Once again, the factory was getting short on work. I had enough time in that the floor manager really tried to keep me busy. I sewed on buttons and belt loops. Those were with little zig-zap machines that didn’t require a degree in speed-sewing. I “bagged”, putting the finished down jackets in plastic bags to be shipped out. I spent time in the pressing department, ironing slacks and other garments. Then…uh-oh! I was put to heat-basting. I was to stand at an ironing board and roll a heated wheel around the edge of a lining and insulating interlining for coats. The wheel would get very hot so I was careful to keep my hand out of the way. There were others who were good at the process and they’d make ‘way over production but inhaling the smoke made me sick. I couldn’t do it. I hadn’t refused to at least try to do any other job I was given but I had to bow out on that one. It was the last option I had. It was either that or get laid off. I chose a layoff.
School was out and the hang glider had been delivered. We started going farther afield to find places for DH to fly. The Sun was much too nice for flying off a slope at the end of a dam. We found out there was a place not far from Chattanooga called, romantically, “Trash Hill”. The name was literal. People actually threw their trash off the hillside there. Some of the hang gliding aficionados had gotten permission to cut some trees and a rough launching platform was built. The only things required for hang gliding off Trash Hill were a glider, someone to drive chase to retrieve the flyer, and (to some) little enough sense to try it. It also took guts. DH had all the requirements and we spent lots of time on the mountain. He honed his skills and finally he felt he was ready for competition.
There was a “resort” with an old tram where flyers and their kites could be hauled from the valley to the top of a small mountain for a fee. It gave me a break from driving chase and I had a chance to get acquainted with some of the other hang gliding “widows”. We hit it off with one particular couple and I had someone to visit with while we waited for our men to ride up and fly down. It was nice because, up until then, I had pretty much been the only female in a crowd of males.
The owners of the resort/tram announced a hang gliding competition. DH was primed to enter. He put in even more time practicing. A lot of the others were more daring but he had a smooth quality to his flying that made it beautiful. He won first in his class. I took a picture of him accepting his trophy (no cash prizes) but it was one of those slides that were fungus-ed.
There was an early publication for hang glider addicts he would read from cover to cover. It had an ad about a hang glider meet at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. We had to go but first we had to replace the Rambler. We needed a vehicle that would double as a camper. The Rambler was traded in on a Ford Econoline 100. DH built platforms in the back and put twin mattresses on them. He and I would share one and the boys the other.
When the time came, we packed up and went to North Carolina. Standing on top of the mountain is something you’d have to experience to understand. All the trees grow back toward the mountain face because the wind is constantly blowing. Perfect for flying a hang glider.
The entrants (including DH) inspected the landing site and it seemed okay. It was an area bulldozed out of a patch of trees at the bottom of the mountain. The bulldozer was parked over to one side.
We slept in the van that night and looked forward to the competition that was to start the next day. It was cold but we had a campfire and I fixed the usual camping fare for supper—fried potatoes and onions, beans, corn cakes. Next morning, we got up and shivered around the newly revived fire. The water seemed to take a long time to boil but I soon had my hot tea and DH his coffee. The boys had to be content with Postum.
Midday, DH got ready to be taken up to the top of the mountain for the first flight down. There were to be several flights with judging of each and then the points would be added to decide who the winners were. The night had been cold, the morning cool, but the temperature was starting to heat up. Even though everyone there had hours and hours of flight time, no one had counted on the bare ground in the landing area generating thermals. The sun hitting the surface caused it to heat up and the air started rising. That’s fine if a flyer wants to ride the air up and up like an eagle soaring but not so good if it’s a landing spot.
The flyers started down, one by one. It was obvious they were having problems landing. One collided with a tree. Another narrowly missed a brush pile. Once, the onlookers had to scatter to make room. When DH came down, his glider made more for flying than landing caught a thermal and it was all he could do to wrestle it down. There was no way he could recover and go around like in a plane. He came in for a landing—right on the bulldozer. He was okay and so was the kite but he took himself and it out of the competition. It wasn’t worth it. His ego was bruised but his body was intact.
There were meets we attended where he didn’t fly. He observed and learned from the mistakes of those unfortunates who broke bones and, in one case, didn’t survive. It was near Nashville and being held on a lake. DH had no experience with towing and he was content to be a spectator. The glider was tethered to a boat and when it reached altitude, it was released and the pilot would perform maneuvers on the way down. Some of them were very good. There was a 20 year old with a solid black kite that caught my eye. I watched him while he set it up. I was used to DH and his meticulous ways and this fellow was very careless. Everything was bunched together and the cables weren’t bundled the way they should be. He put it together and gave it a cursory once-over. Someone tried to give him some advice but he brushed them off. I had gone to the van for something when he was to fly. I wasn’t watching and I guess it was just as well. I heard the crowd gasp and there was an ominous flapping sound. I looked up in time to see something that looked like a black dagger holding a body slicing through the air. They said he died on impact when he hit the water. Flying was over for that day.
Another issue of that ^&*&%$! magazine came and this time, it had an ad for a meet in Telluride, Colorado. Mother and Pop had spent some time there with my oldest sister and her husband and brought back pictures. I had to admit I would like to go there but I was apprehensive about DH flying off “The Plunge“. Nothing would do but we had to get ready and set out for the West.
There were big names in the hang gliding world at the meet. Everywhere I looked there were celebrities the likes of Wills, Moyes, and Peghiny. We met the owner of Sun and he let us know he was impressed with the design we’d come up with. It didn’t hold a candle to the butterfly on one of the company kites, though. It was so beautiful it took my breath away.
We were there for several days since conditions had to be just right for 150 pilots from all over the world to compete. When it was over, DH had come in 8th in his class. Not bad, considering.
Time to relax and do something else. We hiked up a mountain to a ghost town. On the way, we found pyrite (Fool’s Gold) and mica. DS2 had an action figure, Jay West, he always had with him. He had a shoestring tied around Jay’s waist and fastened to his own belt loop on his jeans. He was a big seven years old and would have never considered Jay to be a doll but they were inseparable. Somewhere on that mountainside, Jay escaped. When we got near the bottom, DS2 discovered he was Jay-less. We had to turn around and go back to try to find him. We retraced every step but we had no luck. I prayed and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. It’s said God has three answers to prayer, Yes, No, and Wait Awhile. This time it was No and I was grieved along with my son. It dampened everyone’s spirits and we trudged back down the mountain with heavy hearts.
There was a lot of discussion about where to go next and it was decided that the Sandia Mountains would be a good destination. I’d never been to Albuquerque so there was no hesitation on my part. Some of the other pilots decided to caravan to New Mexico. I was driving our van and DH was in another van when we got separated. There was an approaching storm and lightning was lighting up the horizon. Where were the others? Would I be left with the boys to fend for ourselves? What were we to do?