By Mike Cline
For the Salisbury Post
Isn’t it interesting how a kid and a parent can look at the same situation with totally different perspectives?
First, a little background. As an only child, the nearest person to a big brother I had was my cousin Sammy, five years my senior. Growing up, I spent a good bit of time with him. I’d spend the day at his house, and we did just about everything kids did.
Sometimes I would spend the night. That’s what guys called it. I believe girls called it sleeping over.
During my second-grade school year, I stayed at his house for more than a week when my parents had to drive to New Mexico for a family funeral. I even cried when my parents returned and told me I had to go home. My father understood why I felt that way, my mother did not.
On a September Sunday in 1964, my mother and I did what we usually did on a Sunday morning — got up, ate breakfast, dressed and headed to Sunday School.
The next hour we found ourselves in the third-from-the-back pew — unofficially known as the Cline pew — on the left side of the sanctuary. No one ever sat on this pew except Cline family members. It was that way before I entered the world.
This Sunday’s routine took a swerve at the end of the service, for whatever reason I can’t recall. My mother went home alone, and I went home with my Aunt Ruth and cousin Sammy.
Once we reached their house, my aunt decided, instead of cooking a big meal, to give Sammy and me enough money to go to Redmond’s Cafe to eat. Back then, $3 would cover two meals. She made Sammy promise to make sure I ate a nourishing lunch and not to let me fill up on cake and donuts. He promised he would, and he did.
I was expected to obey my older cousin when he was in charge of me. After all, he was nearly a man, and knew everything there was to know about life. He was 18. (Insert your chuckle here.)
As we left the restaurant, he asked me if I needed to get home for anything. I told him no. Turns out my social calendar was wide open that afternoon, so my cousin suggested we drop by his friend’s house to see what he was doing. I knew his friend Brooks from all the time I had spent in my cousin’s old neighborhood, so a drop-in was fine with me.
When we arrived, Brooks was glad to see us, at least see my cousin. He told us, “It’s a good thing you got here when you did, because I have to be out at the airport in half-an-hour for my pilot’s lesson. Why don’t ya’ll come with me?”
So we followed Brooks to the Statesville Airport.
Brooks met with his flight instructor and introduced us. He told us that this day was the final class for Brooks and was to be his final exam. If he passed, he would be a licensed pilot. The exam consisted of a takeoff, brief flying time and the landing. The instructor then told Sammy and me it would be OK if we rode along.
It turned out Sammy had never been in a plane, and I hadn’t flown since I was 7 when I went to Santa Fe with my mom because my grandmother was very ill.
So we both said, “Great, we’ll ride along.”
Can you imagine the liability issue if something like this were to occur today? If the plane went down, and I survived the crash, I’d probably own the airport.
Now here’s where it got a bit sticky. Did either of us call our mothers to get permission? Of course not. Would we have been given permission if we had called? Of course not.
I took the low road and made no objection when Sammy accepted the invitation. After all, he was the adult in charge.
So the two of us climbed into the back seats of the four-seater, single-engine little plane.
Brooks and the instructor took the controls, and off we went. The takeoff was thrilling, and soon we were climbing into what seemed like the stratosphere.
After a few minutes of soaring, Sammy or I asked why we weren’t landing yet. The instructor said, “Brooks has to fly to Charlotte and back. That’s the final exam.”
Oops, it was a little longer ride than we were led to believe. But that was fine with me.
Eventually, I could tell we were approaching Charlotte, because it looked as big as New York City to me from the air. Brooks made a wide turn right above the Charlotte Coliseum (the original one), which I recognized because I had attended Ringling Bros. Circus and the Ice Capades at that venue.
Then it was straight back to Statesville. Brooks aced the landing, and we all disembarked. Brooks was awarded his pilot’s license. The trip had taken almost two hours.
It was close to 5 p.m. Sammy said he needed to get me home.
It didn’t occur to us at the time of our winging our way all over creation, that two mothers were on the ground wearing out the telephone lines seeking information as to our whereabouts. No one had heard from us, and, of course, they were frantic and feared the worse. None of that was on our radar.
Sammy pulled into my driveway, and before he could bring his car to a stop, my mother is outside shaking her fists at us. I couldn’t wait to tell her about my incredible afternoon.
Before I could speak, I heard, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” Still excited and making the boneheaded assumption she would share my enthusiasm, I answered, “Momma, guess what we did? Sammy’s friend Brooks flew us to Charlotte and back in an airplane!”
That’s when my plane went down.
“GET INSIDE! SAMMY, YOU GET HOME!”
The fun part of the day had ended. I went to my room and took my tongue-lashing like a kid. And before my cousin had time to get home, my mother had called my aunt expressing her displeasure with the poor supervision her “adult” son had provided her “little baby.”
I recall Sammy’s telling me later that he wasn’t well-received when he arrived at home.
I can’t recall ever seeing Brooks after this day.
The tension at my house passed after a day or two. And I had a great story to tell all the guys at school the next day.
And I offer this advice to all youngsters: Before embarking on a free airplane ride to Charlotte and back — call your mother.
Mike Cline’s website, “Mike Cline’s Then Playing,” documents all the movies played in Rowan County theaters from 1920 through 1979.
By Mike Cline