it played in his nation’s and the world’s history.

It seems incongruous to find snow cones and kettle corn thrown into that mix. But it’s a mix that works – being able to see, feel and touch history clearly spurred Big Guy to want to learn more.

I think I know where we’ll be Memorial Day weekend next year.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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