| Since the first time I told this story, quite a bit has changed. Second son is a husband and father now. His two year old son is missing his daddy this holiday season. He is on his fourth Air Force deployment. So the story is perhaps more poignant. The New York rellies are in much better health these days. And Flattop (who encouraged me to write this and save it) hasn't been seen on the board in some time!
Second son, who finished high school in 1999, went to college at UMass, Amherst on an Air Force ROTC scholarship. If you know anything about Amherst, Massachusetts, you will know that parading around in uniform (particularly then) does not set you up for BMOC status. Not a problem for second son who used a certain nerd-like charm to amass a large following of friends in high school even though the reason he practiced diligently for every football game and was always on the field at every game was because he was a drummer with the (award winning!) marching band.
One of the interesting assignments that fell to cadets at that time was previewing the Air Force’s recruiting advertisements. Second son was always delighted to call home to tell us that something he had previewed was about to be launched. The highest honor he was seeking in regard to these spots was “did it make my mother cry?” Usually it did not.
I was keeping an eye out for Air Force ads, having been given the heads up from second that a new one was imminent. I wasn’t even aware it was an Air Force ad when it first began, but it caught my attention because it seemed joyful. A mom and a child are laughing and being silly before bedtime. Little one is in pajamas, bouncing on the bed.
As the child is landing in the loving mother’s arms, the frame freezes, it becomes a photograph. The picture fades to just the photograph, clipped to a dashboard in the dark. As the camera pans back from the little picture, it is not just any dashboard, it is a cockpit. A cockpit in an Air Force fighter jet. The pilot nods at the photo and the focus returns to the home where the mother and child had been playing. Now it is much later and both are asleep as the jet swoops by high in the night sky. Then the music, which likely had been softly and inconspicuously playing throughout, becomes the main focus, “Sleep my child and peace attend thee, All through the night.”
Then the Air Force logo and I was vigorously wiping away the tears! Second son was very pleased when I confessed that that one made me cry.
Life rolled along and ads came and went, but I still think that was one of their best. 9/11 happened while my boy in uniform on campus was a junior. Talk about your basic overnight sensation. People stopped him and thanked him all the time. And he hadn’t done much more than preview a few commercials. (Although, years later, high above Afghanistan, he earned their adulation for real.)
After college he went on to flight training and became captain of a KC 130 super tanker. His missions often involved travelling with fighter jets because they actually can’t go very far without refueling.
The rest of the family grew and grew. There are a lot of cousins living on Long Island, outside NYC. Because I had spent many of the weekends and summers of my childhood in the company of these cousins, aunts, and uncles, Drdad and I frequently took our family there. Even when we lived in Utah and were TBM, we drove across the country to see our NY rellies. A move to the east coast in 1994 made these visits much easier and more frequent.
One of the cousins had discovered that she and her husband carried some kind of genetic kidney condition that had no effect on them, but created a rather serious medical problem for two of their three daughters. Cousin’s parents had been ill and times were a little worrisome when we drove there from Massachusetts for a routine visit.
Everyone was well or in some kind of remission that particular weekend. Many various related cousins had gathered at aunt and uncle’s house. (Second son was stationed in Europe at the time so he wasn’t there.) Aunt and uncle were starting to tire, the little ones were not. I invited all the rowdy little rellies out on the back deck to look for stars. It was a clear night, but in the suburbs of the city so nice they named it twice, most of the stars were in motion as air traffic stacked up over the three major airports in the region. (And over little Islip MacArthur airport as well.)
No milky way to see so we decided to call out to the planes. We knew which way the Atlantic ocean was from our deck. If planes were coming from that way we called out, “Welcome to America!” If the lights were descending we called, “Happy landing!” If the lights were just passing through, we waved and cheered as if we knew everyone on board. We did a lot of jumping around, it was nice to have everyone healthy enough to be silly for a while. Aunt and uncle enjoyed the silliness from indoors and could relax without the shouting right in their laps.
Later we packed into various guest rooms and couches and floors to sleep that night. After a leisurely breakfast, our family climbed into the car for the tedious, mostly urban drive back home. One of our family traditions is to call whoever is not in the car and put them on speaker and give them all the family news as we roll along.
Second son was 6 hours ahead of us in time and we decided he would be home finishing dinner and ready to spend some time on the phone hearing that, for the moment, all the rellies were well. He was indeed happy to hear from us and we all settled in for a lengthy chat. We said, “We were on Long Island last night!”
He responded, “Oh yeah? Me too, just overhead! I was with a bunch of fighters, it was our squadron’s turn to patrol the US east coast.” (Prior to this call I hadn’t been aware that fighters and their refuelers routinely patrol the east coast from bases in Europe.)
“Hey!” I said, “The kids and I were out on the deck waving at planes, I’ll bet we were waving at you!”
Second son replied, “I don’t think you waved at me. It was around 2 AM your time when I went by, everyone was in bed I hope.”
The family went on to other topics that I didn’t hear because of the music playing in my mind, “Sleep my child, and peace attend thee, all through the night.”