When I think of the memoir I wrote about my dad, Flying Over Home, the picture that always comes to mind is this one. (See below for ways to buy the book.) Here’s what I wrote about the photograph in an excerpt from Flying Over Home.
Leaving Day, July 1952
When I was small, I thought Oklahoma and Texas were the center of the universe, a perspective my Texas relatives encouraged, I’m sure. That may be why I thought Georgia was stuck off in some dark corner of the Deep South. It surprised me, as an adult, to discover that my father’s hometown of Savannah had long been a cosmopolitan city. Located on a good river at the edge of the continent, it was a center for international commerce and a doorway to the world. Before airplanes, people and goods crisscrossed America on trains and traveled around the world by ship.
I wonder whether growing up in that port city fed my father’s desire to travel. As a boy on the beach at Tybee Island, he could have looked out at the sea and longed to cross it. On the docks at Savannah, he would have seen ships from far-off places: New England, Europe, even Africa. A person could get on a ship in Savannah and go all the way to Tahiti, which might have fanned a boy’s desire to see the world.
My father wanted to go places and see things. One of my cousins remembers that when he’d come to visit, he’d always say, “Come on, Sugar, let’s go….” Fill in the blank: to town, to the beach, to get some ice cream. He just liked to go.
When he got the chance, Daddy did not hesitate to leave Georgia for parts unknown, first for North Carolina and college at Duke, later for New Orleans, Dallas, and eventually Tulsa.
The first time my father left our home for any length of time, I was fourteen months old. It was 1952, and he was drafted into the United States Air Force for two years during the Korean War. He was thirty-four and was leaving a well-established medical practice in Tulsa.
I recently came across some pictures of Daddy dressed in his Air Force uniform. His khaki pants and long-sleeved shirt are not yet straining over his small, squat, compact body….
The pictures have faded. In one small, square color print…Daddy is squatting in front of me, with his left hand on the brim of his hat and his right hand in his lap. The back of the photo says July 5. Just over a year old, I am standing in front of him, wearing a light-colored sleeveless pinafore with substantial ruffles at the shoulders. My right hand rests on my father’s left knee, and my left arm sticks straight out beside me, for balance. I’m staring up at my father. He smiles at me as I gaze at that sweet smile. We appear to be totally enthralled.
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by Jeanette Stokes
(Words & Spirit, 2013) $18.95