My Dad is a retired flight instructor, and recently he asked me to assist him with a project that involved framing a photograph of the plane he used to fly and teach his students in. The plane has now been sold, and the picture he asked me to frame was the only one he had.
I asked him if he would mind if I played around with it and try to improve the print because the one he handed me was of very poor quality. I am happy to report that I was able to “fix” the print and bring it back to life!
While working on the print, I was reminded of the one and only time I have ever flown with my Dad. It was one of those eye-popping, jaw-dropping experiences, but not for reasons you might think.
Some years back, I got a phone call that my mother was headed into emergency heart valve surgery and I was urged to get to Spartanburg, South Carolina quickly. Due to my mother’s other health issues, the prognosis was iffy and the outcome was not good. I called Dad to let him know and to alert him that I was going to head out. He quickly said he would fly me down there in the plane. That was a hugely generous offer on his part, because of the expense involved, i.e. rental fees, tarmac fees, fuel, etc. But within a couple of hours, we were airborne and on our way.
I had never flown in such a small plane. I had to wear a headset in order to protect my ears and also to be able to hear my father and my father to be able to hear me. The flight down was quick and we flew mostly inside the clouds. It was as if we were wrapped in cotton. I kept waiting to see another plane appear out of nowhere right in front of us.
My mother’s surgery went well, I got to spend some quality time with her post-surgery. After a visit with all of the family, and an overnight stay at a local hotel, Dad and I headed back to Charlottesville. The start of our journey was beautiful, the sky was a majestic blue with no clouds and the landscape lushly verdant. I remember thinking the trees looked a bit like broccoli. However, my delight was soon to turn to terror and tears.
“Hey Dad? What’s that strange knocking noise?” He calmly replied “I don’t know” and then tried to determine the source but was unable to find it. “Hey Dad? Why are all the instrument gauges spinning in circles?” Dad looked and again calmly replied, “I don’t know”. We sat there watching each gauge die, one by one, and then Dad decided to just turn the entire electrical system off.
I remember asking over and over what was wrong. Dad never responded and never showed one hint of panic. Now me, I was close to hysteria thinking that we were going to crash. I did not want Dad to see me crying so I kept my face averted away from him. He would pat me on the leg or the arm and smile to let me know that we would be o.k. I remember him yelling something about how we would now have to fly by landmarks, and he started taking the plane down a bit lower so he could more easily see where he was and follow the highway home. We had no power to work the headphones so our communications were difficult. You cannot imagine how loud the engine of a small plane is especially when you are basically sitting right next to it.
For the next hour or so, the atmosphere was tense but not panic mode. Dad was very careful, watching our flight pattern and scanning the sky to be sure that there were no other planes around. Somewhere during all of this I realized that we were up in the air and we had to come down, some way, some how. It would do me no good to sit there crying and I told myself to suck it up and deal. So I did.
I helped Dad watch the skies on my side and helped him pick out the landmarks below us. We had become a team. About ten minutes outside of the Charlottesville airport, Dad turned on the electrical system one more time hoping we had enough juice left to alert the air controllers that we were coming in, the plane was in distress, and that we would have no radio. We did have juice, just enough, the air controller responded, and we headed in.
We landed with no problems, although I can tell you that when my feet hit the tarmac after off-boarding that plane I almost fell down they were so weak and felt so rubbery! And my Dad never once broke a sweat, never once showed a bit of fear, and was so professional about the whole event. Over the years I was often to hear this about him when it came to his teaching methods and time spent in the plane.
We laugh when we talk about it now. It turns out the alternator burned out which in turn caused the electrical system to go haywire. By turning off the electrical system of the plane, he saved the last bit of battery power that allowed him to make contact with the airport.
I’m sure you will not fault me when I tell you that I never went back up in that plane. No offense meant, but as I once told Dad, “I believe YOU can fly. But I can’t and I prefer terra firma.”
At first glance, it would not appear that plague doctors and love potions would have anything in common. Dig deeper and you find a common denominator. Four to be exact. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. And a song.
Scarborough Fair is an old English ballad that has been on my mind a great deal lately. The lyrics make little or no sense. How would you make a shirt without seams or needlework? An acre of land betwixt the salt water and sea sand? No such thing. I have always wondered and thought I would do a bit of research behind the song and the meaning of some of the things mentioned in the lyrics.
The song itself could be considered a love lament, a coded message in the form of a riddle that a couple sang to each other once upon a time. Although seemingly nothing that was required could be accomplished, it is supposed that if the riddles were solved, then the tasks could be performed.
