Thursday, April 3, 2008

What Not To Do When Dating A Bush Pilot's Daughter

I shot this photograph in July 1969, when I was a passenger in the rear seat of my buddy Bobby's little two seater, bush pilot's plane. That groovy little ol' hedge hopper didn't have lights or a radio.

The shot is looking westward over Rural Route 11, about seven miles north of Patten, Maine, in Penobscot County. It is about three miles south of Katahdin Lodge. We are flying due north into Moro Plantation, Aroostook County.

We are looking out into 90 miles of the Great North Woods. It's all thick forest land with a few woods roads here and there, until you reach Canada.

Today, there are well maintained snowmobile and ATV trails traveling all through that deep, delightful forest. I'd sure like to get back up there and ride those trails. You can easily reach them from Katahdin Lodge's front yard. I mean doorya'd.

One Saturday evening in August 1969, around sundown, I was with Bobby's daughter Barbara, my steady girlfriend, parkin' and sparkin' out in back of a potato field, when Bobby flew over us at treetop level.

Now that'll grab y'ur attention!

Bobby often went up for short flights of that nature just before dusk got dark. He also usually took a passenger along for the ride. His most frequent flying companions were his good wife Jean, my Uncle Finley, or the Maine Guide whom I guided bear hunters with at Katahdin Lodge, Gary Glidden.

Luckily for Barb and I, we were merely just sparkin' and not burnin' up the bench seat in the cab of that pick up truck.

My sweet little munchkins and I were out on our usual Saturday night date. And that generally kicked off with a movie in Patten at the old converted opera house. Sheesh it was hard to find a seat there without busted springs biting your butt. I can't recall one darned detail about that building, but it was definitely just about ready for the wrecking ball. They showed a movie there once every Friday night, and then repeated it once on Saturday night. It was all geared for young teenagers. Weren't no adults willing to put up with that wild crew in there. The show was more about congenial, boisterous, adolescent horseplay than it was about the movie.

Barbara and I maintained a well planned and proven m.o., our modus operandi, for our Saturday dates.

Her younger siblings went to the show every Saturday. They were too young to be riding around in cars and acting wild with other kids yet, and the movie house was the only other entertainment around on most weekend nights.

Our m.o. was go to the movie for at least a half hour, make sure her brother and sister spotted us there, then we high tailed it for the door. We exited the former opera house and entered the world of teenage drivers in Patten, Maine. That consisted off a whole lot of riding around the wide open countryside for miles and miles then going parkin' in the moonlight.

The Saturday we got caught parkin' by her papa-in-a-plane, I had gotten off work earlier than usual, so I picked up Barbara earlier than usual. That meant we had some time to kill, until the movie house opened. So we rode around out in the country for a little while. But I was in need of some rest from driving, because guiding bear hunters entails driving an average of 80 to 90 miles a day. That's the only reason we stopped and parked in the potato field at that particular time.

But I do declare to you that we did not really get to parkin' heavy. That was for after the show and way after it got dark.

Wow! I'm hearing things!

While I'm writing this, I am experiencing audio flashbacks of the distinct bwurrrhherrrring sound of Bobby's single engine plane straining to hop back up over the treeline of the potato field; after he had swooped down below treetop level in the adjacent field looking to spot any deer, moose, bear or other critters who were just strolling out from their daytime sleeping quarters for a night of harvesting their groceries.

Most mammals in Maine eat breakfast at dusk, work the night shift, eat dinner at dawn, and then peacefully snooze all day.

So anyways, here comes Bobby's plane!

And here's how it went down there in the pick up truck:

Barb and I, more or less in unison, "What's that sound I hear? Turn down the radio. Look over there! It's your/my father! Oh crap! Oh no! Who's that in the back seat?"

Barb, "It must be my mother! It has to be! I know it's her! Can you see 'er?"

A mighty shook up me, "I bet it's my uncle in the back seat! Oh man!!"

Barb, "He's comin around behind us. What'll we do? What'll we do? That's my mom in there, I know it, I know it, that's my mom in there. She's gonna kill me!"

Me, "Maybe it's Gary. Oh man I hope it's Gary!"

Barb, "I'll be grounded for a month. She's gonna kill me!"

Me again, "If it's Finley, I'll never hear the end of it."


My maturing, young 19 year old vocal chords were yankin' tight and twangy like four pound test fishing filament being used to pull a truck out of a ditch. My voice was taking on a strangely higher pitch, when I said, "He's waving at us! Oh my gahhhd. He could see right in here on us. Good thing we wasn't doin nuthin."

