Captain Patrick Gordon
Real Life Get‘s in the Way
Updated: Feb 13, 2021
Bill and I both started flying at the small, country airport at the edge of the Mark Twain National Forest. We shared the same flight instructor, Marvin, who filled multiple roles for us. He was both ground and flight instructor. He was also our jumpmaster for our crude attempts at skydiving and he was just old enough to be our mentor.
Bill was good. Even as a student pilot I knew he was good. A natural who took to the skies like a bird making the small Piper J-3 respond gracefully to his every command. Bill soloed in three hours. While, I on the other hand, struggled. Nervous and unsure, I over controlled and gripped the control stick so tightly my knuckles were white. Sitting in tandem, instructor in front and student in the back seat, it was a couple of hours before Marvin realized how tense I was on the controls. He said he could feel it through the dual controlled airplane. Until I learned to relax he insisted that I hold the control stick with only my thumb and index finger. A technique I found valuable to use years later learning to fly helicopters.
As I developed the smoothness that came with the relaxed grip Bill soloed, had his shirttail cut off, autographed and hung on the aviation classroom wall in the rusty metal hangar. My shirttail joined his a week later.
We were both single and spending every dollar we could find on flying. In three months Bill had his Private Pilot’s License and, once again, a few weeks later so did I. That license only required 40 hours of flight time. The next goal, the Commercial Pilot’s License required a lot more flight time. It would involve a huge financial load, at least by our meager standards, and many months.
Neither of us had time to date in spite of the fact that young, beautiful women were in abundance. Bill was nearly six feet tall, light complexion with killer blue eyes. He wore his black hair long, in a Ducks Ass and his Elvis look swept the ladies off their feet.
Barbara fell hard for him. She decided he was the husband she wanted from the moment she first saw him alight from the small, yellow airplane he had just landed. Her father owned a small trucking company and, being the popular, small town queen, she was used to getting what she wanted. She wanted Bill in the worst way.
Bill, Marvin and I were sitting at the bar in the Holiday Inn Junior when Bill told us about his predicament. Barbara had shaken him to his boots the day before. She was in a motherly way and Bill was responsible. In the sixties, in Middle America, illegitimacy was still shocking.
Marvin said what I was thinking. ‘Shit Bill. What are you gonna do?’
Bill insisted on doing the honorable thing and said he would marry her before she began to show her condition. Barbara had it all figured out. Her father still didn’t know her state of being, other than she was madly in love with Bill. She told her father that Bill had asked her to marry him. There was no way that Bill would have done that. He had his eyes on the skies with visions of flying the world in marvelous executive jets. Bill and I had both agreed that the scheduled airlines were not for us. We wanted an adventurous life as contract pilots in far away countries.
Barbara’s father, a relatively big fish in a very small business pond, had assured his beloved daughter that Bill would always have a job driving one of his trucks.
I couldn’t go to the wedding.