The repetitive use of the words, “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme”, is a clue to the possibility that the ballad is a song of witchcraft and sorcery. Repetition of phrases and words is a consistent practice when doing spell work of any kind and these particular herbs are favorites for use in love spells and love philtres. Parsley represents purity and spirituality, thyme is for strength, sage is for power, and rosemary is for love and remembrance, and all of these things are necessary ingredients of a strong and true love. These herbs are also frequently used in many stuffing recipes, so I suppose there is some merit to that phrase that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!
The other side of the coin is a grimmer interpretation. It is possible that the references of these herbs are in connection with the black plague that swept through Europe during the 1300s. Given the devastation of people and towns the disease brought, the smell of death would have permeated the atmosphere. People of that period believed that the smell of death was the carrier of the disease and so would burn parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme together in order to overpower the smell of death and so protect themselves from the disease. Plague doctors, those who wore the bird-like masks, would stuff the herbs into the nose cavity of the mask and so breathe in the scents of the herbs rather than the odors of death.
The version of the song Scarborough Fair we are most familiar with stems from the 19th century, but the actual song itself can be traced back to the 1600s. Many, however, believe that the earliest versions could be remnants of even older songs, and so could support the belief that the herbal references are in connection to the black plague.
When Simon and Garfunkel recorded this song, they did so in the form of a canticle that interwove words of another song around the lines of Scarborough Fair. The second song was “The Side of a Hill” and was written by Paul Simon. The Side of the Hill is considered to be an anti-war song in reference to the Vietnam era, but really could refer to any time of war, and certainly Europe of the 1300s was as awash in war as it was in plague.
Simon and Garfunkel’s version is haunting, Gothic, and slightly spooky. If you have not heard Scarborough Fair/Canticle, or have not heard it recently, I have included a link here for you to enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfqpAWPx6T4
“Hey Deb? Get me two aspirin.” “Um, Dad, why are you putting the aspirin in the Christmas tree stand?” “The tree has a headache. It needs some aspirin.”
Dad loves his trees. They have to be real. They have to have the perfect shape, the correct amount of branches at the base, and be at least 6 feet tall. When I was a teenager, I had the honor of helping to pick out the tree. Or rather, the honor of holding up hundreds of trees over the years, as Dad walked around mumbling things like “Not tall enough.” “There’s a hole in the tree.” “It’s crooked.” Or, “Hey, now, that’s a nice one, put that one over there and we’ll see what else they got!” Never mind that it was 20 below, or we were standing in a blizzard, or that the Christmas Tree Guy was standing there shaking his head, wishing we would just get it over with so he could get back to his warm shed.
Decorating was the fun part. We had ornaments of various sizes and shapes, and the rule was that the bigger ones went to the back of the branches and the smallest ones to the front. All the balls were glass. No plastic back then. After all the ornaments were hung, then came the tinsel. This was the part where you wished desperately that you would be felled with the flu. Laying in bed shivering with a fever would have been preferable to the hours (and I do mean hours) putting the tinsel on the tree. You see, Dad bought tinsel icicles. That stuff that comes in long single strands. And he required that it went on one strand at a time, from the back of the branch to the very tip. Evenly spaced. And to be honest, the tree was a glorious shimmering vision once done. Over the years, things have changed a bit. I remember being in my twenties and coming home to a tree that only had tinsel on half the tree. Huh? Dad decided that was too much work! Wow, gee, ya think?
Daddy also has a Santa collection, that over the years grew so large that he can now only fit odd or even years on the mantle. I cannot remember the name of the maker of these Santa figurines, and the collections were discontinued at least 25 years ago, but I remember that every year for many years, Dad would patiently wait for the store to send out the notices for the sales, and then weekly from Thanksgiving until Christmas, he would drive at least 45 minutes one way just to go pick up the Santa offered for that week. I have a favorite Santa. Mine is a replica of a 1926 Christmas Card Santa. I always thought it looked like the little girl was holding a severed head. Sort of speaks to my twisted goth heart. Turns out, its a Santa mask that the little girl is holding. That’s what people did in those days when they dressed up as Santa. They wore a mask!
Daddy also likes to have a train under the tree. Seems he had one growing up and has, over the years, collected several. He tells of going to midnight mass every Christmas Eve with my grandmother while my grandfather would stay home to put up their tree, complete with a train underneath. There’s a new train under Dad’s tree this year, with sound effects and a remote control. He said it took forever to put the track together to get it just right so the train can travel round and round underneath the tree.
Over time, Dad has passed down some of his ornaments to me. Each time, I have cried a bit, remembering each one, and how they hung on the trees of my childhood. Each year I put them on my tree and my grandchildren now get to hear the stories of my childhood Christmases with my Dad. And the aspirin? Dad would trim the top of the tree each year so it would be level and the Angel could sit perfectly on the tip top of the tree. He said it gave the tree a headache. Hence the aspirin.
Merry Christmas Daddy, I love you.