Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In Memory of Papa Jerry

21 years ago today, on a beautiful early fall afternoon, Geoff's daddy, Mr. Jerry, was doing one of the things he loved to do most in the world... fly airplanes. In a Pitts Special, he was getting ready for a Labor Day airshow, practicing an aerobatic maneuver called the Lomcovak. As Geoff and other pilots tell it, in this maneuver the airplane is purposefully going end over end, wingtip over wingtip.

This maneuver also causes a lot of G's, which is the force of gravity... it is said that Mr. Jerry probably pulled approximately 8 G's, which for a 100 pound person would be 800 pounds. Mr. Jerry weighed more than 100 pounds, so he would have felt even more force. It was during this time that he "G'd out" (gravity induced loss of consciousness), and basically lost his sense of what is up, down, left or right. He was "flying blind".

Tragically, at the age of 43, Mr. Jerry crashed into woods not far from here, and instantly passed away.

Geoff and I had just begun our Junior year of high school, and at the time we were broken up... it wasn't our first break up, or the last (as teenage romances seem to go!), but it was one of the most memorable for me.

Geoff had only been 16 years old for a couple of weeks, and we had not been out of school long for the day when the news came. We live in a small town, and word travels quick here, good or bad. This time it was the worst.

Since it was a Thursday, we had marching band practice scheduled for that evening, under the stadium lights. Geoff was a drummer... he played the Quads, and I was a majorette... everyone was so upset, and I can remember standing at attention, looking into the sky through tears as the sun was setting. It was beautiful. It was as if God was trying to give comfort, sending a gorgeous sunset to say that Mr. Jerry had flown safely into his arms, and was in heaven.

Geoff came to that practice for awhile and sat in the stands, and he was at school the next day. That night was our first football game of the season, and Geoff was in uniform, playing his drums with the band, in the stands and on the field. My heart broke for him, and I stammered at trying to find any words to tell him how very sorry I was. His family was like mine - his Momma is so sweet and kind, and his sister Lee, was (and still is), someone I looked up too. At this time she was a sophomore in college, and had been a majorette at our high school too.

Mr. Jerry was friends with my Daddy growing up, and our families know each other well. The whole community was in shock, and so saddened by this terrible accident.

Mr. Jerry was a pilot for Delta Air Lines at the time of his passing, and I will never forget how many uniformed Delta pilots and flight attendants were at the funeral. Not to overlook his large beloved family, childhood friends, Navy buddies, and other friends in the community. The old historic Methodist church was overfull, with the balcony sitting way more than it should, and people standing outside. I sat in the balcony with my family, and along with most there, cried through much of the service.

At the cemetery, a graveside service was held and a Missing Man formation was flown over us by fellow Delta pilots and good friends. What a touching and honorable remembrance for Mr. Jerry, his family and a community of friends who all loved him. He was buried with his Navy wings, medals and Delta wings pinned to him.

I have many memories of my own that I could share of Mr. Jerry, but one stands out in my mind more than others. I had just turned 16 years old, and had a new Pontiac Firebird. Since Geoff is 8 months younger than me, I drove down to his house to pick him up for our date that night. Mr. Jerry had just come in from a run, and hoped right on in my car, getting in the backseat. I looked at Geoff as he leaned up to the front and said "Where are we going?". He was a smart man, with a sense of humor... he knew that as soon as we left the driveway I'd pull over and let Geoff drive. He didn't go with us of course, but he made his point!

Many years later I too began my career at Delta Air Lines. As a Lead Flight Attendant I was always talking and joking with the pilots in the cockpit, and when many found out where I was from, they would always mention Jerry. Especially when I married Geoff, and had the same last name. I learned many great stories from those guys as they reminensed about layovers and flights they flew with him.

When Geoff and I got back together, got married and then had children, I remembered thinking to myself way back at the age of 16 how we'd name our son after Mr. Jerry (don't all teenage girls dream of the day they will marry their high school sweetheart and what their kids names will be?!)... I was so sure back then that I would marry Geoff. Our paths did take different turns for awhile, and at one point seemed all but lost, but somehow I knew then what our future would hold.

On that July afternoon in 2005 when our son was born, we named him Jerry Lee T. II. It was a special moment, and I like to think that Papa Jerry was looking down from heaven, soaring with pride.

"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth...
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
From High Flight, By John Gillespie Magee, Jr.


Tiaras and Timeouts said...

That is a wonderful story, and what a sweet way to remember him in your little Cub! I have a soft spot for pilots, too- my B has his private pilots license and my uncle Doug flew many years in the Air Force and for Delta. They lived in Peachtree City when I was in high school (1990-1994). Maybe he flew with Mr. Jerry sometime? What a small world!

Lisa@BlessedwithGrace said...

What a touching tribute to a man you obviously respected and loved.

Thanks for coming by and offering sympathy in my plight,dealing with my daughter's bed chewing habit. I appreciated the comment. BTW, she likes her pacifier, as well.

Kelsy said...

Wow what a wonderful tribute!

Reynie said...

What a well written story, Ang! You really have a gift for writing!

I wish I could have known Mr. Jerry. Every once in a while I run across someone who knew him. They always have nice things to say about him.

The Whitfields said...

Oh okay, it definitely is a small world then. I love the layout of your blog, so cute! I wish I could rearrange mine but everytime I do, something messes up & I can't get it fixed!

That's a wonderful story!

Zip n Tizzy said...

How lucky you all are to have such a tight loving community of friends and family.

mamajil said...

This is a great post!! How special for your son to be named after someone so special!!

tootie said...

What a nice tribute!

I have many pilots in my family (including my husband!), and we all love that High Flight poem.

That is so wonderful that you named your son after him!