It sure was a "good thing we wasn't doing nuthin," because from where I was sitting in the cab of the truck Bobby and I could see each other's faces so well I clearly saw that he was laughing at as.

But neither Barb nor I had one iota of a clear clue as to who was in the plane's back seat. The rear side window was too small and the rear seat set too far back for us to see who was in there. But Bobby didn't come back for a second helping of teenage angst. He certainly was eating it up on that first fly-by though.

I cranked up that Chevy truck and headed straight to the old opera house. We stayed for the entire movie that night. After the movie, we made sure to speak to her brother and sister. Well, she yelled at one of 'um for throwing the rest of their popcorn at the other one. Barb was, after all, their older teenage sister, and it's rare to get anything but a bunch of yellin' out of your slightly older teen sister.

Then we two scared love birds drove to the Clam Shop up the street, and got something to drink and eat. We rode around some after eating, but we never drove out past the town limits. All the parkin' spots were outside of town. No matter. The mood had passed.

That was some scary night, especially when I took her home after our date. We were at her family's mudroom door 15 minutes early; it was 10:45 PM, instead of the usual 20-30 minutes late, for Barbara's 11 PM curfew. But not a soul was stirring inside the house. They were all in bed already. We were quietly perplexed and thoroughly subdued.

A little goodnight kiss and off I went--to slowly drive up the North Road to the Lodge, to face my Uncle Finley and Aunt Martha.

Had Bobby been there waiting for me at his house, and had he punched me in my face and knocked me down in the dirt, as I had expected him to do, there would have been nothing I could have done. But apologize for what had happened.

Then drive up to the Lodge to pack my bags and leave.

Not only was Bobby a tough little, top-notch Maine woodsman, who could have easily whupped my young, suburban bred keyster, Bobby was one of Finley's best friends. If Bobby had gotten angry at me, he would have gotten angry at Finley too. Then Fin and Marty would have been angry at me. Plus the whole Town of Patten would have turned against me.

So it's a darned good thing for me that my buddy Bobby had a great sense of humor.

On most Saturday nights, I hung out in Patten or rode around the countryside with friends and buddies, until 2 AM or so. I hung out with other young men who were old enough to stay out that late, but who were still unmarried. We could even drink beer there without fear of any hassles. But vehicular accidents and a better understanding of alcoholism and how it progresses ended that open tolerance of underage and public drinking in Patten a long time ago.

I usually drove Rt. 11 from Patten to the Lodge at 10-15 MPH over the 50 MPH speed limit; but that night I just puttered along doing 45 MPH or so. But when I pulled into the Lodge's driveway, nobody was awake there either.

Now I had to try to get some sleep. It wasn't easy. And the morning wake up was even rougher. But I had to mosey on in and eat breakfast with everyone there.

I ate a quiet, uneventful breakfast with Fin, Marty and some of the Lodge's paying bear hunters.

Still nothing said. Man o' day! What to do?

When Finley Kenneth Clarke got pissed at somebody, he rarely held his anger in or allowed the offending pissee, whomever they may be, to get away scott free. So I knew that he hadn't been in his good friend Bobby's plane the previous evening.

I picked up the Sunday newspaper and headed for the mass of comic strips in the funny section. I needed some cheering up.

I couldn't really read or concentrate on anything well enough to even understand what was going on in the drawings of the comic strips. My psyche was effectively dissolving into the mystery of the plane's back seat passenger, and what was going to happen when Fin got wind of the 'wildlife' scene that Bobby and his passenger had spotted, when they were up there spotting wild game from the air.

Then Gary Glidden stops by at the Lodge.

Gary was rarely ever there on a Sunday, except when harvested bears from the Saturday hunt had to be skinned.

Fin was a bona fide workaholic. He suffered from PTSD that came from him fighting on the front lines of the Korean War. He earned a Silver Star and more. One symptom of PTSD is furious, marathon, perfectionist style workaholism. He often did some kind of work around the Lodge for at least a half day on Sundays.

Gary had gotten himself drafted into one of those Sunday projects once, so he rarely showed himself at the Lodge on Sundays. Can't blame 'im, he only got Sundays off.

As was expected by all who knew that, Gary said that he wasn't staying long enough to sit down. And he didn't accept the offered cup of coffee. You could see that he was in a jolly good frame of mind. He was steadily smiling harder, wider and taller than was his norm. He was talking more energetically than normal too. His arms and hands moving quickly to the beat of his conversation.

