Submission by Barbara Cornell.
Syndicated from Barbara Cornell’s personal blog.
May, late 1970’s, the family was hanging out in the «airport,» a generous term for the row of puddle-jumper hangars and the aluminum trailer with the dispatcher inside and the wind sock overhead. While we waited for the plane to be fueled, we ate my favorite: Colonel Sanders’ Original Recipe Fried Chicken in all its grease-dripping glory. Gawd, it was hot; hot in that sticky, lung-clogging way that only South Central Texas could be hot, but it was a good day for flying and I was getting to miss school besides. All was right in my kid world. We were coming home from a trip to my father’s parents’ farm in my father’s toy: a four-seater, cloth-skinnned Mooney.
It was tiny propeller-driven plane, and it made a brum-bra-brum-bra-brum-ratta-tatta-tatta-ne-ne-ne-neneNNNNNNNN sound when it cranked, jalopy-style, except it was MUCH MUCH LOUDER than your boyfriend’s jalopy!!! To talk to the other people in the plane you had to SCREAM AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS!!!! At top speed, it streaked across the sky at a blazing 85 miles per hour, but there were no traffic jams, no roads to dictate our path, and I was the only kid I knew whose Daddy could fly us anywhere we wished to go.
I never laid eyes on the machine again after that day.
A few preparations, my father reading the gauges, removing the chocks from the tiny rubber wheels, verifying the checklist, his deep voice as he leaned out the pilot’s window to yell «CLEAR!!!,» the loud rumble-roar of the engine and we were tearing down the runway with the windows open! It was indeed a good day to be a kid.
A couple of hours of blissful noise-induced solitude and we were almost home when I heard the most terrifying sound I’d ever heard in all my 8 years of life: complete, gravely silence followed by my father’s, «Um. Uh-oh.»
My father had volunteered for back-to-back tours of Vietnam as a fighter pilot, lead men, stood square-shouldered, toe-to-toe with whatever life threw at him. There had never been a situation that had gotten the better of him. His «uh-oh» was equivalent to any other man’s «WE ARE GONNA DIE!!!!»
Being the observer of the group, I’d gauge my reaction based on the cues from those around me. Daddy was busily flipping switches, thumping gauges, chattering into the microphone, «Tower, this is Mooney XXX, South of Brenham, request….» My mother (who once told me one reason she married my father was because she knew if anything could be handled, he’d be the one who could do it, so there would be no reason she’d ever have to worry about anything again) looked about casually, occasionally shooting mildly interested glances at the activity in the pilot’s chair. My sister, always the drama queen of our crowd, was desperately heaving and pushing on the tiny window to pry it open, presumably to climb out, and breathing rather choppily with intermittent UHN-UHN noises. I thought somewhat casually, «Welp. There ya go. I guess we all die now.» Suddenly the smell of that greasy chicken, comforting and lovely just a few hours before, began to be nauseating. In fact the whole world was a bit nauseating.
After identifying a reasonably uninhabited cow pasture, we began to descend. It was eerily peaceful until I observed how quickly the ground was rising to meet us. Many HUGE, rough, jarring, teeth-rattling THUMPS and BUMPS later, and we were skidding across the ground, spinning slowly, heaving up and down on the rolls of the Texas hill country, completely at the mercy of gravity, inertia and friction.
«Well, at least there’s a nice wire chicken coup at the end of the field to break our skid,» I thought.
CRASH!!!! SQUAWK!!!! BRAWK!!!! BBRRRRAWR!!!!!
Feathers flew, appendages severed, birds panicked and fled. Never has the world seen such chicken carnage as our mangled propeller preceded the remainder of our god-forsaken machine into the fowl nest, almost as if the flying monster, mortally wounded and no longer able to fly itself, was taking out its rage on those who still could.
I climbed out of the wreckage, lip mildly bleeding from biting it on impact, but other than that, none-the-worse for wear and began to look around. The chickens that weren’t dead or mangled, squawked their indignation, CROWKA-CRAWKA-CRAWK-ing protest at our contraption’s invasion. By the time I focused my attention, I noticed my sister was probably half a mile away, barreling down the field, screaming something incoherent regarding explosions. I stood fighting the urge to heave up all that warm, greasy chicken.
We stood dazed for a while, then flagged down a passing farmer/rancher who, for some reason, was hauling his chicken crop somewhere pre-slaughtered and had chicken carcasses piled up 3 deep in the bed of his truck. (In the years since, I’ve imagined some species of «HA! Take that ‘proportional response!'» kind of incident at Farmer Brown’s residence earlier that day.) My parents sat in the front while my sister and I made places for ourselves in the bed of the pickup among still more chicken carnage.
It was a sad, sad day in chicken world.
Subsequent events showed that something had lodged itself in the fuel line of the aircraft which is what caused the failure. Hindsight told my father he might could have saved the plane if he had not let down the landing gear and skidded in on the cloth belly instead.
I still cannot stomach the smell of KFC to this day.