Air traffic around Atlanta isn’t an unusual sight. I never realized how uncommon it was until after I met Sweet’taters. She was born and raised in NE Tennessee. Even today there is very little air traffic there. One of the local hillbillies does fly an ultralite but, other private, commercial or military flights are infrequent.
Her folks, Mammaw and Tootie, visited in our home near Atlanta during the summer of ’88. They were both raised in Sneedville, TN. Tootie was fascinated with airplanes. He had flown with a couple of barnstormers earlier in his and aviation’s day. He was instantly bitten by the bug but remained earth bound most of his days. Tenant farming and raising a family of eight during an era from the early 1930s through the early 1970s kept him pretty will grounded.
On his visit to Atlanta he wanted to watch the planes take of and land at Hartsfield Atlanta International. It was a fun day. At that time you could still park and watch from a spot just off one of the runways. Back at the house he sat outside watching planes and whittling from early morning until well after dark. We often take for granted the common place never realizing how uncommon it may be for others. Now I could go off on another tangent here but I’ll spare you.
On Sept 11, 2001 the silence of the skies around Atlanta became surreal. The hours of empty skies that followed were hauntingly eerie. Some commercial flights resumed on the 15th. On the 19th most restrictions were lifted. Having grown up with the buzz, drone and screech of planes frequently overhead was just part of the noise of life. How strange and amplifying it was that times were changing.
We have a small home in NE Tennessee now days. We try to visit and spend as much time as possible there. The quieter skies and slower pace allow moments of reflection uncluttered with background noise. At the time of the 9/11 attacks Tootie was in UT Hospital, Knoxville. 87 years young and still looking with wide eyed wander for a passing plane. His heart was playing out. Six days later Tootie got his wings and flew off into a brave new sky.
I think about him every time I look to the heavens at a passing plane. What a miracle of grace that we would be allowed to build wings and soar with the eagles. What an awesome responsibility we have to guard the freedom of our skies to insure that terrorism and the mad men behind it will never ground the American spirit.
09/11/2001 – 09/17/2001. We will never forget.