Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot Magazine

Of Mildew, Memories and Spider Webs

A nostalgic trip through time presented in three-acts


Act One: A Different Kind of Journey

At this moment, I’m at 35,000 feet headed east on a journey that I’ve made so many times that the route has become a crease on the surface of my brain. At the other end of this flight, by way of Charlotte, lays the magnificently simple airport of Shiftlet Field, in Marion, NC. Its grassy runway has seen me arrive from many different directions, but this time it’s different. 

Those erratic, and sometimes cruel, forces that mold our lives often cause us to change zip codes without warning. However, even though past addresses and phone numbers may fade from our memories, the images of airports we called home remain strong. For over twenty years that was Andover-Aeroflex Field in NJ for me while Shiftlet Field lay at the other end of an oft-traveled route. As I built a family and a business up north, I’d find myself drawn to Shiftlet’s green oasis mostly because my best friend and his wife lived on the airport. That’s where I often went to escape. Or find peace. Or to simply raise hell in little airplanes. This time, however, the journey is bittersweet because I’m certain it will be my last.

The purpose of the trip is to pack and ship the physical memories that I have had in storage in Clevenger’s hangar on Shiftlet Field for nearly fifteen years. When one of life’s major firestorms stranded me with five decades of personal artifacts, no address and no future, Clevenger came to my rescue. He offered me a corner of his hangar and several excruciating, and very large, truck loads later, much of what passed as my Earthly belongings entered a state of nothingness. They were out of sight and mostly out of mind, but I knew that sooner or later they’d have to be dealt with. Hangars have a way of changing hands and this one’s time had come.

At the end of this flight I’m going to be conducting triage on the physical remains of a life that is remembered like a favorite movie: the scenes are crystal clear, but it is as if they happened to someone else. Tomorrow I’ll be exhuming memories. Stay tuned.

Act Two: Exploring the Crypt

As the door to that part of the hangar creaked open, the mildewy aroma of a long-sealed tomb rolled over me and with it came a feeling of abject hopelessness—I suddenly realized what an enormous task lay ahead. There was a mountain of stuff facing me. However, it was interesting to see how much of it I had forgotten.

While I had been looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with my antique artillery piece, I had, for whatever reason, forgotten how incredibly cute the little Lawrence 5-cylinder radial engine was. Now all I have to do is convince Marlene that it will look great under a glass coffee table in the office. It’s a keeper. And so is a lot of other cool stuff.

I had also forgotten how many books I had, a fact that weighed heavily on my soul, and eventually, on my back because there was no way they could all go home with me. There were hundreds and hundreds of them, the majority with the letters “Av” or  “Air” in the titles. And many had their tale to tell.

I popped open my copy of Erich Hartmann’s autobiography, “The Blond Knight of Germany” and was pleased at the personal nature of the inscription. The same was true with Wolfgang Langwische’s “Stick and Rudder.”  The two-word inscription on the inside of “Yeager,” on the other hand, barely yielded the author’s name.

The numbers overwhelmed me and made me sad. All of these books wouldn’t fit on our property, much less in our house. As I sat amidst gloom and spider webs, I had to make some hard decisions. What went and what stayed? And what did I do with those that weren’t making the cut?

Anyone who has moved even across the street remembers the desperation that sets in only hours into the process. We want it over. Now! Sentimentality be damned! Well…damned with part of it anyway…,which is why books shoved aside magically re-appeared in the going-west pile. Fortunately, a friend on the airport is adopting the orphaned books and will, via eBay, at least keep them out of the paper drive.

Right now I’m sitting in the dark in Clevenger’s former house (they’ve long since divorced) while my ravaged body begs me to shut down the laptop and get some rest. Lumbars three and four periodically hit me with a painful little jab as if reminding me that tomorrow is going to be the big push as I try to package the several tons of goodies that will be headed for their new, and final, home.

As far as that goes, I’m ready to head for home myself: today was exhausting, both physically and emotionally.

Act Three: Journey Coming to an End

I’m back in tourist class with the nose pointed west. We’re slipping through the upper reaches of a black, moonless night while eleven neatly bundled shipping skids of memories lay behind me awaiting pick up. As I typed that last sentence, I realized that eleven, chest-high skids doesn’t sound like much until you realize that there isn’t one single household item included in the total. Not one. These aren’t desks and couches, lamps and dinettes. These are compact pieces that fit together to make a jig saw puzzle that looks like a life. All items that survived the painful this-goes-but-that-doesn’t-go process have special meaning to me. I am, for instance, looking forward to restoring my cannon and my wood lathe has been too long silent plus one of the boxes is full of choice chunks of Claro walnut perfect for turning. I was elated when I found my series of arrowhead identification books by Dr. Bell and my Abbott and Doehnoff airfoil book will once again sit on my desk. The list of goodies going west is a long and pleasant one.

On the one hand, today I felt as if I were being reunited with old friends. On the other, as I looked across the line of plastic-encased skids and killed the hangar light for the last time, I knew I had just thrown the “off” switch on an era. The new chapter that Marlene and I had started so long ago finally has no links to the past.

Now, does anyone want to come help me unload this stuff?