All the while, I was stealthily peeking past the newspaper, whilst tuned into all that Gary was saying and doing. Fear, of the words "plane" or "Bobby" or "Barbara" or "David" coming out of Gary's mouth, had my mouth dry, and my teeth worried.

I was worried all over.

As I sat there doing my best version of a b-movie hotel detective sitting in the hotel lobby watching everybody and everything from behind a wide spread newspaper, my very good friend Gary simply eagle-eye peered over the crowd of people sitting or standing around the Lodge's long, wooden dining room table, and he had simply grinned at me. The hugest, most soul shaking grin I ever had aimed in my direction. A very expansive grin, which was very unnerving to me.

It was obvious that Gary had been in the back seat of Bobby's plane on the prior evening. And that the guldang-sun-'uv-an-oar had stopped by just to let me know it.

What a rub that was.

Who coulda' passed up the chance to do something like that?

Gary had done it in the spirit of close, pure friendship, though.

You see something so rib-splitting hilarious as what Bobby and Gary had swooped down upon, during the previous evening, and you simply have to make the most of it.

I never thought of this before: Those two guys must have practically been bouncing around the insides of the plane, due to them laughing so hard their ribs nearly busted open.

Gary, Bobby and I had had some good laughs together.

Gary and I had worked together for a lot of hours. Numerous times, we had tracked wounded bears together, often at night. And we never carried any firearms, because 100% wild Maine Black Bears always avoid humans.

I have tracked wounded bears at night by myself; more than ten times; less than twenty times.

Bobby was the Lodge's plumber, and I was his assigned helper, when he needed one up there. One time Bobby and I worked together all day long, while crawled up under a back bedroom that was not built over the cellar of the Lodge's main building and only had about a three foot high crawl space under it. And crawl a lot that day we did. Bobby let me know that he appreciated me sticking with him all through that dirty job.

Bobby said, "I figured that a city kid like you would be off somewhere goofing off every chance you got."

The reason he said that was, because he had stayed under there in the dirt, every time I was sent to fetch tools or plumbing supplies from his work truck, as he required them. He was surprised that I always came right back, crawled right on back in under the building, with a healthy smile on my face, and got right back into the job and funny conversation that we kept going the whole time.

Bobby's family had spent many a Sunday afternoon visiting at the Lodge. We all knew each other and our families.

I can take a joke, and if those two champeen' friends of mine, Bobby and Gary, had one on me, so be it.

I'm chuckling mildly about it right now myself.

Gary was my friend--genuine and trustworthy. He never told Finley what he had seen from the plane. On that worried Sunday of mine in Maine, after Gary had hit me hard with that grin, he left without mentioning a word about the plane ride to anyone.

But it wasn't time for me to relax a little yet, sitting there in the Lodge's dining room on my Sunday off.

I had no idea of who else knew about the prior evening's bush pilot and potato field incident, besides my champeen' friends Bobby and Gary.

The phone could ring any second with Barbara's mother, Jean, at the other end. She and my Aunt Martha, were best friends, until Marty died. Jean and Marty woulda' been far too much for me to deal with, if they came after me in anger. I'd have been done for at Katahdin Lodge, for sure.

After an uninterrupted, peaceful lunch, the only thing to do was to keep my usual Sunday date with Barbara for a drive somewhere in the beautiful Katahdin Valley.

I drove down to the Barb's house, with tremendous trepidation tickling my innards.

I walked into the house, from through the mudroom door.

In the kitchen, Barb's mother said a normal, pleasant hello to me, as she continued preparing their usual big Sunday supper.

Then, bravely, but a might bit meekishly, I eased on in towards their living room, where Bobby was sitting and reading the Sunday paper.

Ol' Bobby dropped his newspaper down a few inches, looked up at me with a great, wide, glowing grin on his face and said, "Well hellooo theah Dave, ya been in any potato fields lately?"

And that was it!

I never heard a word about it from Barbara's mother.

But miracle of miracles, in the normally faster-than-a-radio-signal small town gossip circuit, it took two weeks before Finley finally heard about it. That was because Gary, Bobby and Jean were protecting me from Finley's war time PTSD instilled brand of anger.

But Bobby and Gary each had to eventually tell someone else the story. So they told a sister or brother, a cousin or friend in town, and that is how it finally made its way to Finley. It was just too freakin' hilarious for them to keep to themselves. Can't blame 'um for that.

When Fin found out, he really rubbed it into me. And for a several weeks running, every new group of bear hunters heard about it sometime during the week.

It sure was embarrassing for me at the time, but it's one of the best memories of Maine that I have today.

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