Story by J.R. TIDWELL
Just because you advance a little in age does not mean you have to stop having fun.
Just ask Myra Patterson.
The Chilton County resident wanted to do something special for her 80th birthday.
One day, Patterson was telling Senior Connection director Vanessa McKinney that she had wanted to take a flying lesson.
“(Vanessa) says ‘we’ll do it on your birthday. We’ll have you a party out at the hangar or here (at Senior Connection) if you want to.’ It was so cold, so we ended up having it here.”
McKinney did not have to go far to find a pilot who could take Patterson up for a flying lesson. She needed only ask fellow Senior Connection member Alvin Teel, who said he has been flying for about 50 years now.
“It was a boyhood dream,” Teel said. “I always wanted to fly. When I got out of the military, I got to the point where I could start taking flying lessons. I progressed through the different stages to become an instructor with the help of the G.I. Bill. I started teaching in 1973.”
So in 1997, Teel purchased a small Cessna airplane.
“I just have the urge to fly. It’s a thrill for me. Then I got a thrill out of teaching other people. I didn’t want to become like a commercial airline pilot because I had a good job.”
Patterson and Teel already knew each other. After all, they finished high school together.
“Probably four or five months before her birthday came up, she came to me and said ‘Alvin, on my 80th birthday, I want to take my first flying lesson,’” Teel said. “I said ‘all right.’ We did. We went out to the airport, and everybody gathered up. We went up, flew around a little bit, and she really got a kick out of it.”
Patterson said her two daughters and McKinney worked out the details of the party.
“I got with her daughters,” McKinney said. “We planned on having (her party) at the hangar, but the weather wouldn’t cooperate. The girls brought her a cake, and we brought everybody out there.”
On Jan. 16, about 75 people met at the Chilton County Airport to bid Patterson a good and safe journey.
“It seemed like we had 75 people,” McKinney said. “We went out to the hangar to give her a bon voyage. It was thrilling to watch them. Alvin did a little tip as he came around and scared us all half to death because we thought she was a goner for sure.”
“I had my flying lesson with a pilot who was younger than me — by six months,” Patterson said. “It was something I have never done. I have been up in a plane many times, but going in a small plane is so different.”
Teel, who is 79 going on 80 himself, said he has given flying lessons to about 40 or 50 people. Since this was Patterson’s first lesson, he did not plan on doing anything too serious.
“On a first go around, you don’t do anything erratic,” he said. “It’s more of a break-in flight. You go around and do a little sightseeing tour, do a few turns and let them hold the controls. We stayed up about 20 minutes, which is typical for first flight.
“First thing is you don’t want to make them sick. I’ve had them to freeze up on me. I took one guy up years ago, and I banked the plane just a little bit and boy he was scared. He said ‘take me back, take me back.’ He locked up right quick.”
Even so, Teel could not help teasing Patterson just a tad while in the middle of her lesson.
“I had my hands on the steering wheel, and Alvin said ‘Myra, it’s all yours,’” Patterson said. “I said ‘please don’t take your hands off that wheel.’”
The two flew over Senior Connection and different parts of the county during the lesson.
“It was absolutely wonderful,” Patterson said. “It was so beautiful, I asked Alvin if he would carry me back up and let me take pictures of the landscape. The landscape is gorgeous.”
“She loved it,” Teel said. “She couldn’t wait to get back and tell everyone about it — she really enjoyed it.”
Though she said it was the “greatest gift ever,” Patterson said she does not want to take any more flying lessons, though she does want to go back up in the plane to take photos.
What can top a flying lesson on your 80th birthday?
“The only thing is I may talk with the fire chief and see if I can get on a fire truck,” Patterson said.
Want to just sit on top of one? Climb the ladder? Run a hose?
“I haven’t really decided,” she said. “I need to think on that one.”