The Love Flight That Wasn’t

Some friends called it ‘The Love Flight.’ It was our 25th silver anniversary gift to each other, a month-long trip in our polished 1946 Cessna 140 to the site of our honeymoon on the other side of the country. My husband Tom and I were eager to take off into carefree skies with little to concern us except an occasional call to the home office. Wrapping up business, paying bills, and packing to be gone for at least a month is stressful, but I knew the moment we lifted off the ground in Truckee, Calif., it would be worth it.

The July morning was clear and cool. We would stay in Ogden, Ut., the first night, only a five-hour flight in the ‘Putt-Putt,’ including a fuel stop. Not a long leg, but if you combine losing an hour by changing time zones with the afternoon buildup of thermals and cumulus near the Wasatch Range, it was a smart plan.

About one hour into the flight, as Tom steered us across the Nevada Desert, my throat felt scratchy. I attributed it to exhaustion, summer heat, and desert dryness, certain that it would all clear up after a good night’s sleep in Ogden.

Well, it didn’t. In fact, by the time we arrived at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh two days later, it was a full-blown something. I was wheezing and sneezing and feeling miserable. The volunteer doctor at Oshkosh gave me some medication to quell the cough, but I felt like I was trapped inside a glass jar.

A week after camping with other classic aircraft owners, Tom flew us to Harbor Springs, Mich., to visit my old college friend Joan and her family. They gave us the spacious corner guest room with a big view of Lake Michigan. That was good, because I was in bed most of the time. I paid another visit to a local doctor who assured me that I wasn’t contagious and gave me some anti-allergy pills. I didn’t take chances, though, and kept my hands and cough to myself.

Four days later, Tom flew us to Elliot Lake, Ontario, where we waited out weather for three days with new friends who invited us to stay with them at their lake house. I began to feel the return of my old self. In the meantime, Tom was starting to show similar symptoms of the mystery ailment. The good news was that it was my turn in the left seat to fly the 140 through upstate New York to Stowe, Vt. Although we were looking forward to seeing our old friends, Stu and Carol, and their underground house, we cautiously greeted them with a wave rather than a hug.

The next day, while Stu and Carol played golf, Tom and I paid a visit to the Stowe medical clinic for yet another diagnosis. ‘Ah,’ said the doctor without hesitation, ‘Tom, you have a case of viral bronchitis and conjunctivitis (a contagious condition also called pinkeye).’ I told her about my symptoms, and she said, ‘You also had bronchitis, Laurel, but it looks like you’re fine.’ She prescribed a powerful, expensive cough syrup for Tom, with a warning that he shouldn’t fly while taking it, and a lighter cough syrup for me, just in case.

Over coffee at a nearby café on our way back to Stu and Carol’s house, Tom and I decided to leave Stowe the next morning. We couldn’t take the chance of infecting our friends. We also wouldn’t fly, as planned, to Bennington, Vt., to visit an 87-year-old friend, nor as far as Vinalhaven, Me., where we had honeymooned 25 years ago. Truckee was our destination now.

Our immediate decision, however, was to choose a place where Tom could recover. We decided to ask my sister Cindy in Warren, Penn., if we could hide out in her ‘camp,’ a rustic cabin they use for deer hunting that we’d heard about for years. Cindy laughed at the camp idea and insisted we let her nurse Tom back to health. I couldn’t resist the idea of being with my easy-going, good-humored sister so many miles from home.

The following morning, we rose early to a beautiful day. Tom showered while I packed. I decided to take a slug of my prescription cough syrup before putting it away. The bedroom light was dim, and, as soon as it rolled down my throat, I knew I had mistakenly swallowed Tom’s cough syrup instead of mine. I couldn’t believe it.

Although we had to leave, we didn’t have to fly, of course. But I’d screwed things up in one fell swig. (Lesson: always put on the reading glasses.) When Tom appeared, I told him what I’d done. He thought a minute, then said, ‘I won’t take any cough syrup, and I’ll be PIC.’ He was contagious but able to think clearly and focus. I was healthy but uncertain of the effects of the cough syrup.

As we flew west across the dense forests of Pennsylvania, I felt tremendous relief and joy in being airborne. We fueled-up in Penn Yan, N.Y., home of Penn Yan Aero and its famous engine and STC conversions. The next stop and nearest airport to Warren was Brokenstraw, a 2,660-ft. grass strip that was a lovely sight, a swath of green cut out of the forest and my sister looking skyward, eager for us to arrive.

We hadn’t been to Warren in nearly 20 years, nor seen Cindy’s oldest boys since they were teens, and we had never been to the log home that Cindy and her husband Jim had built in the country five years earlier. I knew as we pulled up to the house that our visit was long overdue.

Tom spent most of the next few days in bed. When he was up, however, he was helpful to Jim who was installing windows and doors in the new addition to the house. One night, after midnight and well past our usual bedtime, Cindy, Tom and I lay on the front lawn, looking for meteor showers that were forecast for that night. When we didn’t see any and began wondering how much longer we’d have to stay awake, the top of the house and surrounding oak trees lit up. Not with meteor showers, but a bright beam of light. ‘Someone’s spotlighting!’ Cindy exclaimed in a loud whisper. ‘That’s illegal!’

‘Spotlighting?’ we asked. We learned that poachers use spotlights late at night to find and shoot deer. Spotlighting to view deer is a common out-of-season pastime in rural Pennsylvania, but there are rules about when and where it can be done. It’s always against the law to shine a spotlight after 11:00 p.m. or on anyone’s home.

We lowered our voices to a whisper and lay very still. Tom pointed out that these guys couldn’t be very smart because dozens of people were probably lying on their lawns looking for meteor showers. A few minutes later, after the lights had passed, we gave up on the celestial show and settled on the poacher activity for the evening’s entertainment.

The next morning looked to be a great day to celebrate our 25th anniversary. While we sipped our first cup of coffee, Jim told us that on his way to the lumberyard he saw the game warden with two handcuffed poachers nearby and a deer carcass in the truck. When Jim stopped to ask him what he does with deer, the warden replied, ‘We keep the hide, head and horns for evidence, then throw the rest in the dump.’ Jim casually suggested that perhaps he and a neighbor could help with the butchering.

That evening, as the August light cast a golden glow on the deck of the new addition, we sat down for supper. Cindy had bought flowers and wine for the occasion, and Jim had marinated and grilled the fresh venison tenderloin. We toasted 25 years together, our family, and the best venison we had ever tasted.

A few days later, we departed Brokenstraw, healthy and revived. We had spent eight days at Cindy and Jim’s. We had walked in the woods and along the river where they hunt and fish. We visited with their kids and played with their grandchildren. We saw Cindy’s office where she’s worked for 25 years and met her co-workers. We cheered on their friends at a softball game and shared a beer with them.

Meanwhile, for nearly four weeks, Tom and I had been afraid to even shake hands, much less kiss. But it didn’t matter. The ‘Love Flight’ had been full of unexpected gifts and truly an anniversary to remember.