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Remembering Henry & Another Tuskegee Airman

 

Fran discovered another story of a living Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Col. Harry Stewart. She recorded it so we could watch it later. Col. Stewart was honored at the Richard Nixon Library recently in a promotion for his book, “Soaring to Glory.”

Among his many interesting tales about his Air Corps career was one near and dear to my heart. As kids, we both were pushed around in a homemade cart that had a front axle pivoted for steering. One had to push with the right foot to turn left and vice versa.

He and I discovered that the rudder pedals in airplanes work opposite to what we had become accustomed to: we had to push on the left pedal to go left and vice versa. We both had to overcome this acquired trait . . . in my case, I did fine in the air, coordinating left foot with left bank for turning, but was in trouble when we landed.

When the airplane veered left, I’d make it worse by first pushing the left pedal, then had to get on the right one quickly to correct. It took a lot of practice to do the right thing instinctively! An immediate correct response is required to avoid a ground loop in those airplanes with tail wheels.

We also shared an exuberant response to the first time we got airborne in our first solo take-off . . . I burst into song, he enjoyed a great feeling of soaring above the trees and in control of where he would go. Apparently, this is an emotion shared by all pilots!

By the way, Timothy Brown was the Employee of the Month for June at White Oak Manor.

Of course, I failed to mention another black friend from my school days: George Carson met the mail trains and threw the mail sacks into the open rumble seat of his very fast little ’34 Ford Coupe.

His return across the tracks from the Depot to the Post Office, then on Trade Street, was the signal to the group in Missildine’s Drug store on the corner that they’d better finish their morning coffee (or Coke in the afternoon) and conversations because the mail would be put up soon and they could take it home to read.

Yes, mail was delivered twice a day back then . . . the mailman came around both in the morning and again in the afternoon in Durham c.1938. First class letters could be mailed for 3 cents, and there were “Penny Postcards.” And the ultimate convenience: a letter posted in the office that would box it cost only 2 cents! And you did not even have to include the Box number, because the clerk knew where to put it.

This calls to mind another black friend, Michael at the Columbus Post Office. He joins a long list of postal people that I came to know in the thirty plus years since I retired. I have lunch here at White Oak with a former Columbus Postmaster, Mike McEntee.

I met some of them in other jobs before they joined the staff there. Susan was a customer at Fran’s yarn shop, Kelly was a favorite waitress at Sidestreet, and Debbie put up frozen foods at Bi-Lo, so I called her “Miss Cold Hands.”

Friend Henry Linder repaired leather goods and dress shoes for about 70 of his 99 years! He tried to retire years ago, but his customers would not allow it. He kept my family’s shoes in good repair, including my mother and Aunt Mildred. Since I now seldom wear dress shoes, mine will probably last as long as I do.