A Christmas Story for the Pilot in All of Us

Ladies and Gentlemen –

I promised a couple of surprises this Christmas Season…..

And I recognize that these stories don’t have a lot to do with College Football.

But College Football, like certain experiences in life builds character.

God Bless the Characters with Character in your lives this Christmas.

I hope you enjoy this Christmas Story, there are a few more on the way



I was nine years old, it was Christmas 1967 and I wanted to fly.

I worked on a farm, tilling the red dirt in Upper Alabama (there is no such thing as “Northern” Alabama) and lived in a state funded household. In other words, as a ward of the state, I lived and worked in a family’s home and they were provided a monetary supplement by the state. I was a hired hand with no wages to be paid.
In this particular case, I worked for Mr. James Lloyd, or “Big Jim”, as he like to be called by other men.

I worked at first light until it was time for me to walk to school.
There was always plenty of work to do.
Immediately following school, I worked until dark, ate supper and went to bed.
The only break to the ritual was during the weekends, when I worked from before the sun came up over the horizon until well after dark.
My days consisted of a lot of work.

I tried to stay in the shadows and keep a low profile during my days on the farm. I was fearful of arousing the wrath of my foster family and in particular that of Mister James Lloyd, I went out of my way to avoid drawing attention to myself. This included school, where I walked the halls in homemade overalls and boots that were well worn and to big for my feet.
I tried very hard to blend in with the scenery and keep to the shadows. Being a “problem” meant getting a beating by Big Jim, and I didn’t want to be a “problem”.

However, in September of that year I saw something in K-Mart that I wanted more than anything in this world. I saw something I had never seen before in my short life.

Glimmering in the light of the store was a Cox gas powered German Stuka airplane. Its coal black gull wings reflected the ceiling lights as it lay on the top shelf. It was the most magnificent thing I had ever seen. Further examination of the craft reveled a cockpit, with a plastic lifelike pilot, real rubber tires, and a bomb attached to the darkened underbelly. The owner of such a fine creation could “actually” fly it. It was a matter of following the instructions, preparing the airplane, starting the engine, and soaring into the sky.
No sacrifice was too great. I had to have this airplane. It cost almost twenty dollars.

For those of you not familiar with this particular line of Cox gas powered airplanes let me take a moment to provide you with just some of the details of this wonderful airplane.
The Stuka had a wingspan of three feet, controlled by two guide wires, which connected to a master handle that allowed the controller or “pilot” to fly the airplane. The propeller had a diameter of approximately eight inches. This was a man’s machine. No doubt about it.

Oblivious to my own safety, I asked Mr. Lloyd for an increase in my allowance for my labor. The state required children who were wards of the state, who worked as farm labor, receive a just compensation for their labors. My “just” compensation came to a dollar a week. I needed more if I was going to get that Stuka.

Big Jim’s initial reaction was something less than positive. By trying to hit me with a shovel and calling me an ungrateful bastard in a rather loud voice, I quickly determined that another course of action was in order.

I figured the only possible way I had to get the Stuka was to save my money and then buy it for myself for Christmas.
I had time to save the money and I was assured of getting something for Christmas. It was a plan that couldn’t fail.

I began hording the money allotted to me for milk during lunch. The money that went to purchasing a milk card once a month now went to the “Stuka Christmas Fund”. Between my dollar a week, milk money and raking the church parking lot and picnic area once a month for a dollar. I would have just enough for the Stuka by Christmas. I had to be very careful and save.

I volunteered to help with carrying the various items just to make the trip to K-Mart, so I could see “my” airplane. It looked more impressive each time I saw it.
When I wasn’t working on the farm, I was fantasizing about flying the magnificent craft. I thought about it all the time. The black Stuka flew all the time in all of my dreams.

I sweated dollar bills and nickels each week. Figuring, and adding to make sure I would have just enough for the present of a lifetime.
Surely this would be something I would cherish, if not for the rest of my life, then certainly for a very long time.

Sometime during Thanksgiving, a drunken Big Jim Lloyd, informed me that I shouldn’t expect anything for Christmas.
I announced that I had saved enough money to purchase a Cox, gas powered Stuka for myself for Christmas, all I needed was a ride to K-Mart so I could purchase it.
I saw a look of total amazement on those faces.
Then good ole Jim offered his words of encouragement; by stating “You won’t be able to fly that damn thing”.
The gauntlet had been thrown. I would fly it and show them all.

I worked and saved and counted my money every week as I had done from the first of September. I was going to have enough money and Big Jim was going to take me to K-Mart the week before Christmas to pick up my Stuka. I could hardly wait for the day to arrive and time seem to crawl until the week before Christmas.

The appointed time finally came around and I can honestly say, that I have never been prouder of a single purchase in my entire life.
It was mine.
All the hard work and saving, was worth all the sacrifice.
That coal black Stuka was mine.
Big Jim drank and sang with the radio all the way back to the farm that Saturday morning and I can’t recall a single thing he may have said.
My eyes were fixed on that wonderful airplane setting in my lap.
I was speechless.

