The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
Santa Makes His First Christmas Delivery
December 12, 1976
It was Santa Claus weather all right, when Brenda soared away in her sleigh, over the rivers and hills and woods, to grandmother's house to go. Eight below zero with the thin, cold-crunchy blanket of snow sweeping back over the bluffs of the frozen Mississippi.
Brenda's first Christmas present from her Iowa grandfather, it had been decided, would be for him to fly her down to spend the holidays with her Texas grandparents. She and her mother would go well before Christmas, whenever we could grab two days of good flying weather (one for Grandpa to get back) and then her father would join her when he got off work on Christmas Eve.
Brenda, being only eight months old, was never consulted about any of this, but her Grandpa was delighted. It was a marvelous substitute for the torment of wandering through the "tiny tot" sections of department stores, trying desperately to think of something sane and clever and impressive to buy for her.
Pearl Harbor Day was obviously the day for this historic venture. A massive high pressure dominated the whole mid-continent, clearing skies from the Gulf to the Dakotas, from the Rockies to the Mississippi. Of course it also brought record early-December sub-zero temperatures.
Airplanes love weather like this. The air is smooth and surges crisp and dry through the carburetor. The only problem is to get off the ground before you freeze to death.
The plane had spent the night in the big hangar, at the shop, where a tune up was being completed the morning of the flight. So Brenda and her mother were packed snugly away in the back seat before the hangar door was opened to the bitter cold. Her car seat was lashed down with the airplane seat belts.
She had arrived almost incognito, swaddled in blankets and her tiny face barely visible through the hood of her bright yellow snowsuit. Although there were only two passengers and the pilot, the plane was overflowing with suitcases and food bags and diaper bags and knitting bags and Christmas presents and coats and sweaters and blankets and blankets and blankets.
We'd planned to depart at 10 in the morning, and were off at 10:03. A good omen, which held. Brenda, having no preconceived notions about flight, took it all in stride. When she wasn't napping or nursing, she squirmed in her car seat, or bounded on her mother's lap, gurgling and clapping and talking back to the radio. Once she came up on my lap and tried her hand briefly at the wheel.
She was relaxed. But Grandpa wasn't. It is silly, of course, to be any more cautious with a passenger of 8 months than you'd be with one 18, or 48, or with yourself. But you are. You fiddle a little more with the manifold pressure and the rpms; you double check that there's far far more than a necessary surplus of fuels; you watch the detector for the faintest sign of carbon monoxide from the cabin heater.
And you keep watching ahead constantly for the flat farm field, or the wide road, asking yourself constantly as you instructor used to: "Where would you land if you had to, right now?"
We crossed the Missouri below Columbia. The Lake of the Ozarks was ice-free. Beyond Springfield, the snow abruptly disappeared and the sun was glinting through the high overcast, on Table Rock. Fayetteville was reporting 30 degrees and when we came down over the Boston Mountains and across the Arkansas to Ft. Smith, for fuel and a diaper change, we had left the worst of winter behind us. We'd been flying three hours, and had 2-1/2 to go.
The route from Ft. Smith cuts through a corner of Oklahoma, over the Ouchitas, which had a lacy coverlet of snow in the treetops of their 2500-foot peaks, over Broken Bow and Idabel and across the Red River into Texas where the land lays flat, gray and yellow, with scrubby forests and sparkling lakes, all the way to the Gulf.
College Station tower cleared me to land from five miles out and then said no more. Brenda, for the first time, began to fuss. "She wants the radio to say something," explained her mother. "I'm sorry," I said, "I can't think of anything to ask him."
Then Brenda's grandmother was trotting across the ramp with arms outstretched, and the pilot, gathering up blankets, finally relaxed. Santa had successfully completed his first delivery for this Christmas.
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