I Last week I was picking up a fellow Bishop from Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and waiting for his call while I was in the cell phone parking lot.
Two cars down, a van sat against the fence. A dad, a mom and two little boys were all in the bed of the truck facing the tracks. The little guys were fascinated and thrilled by the sound of the roaring engines, the smell of jet fuel and the sight of a large passenger plane soaring through the skies.
And, in Atlanta, it’s one huge plane after another on multiple runways. It was a cheap way to keep the boys busy until their parents got a call to pick up the person they were waiting for.
I smiled and thought back to my own childhood and the cheap entertainment I had also experienced. When my father was in his thirties, he was accepted into an apprenticeship program. A few years later he became an electrician for the Bays Mountain Construction Company and later for the Tennessee Eastman Corporation, now known as the Eastman Chemical Company.
“The Eastman”, as the residents of Kingsport, Tennessee called it, employed up to 15,000 people and was the main driving force behind the community. Our family’s financial life took an upward turn when Dad finished his apprenticeship.
There wasn’t a lot of money before that time. I don’t know if I can say we were poor, because I never lacked anything, but at the very least we were a lower working class family. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and my dad, one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known, often took odd jobs to make ends meet. We still had food, good school clothes, shoes and winter coats, but there wasn’t much left for entertainment before The Eastman.
As I watched the kids in the van, old memories started stirring. I remember my parents taking me to the small airport near Kingsport for no other reason than to watch planes take off and land. Like those boys, I was fascinated every time we went.
They also took me downtown near the train depot where the freight trains that at my young age seemed to go for miles passed through the city at regular intervals. My parents always parked near where the trains were supposed to sound their horns and I just assumed the engineer was activating the horn because he saw me there. My parents were never in a hurry on these excursions, and I often fell asleep in the back seat as we finally got home.
In December, we were touring the community seeing the sparkle of Christmas lights and decorations. It was for this little boy as if the world had burst into color! Occasionally we would pack a picnic, hike sixty miles to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and explore what the park had to offer for a day and search for the ubiquitous black bears. Sometimes I was allowed to play in the cool mountain creeks and hunt tadpoles or “crayfish” as we called crayfish.
We never took what could be called a “real vacation“. Not even once. My dad didn’t have paid time off at Bays Mountain Construction, so anytime he was off work for any reason, including illness, he didn’t get paid. So we hardly ever went anywhere overnight. While many of my classmates spent time on Southern beaches and some went to Europe, I didn’t see the ocean until I was 19 and serving in the Marine Corps.
For nearly nine of my early years, I was an only child, and then my brother, Wayne, arrived. I was at least twelve years old before he could really appreciate these cheap excursions, if in fact my parents still did them, but by then I had other interests.
I had a bike so when I was a pre-teen I took the hilly roads and as we had some woods nearby my friends and I played army vs nazis and cowboys and indians, and rebels against the Yankees. It was always the youngest that we forced to be the Nazis, the Indians and the Yankees. Sometimes my friend Steve and I would go into the woods and build shelters out of sticks and tree branches and sit there all day chatting and thinking about our future in the world.
The world was safer then, so as I got older I was allowed to go out after breakfast, come back for lunch, and then go out again until dinner. After dinner, during the hot summer months, I could stay outside until dark.
My friends and I once had a fight with BB guns which was a terrible mistake and I strongly advise against this activity. We also had “rock fights”, in which we smashed rocks against each other. Another bad idea. Once we even had a model rocket fight, but when one exploded against the roof of a neighbour’s house, he raised a ruckus and that was the end of it.
We didn’t really have game time – we had adventures…or so it seemed in our minds. There were a lot of things we didn’t have, but what we really didn’t have was boredom. Life as a child was exciting, full of new experiences, places to explore, forts to build, and imaginary enemies to defeat.
It all started to come back from the forgotten recesses of my memory as I watched the two boys pointing and screaming as another plane lifted into the skies. And there I sat, joining them in spirit, watching the planes take off, cherishing fond memories and realizing that I hadn’t missed a thing when I was a kid. And then the cell phone rang, and I reluctantly became an adult again.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at [email protected]]