I removed the Flying instructions before I wrapped it and placed it under the tree.
I wanted to memorize every single bolt, nut and pin in that aircraft. I wanted to learn everything before its maiden voyage.

I memorized every detail in the “flying manual”. I knew everything from the starting sequence to the proper angle for landing and how to taxi in a cross wind. I was so ready for Christmas to come. My next step was to convince, or beg if necessary, Big Jim to take me sometime during Christmas to the A&P grocery store parking lot to fly it.

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around I was as anxious as a cat in a rocking chair factory. Christmas Eve passed, with me being fortunate enough to gage Big Jim’s liquor intake to catch him in a joyous mood. He gladly consented to my request to be taken to the grocery parking lot in town on Christmas day.
Everything had fallen into place.

At the crack of dawn I was awake and unceremoniously opened my pre-wrapped Christmas gift. The Stuka was just incredible. I took to the task of preparing her for flight and closely followed all the pre-flight instructions for rigging the plane. In a few short hours I would be in control, flying the Stuka through the cold Christmas morning air.

The rest of the group was soon awake and unwrapping gifts and Big Jim began drinking to chase his hangover away. After a few stiff belts of Old Crow and Coca-Cola Big Jim told me get in the truck and yelled for his son Timmy to get his coat, he was going too.

The ride was cold in the front seat of that old Chevy pick-up truck and although it took nearly half an hour to get to town, I was so very excited to start flying “my” Stuka.

The moment soon arrived when we pulled into the empty parking lot and I grabbed Timmy to assist me and left Big Jim mixing himself another early morning pick me up in the pick up truck.

Due to the cold weather, it took me what I thought was a long time to start the Stuka. We bent over that plane. Timmy would hold the tail section while I gassed the engine and turned the propeller. It would shudder and begin to start and in a moment, the engine would sputter and die.
Big Jim had taken his refreshment to the rear of the vehicle and offered his encouragement by shouting, “It ain’t going to work!” each time the engine would stall.

What seemed like forever, fighting the cold bile of fear in the back of my throat that Big Jim would grow too restless and have us go back to the house without ever having flown, The Stuka’s engine started and sustained a steady rhythmic whine. I still remember how the exhaust smelled that December morning.

The big moment had arrived. The Stuka’s engine was humming loudly, Timmy was holding the tail section of the plane and I had taken the handle with the two control wires firmly in my hand, holding my wrist with the other for extra support. Everything was perfect.

Some moments in life seem to take place simultaneously in slow motion and at warp speed and are remembered in just that way. Often this occurs when expectations and reality of a specific event or circumstances collide, resulting, more often than not, in a victory for reality. Reality, like gravity, will get you every single time.

In my mind, I saw the Stuka taxi in the parking lot, as I tightened the control wires and began walking in a circle, slowly lifting the plane into the sky, climbing in altitude as I controlled every aspect of the aircraft from my single handgrip control. After an extended flight, the Stuka would begin a gradual descent, gently touch its wheels to the asphalt, and taxi to a halt.
Thus ending a perfect maiden flight.

What happened that day began in slow motion. My heart was beating like a lab rabbit. I had a firm grip, on the handgrip and the slack was out of the control wires. I slowly nodded to Timmy to release his hold on the tail section. Rather than the “expected” slow taxi, the Stuka leapt straight into the sky some three feet from Timmy.
In the flash of an instant the Stuka was climbing almost completely vertical to the horizon.
Despite the fact that maybe five seconds had elapsed since Timmy had released the Stuka, I was now firmly in the panic mode and things were moving way too fast.

In one second, using the controller’s handgrip, I attempted an emergency maneuver to bring the plane under control and the next instant it was plunging at hyper speed straight towards the asphalt.

The high whine of the gas powered airplane engine was followed closely by the sound of the Stuka making contact at a high rate of speed with the parking lot. The sudden and complete silence was broken only by pieces of the plane falling back to earth following its rather abrupt stop.

The next few seconds I stood in stunned silence holding the controllers handgrip and watching the guide wires dance in the wind attached to nothing.

My shock was broken when Big Jim yelled, “Pick up what ever is left and lets get home so the rest of us can enjoy our Christmas.” I did as I was told and picked up what was left of my beloved Stuka and placed the remains in an old liquor box.

I held the broken pieces of my dream clutched in my lap on the ride home as Big Jim reminded me that he “knew” that damn thing wasn’t going to fly.

I have never forgotten that Christmas morning and have often retold this story as my favorite and, yes, funniest Christmas adventure.

As I have gotten older, I have had a chance to review and analyze the details surrounding my dream of flying that Cox gas powered Stuka.
I have come to one very important and complete truth.

Big Jim was right about one thing. That Damn thing wasn’t meant to fly.



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