Webmaster’s Note: This story appeared in the Sept. 3, 2008, edition of The Register-Mail, Galesburg’s daily newspaper, and is posted here with the publication’s permission.
By TOM LOEWY
GSunglasses. An old baseball cap. A sweating can of Brisk no-calorie iced tea.
Judy Kaiser needed all three to beat Tuesday afternoon’s heat, plus shade offered by a Tiffin Phaeton.
The immense, idle RV – and some well-placed canopies – cast enough shadow to provide Judy and her golden retrievers Augi and Mardi some relief from the sun. Judy cast her eyes to the sight and sound of antique planes flying overhead.
“We’ve been coming to the Stearman Fly-In every year since 1993,” she said. “This year we don’t have a Stearman, though.”
The 53-year-old laughed and pointed. Her husband, Jim, approached with Larry DeMars.
“My husband has been flying since he was a young boy,” she said.
Jim took a shaded seat on a cooler.
“I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I was 16 the first time I flew. That was in 1964,” he said. “But I never became a fighter pilot. Got drafted into infantry instead. Went to Vietnam.
“I was there for five months over 1968 and 1969. Turned 21 over there. Came home on a litter. Gunshot wound across the back. Million-dollar wound.”
The sunburn on Jim’s face made his green eyes stand out.
“After all that, I went back to my old job at Cessna Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas. I was an airline mechanic and I got my pilot licenses through the GI Bill. I’ve been an airline pilot ever since.”
Jim opened his own can of Brisk no-calorie iced tea.
“The first year we came here to the Stearman Fly-In, it was to doresearch on buying a Stearman. I had a 1942 PT-17 for 11 years, then I got a T-6, which isn’t a Stearman. The T-6 is a SNS-4, a Navy version of a trainer.
“I wanted to be able to do formation flying. I fly in the War Bird in Oshkosh.”
The green-eyed 60-year-old raised the silver can to his mouth and took a short sip.
“My vocation is my avocation,” Jim said.
“Whoa, where’d he get those words?” Judy said.
She shared a laugh with Larry DeMars.
“That doesn’t sound right,” Jim said. “Maybe it’s the other way around. Anyway, my job is my hobby and my hobby is my job. But flying for fun is better. You aren’t at 30,000 feet in a sealed tube. You can see more things.”
Jim paused for a moment. The can in his hand beaded.
“You can smell things,” he said after another sip. “I remember flyingover a chocolate factory. The smell was incredible. It was like flying through a chocolate cake.
“I love seeing sunrises and sunsets.”
“It’s the best way to look down on the admiral’s daughter sunbathing — in the nude,” Judy said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”
She took a slug from her silver can.
“We were both married before,” Judy said. “But I met Jim when I was bartending at a hotel across from the airport in Milwaukee. He came in with a friend and they amused me with their banter and funny jokes.”
Jim’s sun-burned face grew redder still.
“She had a sense of humor,” he said. “She kept up with us. She had some brass.”
Judy finished her can of Brisk.
“Jim flies down and I do the driving.”
She gestured to the Phaeton.
“I love driving it. But it’s not cheap. Motor homes and aviation are not cheap.”
Three Stearman planes passed overhead.
“When Jim got the T-6 we were harassed here by friends. But we always come back. There’s nothing quite like the fly-in.”
Jim’s green eyes were still on the sky.
“We were attracted to this because of the planes,” he said. “We come back to it for the people”