Christmas Rewind

I don’t know about you but Christmas is always somewhat of a downer for me. Something about the commercialization of the season, the fact that it now seems to begin well before Thanksgiving, or that nagging feeling that I will simply never be done with all the projects standing in the way prior to the joyous let down that I always feel on Christmas day. I know it is a Christian celebration. I know it is all about joy and goodwill. But, somehow I never seem to feel any of that during the Christmas Season. It seems to me that everything in the world just stops. So I withdraw. I get sullen and sick to death of all the hustle and bustle and especially tired of hearing those Christmas Carols over and over!

This season was so filled to the brim with last minute details and kids arriving from, and visits by us to, far off places that somehow we missed out on the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. Wifey made a couple of runs at it only to come home disappointed; pickin’s were slim. The season was salvaged when the kids noted that I had deftly hooked one of the evergreen shrubs with the plow truck and broken off some boughs. By the time I got back home from a day of plowing, something resembling Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree only greener was gracing the living room. Instead of an 8’ behemoth of a tree, boughs from a broken evergreen shrub were neatly displayed in a vase with lights, some decoration and a smattering of tinsel. The heirloom star graced the “top” as it were. It just may be that that tree made more of an impact on what Christmas is for than all the other fir trees that have graced the living room since the beginning of time!

I remember celebrating Christmas years ago when I was working in the Hawaiian Islands. Christmas seemed to work differently there. I was part of a tight knit aviation community and most of us were far from our homes and families. My second year there I vowed to deal quickly with the oncoming deadlines and sent all my gifts and cards off the island by Thanksgiving Day! That freed me up to enjoy more of the season. It somehow made my job of running an aviation tour company hauling tourists around a slab of volcanic rock much more enjoyable. The weather never blessed me with an impending winter storm. I didn’t spend a single day trying to decide which coat to wear to deal with the weather that day. Socks were always optional. And, no one ever asked me if I encountered any ice on the letdown. During the holiday season there was an endless spread of snacks and treats at the hangar day after day; all delivered by well-wishers in flip flops and tee shirts. And, each evening friends gathered here or there to listen to the rustle of the trade winds in the palm trees, play some music and “talk story” while sharing a beer and a simple plate of crackers, cheeses, Poke, smoked Aku, fresh Ahi or any of a hundred other assorted Pu-Pu’s; all goodies that just showed up at the gathering without much fanfare. It was simple. Whatever anyone had, they shared. It is that low key approach to a high profile holiday that appeals to me. I miss that feeling.

In sharp contrast to the enjoyable way it used to be, this season the weather in Michigan provided us with a delightful snow storm that dumped about 10-12 inches of snow all over my airport. Temps plummeted and everything froze seemingly overnight. There is nothing like a day spent plowing snow off the ramp and out of the driveways to make you appreciate the Holidays! Traffic slips to a crawl, tow truck drivers work day after sleepless day snagging helpless idiots from the ditches, snow plow drivers spend days on end in the cab of their trucks pushing driveway snow into great white mountains at the curb, and yet; the hustle remains because we all know that Christmas is coming.

I determined not to be a part of all that this year. The gifts were taken care of the old fashioned way by an old fashioned guy; I wrote checks. Yeah, I know it’s impersonal but I’m the guy who just goes out and gets whatever I want or need all year long. That makes me impossible to buy for. I reasoned that since the majority of the family is so far away now days and since I really have no idea what these growing families actually need, it is better for me to simply send them money so they can get whatever they want. They are as impossible to buy for as I am!

Cards, checks and packages sent, snow plowed, bills paid, I found myself with an entire day and a half of time left over. Sure, I could have worked on projects or the wife and I could have gone visiting. We could have gone to a Christmas concert. We could have gone shopping for the Christmas feast at the last moment. Instead of any of this; I went to the hangar.

The Mooney looked cold and forlorn when first we arrived. In the dark of the hangar it sat alone under wraps as if it hadn’t been outside to see the sun for ages. All was quiet and the airport, as might be expected, was deserted on this blustery snowy day. “How lucky am I,” I wondered? I have somehow managed to get myself into a heated and insulated hangar on our little strip. Not only does the Mooney like it better there but, I like it better there. There is something about being able to hole up inside where it is toasty and pleasant when all outside is snow and ice, gloom and doom. And so with the heat cranked up and Jimmy Buffet on the CD machine we turned a glum empty day into one filled with airplanes, light and music. Jimmy can make the coldest afternoon seem like a walk on the beach!

We puttered; Just Pappy and me. He found an old shop towel and he fetched it back to me as many times as I could throw it across the room. In between tosses I played with the Mooney. Bugs from our fall flights still decorated my leading edges, tires were soft with the cold weather, data bases needed to be updated, windows needed to have those nose prints from the last flight polished off, carpets needed to have the Grand Marais sand removed. Busy, busy, busy!

