My first flight was in the summer of 1959—to Florida of all places. Way back around 1946-47, we had all lived in Lake Worth, now a suburb of West Palm Beach. My Dad had the worst job in the world for someone with a delicate stomach: disposing of the bodies of dead alligators. My Mom worked as a checker in a supermarket. So when Mom wanted to hook up with her Florida friends a dozen or so years later, my Dad wanted no part of it.
Wait a minute! Florida in the summer? Were we out of our minds? Apparently. It was either June or July, and Mom had made a reservation at an apartment on Federal Highway in Lake Worth. So Mom, my brother (then seven years old), and me (aged fourteen) were off to Cleveland Hopkins Airport, where we boarded a prop plane similar to the one shown above and flew to Jacksonville, where we landed to embark and disembark passengers, and continued on to West Palm Beach.
That second leg of the flight was a real doozy. We were flying at low altitude through a violent thunderstorm. I saw a stewardess lose her footing and dump a tray of beverages into the laps of a row of passengers.
Then, when we finally landed in West Palm Beach and stepped out of the plane, it was as if we were hit in the face with a hot, wet towel. Cleveland in the summer was humid, but nowhere near so bad as Florida. We sort of got used to it. We even got used to seeing dead palmetto bugs as big as mice piled up along the curbs.
Bookworm that I was, even at that early age, I remember vividly that I was reading Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur, which I completed there and started reading MorrisWest’s The Shoes of the Fisherman. Good reading for a devout Catholic schoolboy, though I couldn’t stomach it today.
One interesting memory of that trip: My Mom had worked for a rich widow in Palm Beach named Mrs. Gregory. One day, we went to visit her. Mom always thought that some rich person would out of the goodness of her heart shower us with money and gifts. It never happened. Instead, we went for a ride in her chauffeured Cadillac with no air conditioning and the windows resolutely closed on a sweltering day. Afterwards, she generously offered us a glass of ice water.