Ray and Mary never talked about the air-
port's debts, about demanding suppliers,
about starchy letters from the IRS. For fifteen
long years the Hardings struggled to trans-
form the airport into a sustainable business
and in all that time, and despite indications
otherwise, they never quite mustered the re-
sources to turn the corner.
conversation between them--was a tacit ac-
knowledgment of something on the horizon,
a mute admission of an impending change.
They'd had many such conversations over
the last couple of years, and by late 1979 not a
day passed without a hint or an offhand refer-
ence between them about money or people or
what would come next.
structed a runway and hangars and a flight of-
fice. They had hand built a home where they
cooked, and fed and entertained pilots for
years. They had taken bewildered students
and coached them into confident weekend
flyers, and coached flyers into commercial
aviators. They fashioned a community where
people could come and make new friends and
fly and jump and balloon or just sit around
the barbeque and tell tales--of learning to
fly with the engine shut down, of trading air-
planes for furniture, of barnstorming cats,
time Ray was forced to land in a plowed field
where he rolled forward, slow motion, into
a barbed wire fence and flipped the aircraft
upside down; the time a purple Cessna 150
landed with bullet holes in the right wing and
a slug still lodged in the aluminum wing spar;
the time a man with bulky high-res binocu-
lars hid out in a neighbor's cornfield spying
on the airport (rumored to be a DEA agent or
someone likely as sinister hoping to eyeball a
clandestine fly-in of drugs or guns or, equally
probable, a truckload of knockoff Obi-Wan
Kenobi action figures buzzed in from Beijing.
It was decided by group vote that the binoc-
ular-toting stranger was not a birdwatcher or
an ag student at UT chiefly because to vote
otherwise would spoil all the fun) and how
this same group of frisky pilots and passen-
gers loaded up their airplanes with water bal-
loons and bombed the poor fellow until he
jumped into his car and split. Or the time...
well, I could go on.
more than an airport. They created thousands
of memories times the thousands of people
who braved the muddy dirt road and discov-
ered what lay behind the stand of cypress and
willow. For Ray and Mary at least, the stories
and memories and some of the heartache
were behind them. It was time for someone
new to take the baton and run with it.