Here’s a true story that will probably get me kicked out of my stoic, PDA-eschewing, Yankee family, but it needs to be told.
I wasn’t a kid when I got married for the first time almost 5 years ago. I was still in my 40’s but barely holding onto a decade I expected to hate when I first entered it. Maybe it was the being single for so long and having siblings who got into the parenting thing late in life, but I was able to mentally attach myself to an age (27) with a tenacity that could put super glue to shame. No matter how many birthdays passed, I was 27.
And then Jon retired. Mandatory retirement comes early to FAA air traffic controllers. It’s a super high stress job and my guess is they don’t want anyone dying in the control tower so they kick them to the curb at 56. Jon cleaned out his locker and landed his last plane (flown by musician Livingston Taylor) at 55 years and 363 days. But that was Jon retiring and he’s older so I rationalized away my age and he was 56 and retiring and I was 27 for one more spin of the earth.
Jon had mentioned more than once what a good pilot Livingston (LT) was and that he always enjoyed his encounters with him. So when his last plane settled onto the runway, Jon told LT that he was his very last landing at Hanscom; he was retiring. Coincidentally, Jon learned that LT was performing at a free concert (rush, albeit BYO, seating) in Londonderry NH the next night. Jon suggested going up and I said “sure”. I’m 27, I’m young, I’ve still got the stamina to go to a concert after a 12-hour workday. Maybe I’d bring a lighter and flick my Bic a cell phone and wave it in solidarity with the rest of the concert-goers who loved the performance.
Jon introduced himself to LT before the concert began and they talked in codes and numbers that meant nothing to me but everything to avid flyers. The concert began and LT pulled me into his universe with his mesmerizing voice and whistling… his stories. He sang with a voice so easy it threatened to convince me that I could sing. Then sometime in the middle of the concert, Livingston told a different story. He was flying into Hanscom yesterday and he spoke to a man named Jon in the tower who happened to be in the audience. We were in the front row, so he pointed to Jon and mentioned how he’d spoken to him many times in his flights out of Bedford. He thanked Jon for his service and wished him a happy retirement. And then Livingston dedicated the next song to Jon – it was a song he had written about the Wright Brothers.
It was a magic send-off from one era to the next. And sometime during the song on our side-by-side lawn chairs, Jon held my hand and with the other I pulled the cashmere cardigan a little tighter around my shoulders to ward off the night air chill. And I thought, these might as well be rocking chairs. We are old. And my eyes filled at the realization that 27 was a myth. And when they filled a little more, I alluded to pollen and wind as a tear dribbled down my cheek. But it was not a tear for lost youth. It was a tear of gratitude, because as quickly as my youth evaporated, I realized, I’d rather be old with Jon, than young with anyone else.
To Jon, Happy birthday, happy retirement, happy life. HILY.
©2013 by Alison Colby-Campbell