When I was kid in the early 1970s, I bought a Boeing 747 jet. True story. It all happened so fast. There I was innocently eating my breakfast when I noticed a picture on the back of the cereal box showing the new 747 jet with PanAm markings and an offer to own it. I became obsessed with that jet. I had to have one. It was as simple as that.
So even before the cereal was gone, I snipped out the order form on the side of the box and mailed it with a dime taped to the back for shipping. In those days, three to four weeks for delivery was typical. It seemed like forever before a package addressed to me finally showed up in our mail box. I tore open the padded shipping envelope and spotted the plastic nose of a 747 peering back at me.
Inside the house I emptied the contents of the envelope on the kitchen table. That’s when I learned the meaning of the phrase, “some assembly required.” Fortunately the pieces all snapped together in quick fashion. I stuck the Pan Am stickers to the tail of the jet and admired the plane in the palm of my hand. I was now the proud owner of a 747 with the distinct “bump” on the forward part of the plane for the cockpit and first class seating.
The coolest thing about this jet was that it had a string attached the fuselage that allowed me to fly it. Outside I took the jet on its maiden voyage. As I spun the jet around in a circle with the string tether, I watched it fly up and down. I dreamed of the day when I would fly on a real 747. That dream came true some years later.
In December of 1988, my wife and I flew on a Pan Am 747 to England to attend my brother-in-law’s wedding. For the return trip, we were booked on Pan Am flight 103. As things turned out, the wedding was held on the same day that a terrorist bomb blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland. I recall the horror of seeing news clips showing plane pieces scattered over the Scottish countryside and a small village. The most striking image to me was a picture of the nose of the 747 peering out of the envelope of a foggy Scottish field.
The next day we went to the airport to return home. With the bombing scarcely 24 hours old, everyone was tense. We boarded a Pan Am 747 for the flight home — Flight 103. It seemed strange to be flying on the same numbered flight that had been blown out of the sky the previous day. I expected we would take the same flight path on our way back to the U.S. We lifted off from Heathrow airport and took to the sky. In my childhood dreams about flying on a 747 there was never fear, only the excitement of taking to the air in something way bigger than myself.
The moment the 747 touched down in the U.S. everyone onboard applauded. We arrived safely home, exited the plane and headed toward the gate area to the baggage claim. I hesitated for a moment and stopped to look through the window at the 747 parked on the tarmac. I no longer felt the same excitement in seeing the nose of that jet like I did when I first spotted it in the envelope as a kid.
Sometimes I think about “what if’s” — as in what if my brother-in-law had scheduled the wedding a day sooner. I think of my adult daughter and our granddaughter and recall that my wife was pregnant at the time with our first child. If the wedding had been a day sooner, chances are we would’ve been on that Pan Am flight blown out of the sky. It’s a sobering reminder that life is fragile.
#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published January 15, 2020
© 2020, Chris G. Thelen