Earlier in the week, just after that big snow ended we had returned from a long weekend trip to the DC area and a new (to me) amplifier had been dropped off at the hangar upon our return; a sort of “gift” from my youngest son to me. The kids, and grandkids Parker and Phoebe, had all been great and it was nice to catch up with them during the holiday season and see how much the little ones had grown. Just before we left however, my son the “con man” talked me into dragging his dinosaur of an amplifier home with me. I still play a bit of guitar so it had sounded like a good idea to me. With time to spare this day, I soon found myself drawn away from the Mooney and fiddling away at the settings on this new toy. I had just about figured out how it all functioned when a buddy from a hangar across the field stepped through the door. In less than a minute he asked if I would be there a while. “Sure” I replied, “Taking a mental health day!” He departed then and in no time returned with his guitar in hand and some new electronic gizmos designed to make us both sound like Van Halen. A beer or two and some gourmet chips followed and soon we were lost in time at the hangar, just two old boys making noise. We did some hangar flying, talked about airplanes and flights and music and guitars and all too soon realized that the street lights were on and that meant we should be home having some Christmas. I set out for home but vowed to return the following day for more of the holiday charm I have been missing for years.

The day before Christmas, Christmas Eve; all was ramped up and people were everywhere snatching up those last minute bargains and making sure they had enough cranberry sauce. Pappy and I were back at the hangar early, polishing on the Mooney and watching World War II videos from Zeno’s about those heady days when “kids” flew P-47’s and Mustangs and B-24’s to the defense of the USA. No hustle, no bustle here. Just a dog, an airplane, aviation dreams and reflections of the flying year gone by. Many memorable trips had been accomplished this past year and savoring their memories was almost as good as making the flights. Maybe this is the way I am supposed to handle the Christmas Holiday? Somehow wiping the grease off the belly of the airplane didn’t seem like such a big deal. Polishing the spinner was actually relaxing. In the end no one minded that I took a little time for myself and it was great to have some more of the local pilots stopping by this day before the big event for a bit of “cheer.” It’s a peculiar thing that pilots do. Many of us simply appear at the airport from time to time for no particular reason, and in this case some of the “brotherhood” had come together unannounced once again to share what we had or what was new or just to say hello. It truly was a Merry Christmas gathering. Perhaps a new tradition has begun. Maybe there really are merrier Christmas’ ahead after all. Maybe Thomas Wolfe was wrong; maybe you can go home again!

We hope you had a very merry Christmas!

The following is stolen from AvFlash 2006; Many thanks!
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and out on the ramp,
Not an airplane was stirring, not even a Champ.
The aircraft were fastened to tiedowns with care,
In hopes that come morning, they all would be there.
The fuel trucks were nestled, all snug in their spots,
With gusts from two-forty at 39 knots.
I slumped at the fuel desk, now finally caught up,
And settled down comfortably, resting my butt.
When the radio lit up with noise and with chatter,
I turned up the scanner to see what was the matter.
A voice clearly heard over static and snow,
Called for clearance to land at the airport below.
He barked his transmission so lively and quick,
I’d have sworn that the call sign he used was “St. Nick”.
I ran to the panel to turn up the lights,
The better to welcome this magical flight.
He called his position, no room for denial,
“St. Nicholas One, turnin’ left onto final.”
And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a Rutan-built sleigh, with eight Rotax Reindeer!
With vectors to final, down the glideslope he came,
As he passed all fixes, he called them by name:
“Now Ringo! Now Tolga! Now Trini and Bacun!
On Comet! On Cupid!” What pills was he takin’?
While controllers were sittin’, and scratchin’ their head,
They phoned to my office, and I heard it with dread,
The message they left was both urgent and dour:
“When Santa pulls in, have him please call the tower.”
He landed like silk, with the sled runners sparking,
Then I heard “Left at Charlie,” and “Taxi to parking.”
He slowed to a taxi, turned off of three-oh
And stopped on the ramp with a “Ho, ho-ho-ho…”
He stepped out of the sleigh, but before he could talk,
I ran out to meet him with my best set of chocks.
His red helmet and goggles were covered with frost
And his beard was all blackened from Reindeer exhaust.
His breath smelled like peppermint, gone slightly stale,
And he puffed on a pipe, but he didn’t inhale.
His cheeks were all rosy and jiggled like jelly,
His boots were as black as a crop-duster’s belly.
He was chubby and plump, in his suit of bright red,
And he asked me to “fill it, with hundred low-lead.”
He came dashing in from the snow-covered pump,
I knew he was anxious for drainin’ the sump.
I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work,
And I filled up the sleigh, but I spilled like a jerk.
He came out of the restroom, and sighed in relief,
Then he picked up a phone for a Flight Service brief.
And I thought as he silently scribed in his log,
These reindeer could land in an eighth-mile fog.
He completed his pre-flight, from the front to the rear,
Then he put on his headset, and I heard him yell, “Clear!”
And laying a finger on his push-to-talk,
He called up the tower for clearance and squawk.
“Take taxiway Charlie, the southbound direction,
Turn right three-two-zero at pilot’s discretion”
He sped down the runway, the best of the best,
“Your traffic’s a Grumman, inbound from the west.”
Then I heard him proclaim, as he climbed through the night,
“Merry Christmas to all! I have traffic in sight.”
-Author unknown

Tom Speerstra

Author: Tom Speerstra

Tom Speerstra has had an enduring love affair with aviation for over 40 years. Countless adventures have been enjoyed flying students, people, paper, and parcels in everything from Champs to Citations. He has held positions as both Chief Pilot and Director of Operations for Part 135 carriers and holds an ATP, MEII, SES ratings and a Citation type rating. Tom makes his home in Michigan with his wife Elizabeth and the two dogs Hess and Pappy.