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Through the 1960's, the airline industry saw the emergence of the "Commuter Airline". As the name implies, these small carriers flew short haul routes with small aircraft to service rural airports to larger cities where connections could be made with major carriers. Our little airline was named Shenandoah. Actually we were the third Shenandoah to wear the moniker, which served the Shenandoah Valley area of Virginia. We were doing this in the fall of 1968, having started our operations in August with three Tri-gear Twin Beeches (Beech 18 modified with tricycle gear), leased from a midwest airline who outgrew them or felt that in the evening of their years, they had had enough. The price was right!
Our primary point of operations was Charlottesville, Virginia, nestled in the ambience of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Albermarle County. The Albemarle census of the time boasted the sixth most populated county of millionaires in residence within the United States. The area was popular with the wealthy for spring and fall seasons, which was good for Shenandoah. Our service ran from Charlottesville to Washington's Dulles Airport, where the rich and famous, and some not, could connect to anywhere in the world. Our nine-passenger planes carried a varied group, ranging from "Old Money" to back-packing undergrads of UVA. Thanksgiving of that year served only to increase the spectrum.
My job with Shenandoah was as Captain, piloting our little planes. It was my first "real" flying job, having served a three-year journeyman ship as a flight instructor prior to my ascension. At age 25, I felt particularly elevated, in that part of management's game plan was to uniform flight crews in a manner more suited to the sartorial splendor for the bridge of the R.M.S. Queen Mary than the cockpits of our run-out airplanes. These were replete with dark blue double-breasted jackets and trousers, jackets trimmed with large sleeve stripes depicting rank. Mine had four, being "The Captain", and all of this was topped off with a blue cap, which had a visor incrusted with little clouds, which lightening bolts and arrows thrust from. (In military jargon, "darts and farts".) Really quite the thing.
Thanksgiving found me running extra trips between C-Ville and Dulles against our primary competitor, Piedmont Airlines. As a competitor to Piedmont we were a bit like a flea on an elephant's back, but we were filling our airplanes with the overage, and the additional trips were good for us. Albeit good for Shenandoah, I just wanted to get home, like everyone else I suppose, and enjoy my family. The weather at Charlottesville was cold and raining, which found me in some degree of melancholia, staring out the spattered terminal window to the ramp as darkness came at my airplane, which had to make one last round trip to Dulles, with me on it, before I could go home.
Perhaps I was deeper in reverie than I realized, for when I came to consciousness it was to a very strident feminine hail of
"Porter, porter there!"
It must have been the third call. And by the tone, one would be obliged to reply. Turning, I shook off the gloom. And there she stood!
All five feet of her, swathed in sable. Beginning with her boots, partially covered to the ankle by a full length coat, all topped off with a cap of fashion somewhere between a pillbox and cloche of the same mammalian contributor that made up the rest of her outfit. She was buttressed by a glut of baggage, which had a steamer trunk as cornerstone to its attendant de rigueur.
She looked to be in her late 70's. But her demeanor and carriage made it clear she would brook no nonsense. As she repeated, now that she had my attention.
"Porter! Assemble my luggage and have it to the curb for taxi to Charlottesville!"
To this day I can't remember all the emotions I felt. They must run from self righteous indignation to bemusement and then to affection as the scene played out. Regaining my composure, I said
"Maam, I'm not a porter! But "The Captain" of that airplane there on the ramp," indicating through the blurred window at the little Beech sitting demurely behind one of Piedmont's new Boeing's.
"However I will be more than happy to take your bags to the taxi."
The transformation was seamless. For within an instant she slipped from commanding patrician to cordial supplicant. And in that instant I fell in love, as she said,
"Oh! I thought all the lovely people flew for Piedmont."
Hell! After that I would have carried her load into Charlottesville, six miles to town, on my back.
Not long after meeting my sable-clad lady, Shenandoah folded for the third time, largely due to one of the principles grabbing our first six months receipts -- his "squeeze", and like "Froggy", went a court'n. I didn't see Ms. Sable again. However I will never forget that Helen Hayes-like quality she had of a truly lovely lady.
I never learned who she was. But man, she was good!
Linda Dowdy, Bethel, Minnesota
Copyright © 2007-2008 Linda Dowdy, last revision 070620