My Grandmother and the Barnstormer!

05/08/2015 12:35 pm ET | Updated May 08, 2016


Her parents named her Dorothy Winona Albritton. When she married my grandfather she became known as Mrs. Wallace Hilton Laird.....he called her Dot. Her children called her Mama, and her grandchildren referred her as 'Oma" affectionate German name sort of like 'Granny.'

A most elegant woman, as you can see by this picture taken in about 1923, her femininity belied a very strong will and smart business mind.

Late in the 1930's she was at the breakfast table and saw in the Panama City News Herald an advertisement from a 'barnstormer'....a man who would take people up in an open two-seater bi-plane and fly all around the city. I suspect as a joke she announced to my grandfather that she was going to take a ride!

My grandfather responded in a very calm manner. "You have (at the time) four small children and have no business going up in an airplane. During this time, actually until her death, there was a man working for her named Sing Wells (no joke).

Once, my grandmother had him planting something for her and my Uncle Jack said, "Sing, wouldn't it be better if you did so and so, rather than this?"

Sing held onto his shovel, turned to Uncle Jack and said, "Now Mr. Jack, that may be right, but you know your mama, and your mama don't think with nobody's mind but her own". Truer words were never spoken. He did it her way.

After my grandfather, thinking the situation was decided and over, left for work, she left for the airfield. She put on one of those Amelia Earhart headgear apparatus, climbed into the second open seat and was ready for her adventure!

The open-air plane took off, made several turns about town, did a small loop-the-loop and then came into a successful landing.

The trip was a total success, but re-entry presented a small problem. She was frozen solid into the seat. Her arms, legs and body were absolutely rigid with terror...and to make matter worse she had....sorry there is just not a better way to way it...she had peed in her pants. I can't imagine the various measures needed to get her out of the plane, but I am sure that beyond the sheer terror of it all, the embarrassment had to have figured into it all in a big way.

I can't even imagine my grandfather's carefully chosen words about the matter later in the day.

This determined, talented, beautifully elegant woman went on to accomplish major things in her life...she once built a very large home, had the entire concrete foundation poured...started walking around, looked at several angles and told the architect that he had poured it wrong, that it was several inches too low and sited directionally wrong by a foot.. He sort of patted her on the head, told her everything was fine. She stood her ground, he took the proper measurements and discovered that she was absolutely right. To the inch. They blasted the foundation up and started all over...and the architect had a new-found respect for the business and architectural acumen of this fine women... my sister Sara has inherited so many similar qualities of her grandmother, and we are lucky for it!

Now let's take this flying thing to another place...about 50 years later. For her 75th birthday celebration our cousin, Einar Enevoldsen who was phenomenally gifted in all sorts of air matters (he used to fly the space shuttles back from Edward AFB in California to Cape Canaveral atop a 747), took her for a couple of hours flight over the California desert near Palmdale, CA...sans engine, in a sail plane, relying only on the thermal currents to carry her aloft...they flew for a couple of hours and she had the time of her life. I am happy to report she emerged from the aircraft as happy as could be and drier than Death Valley.

This phenomenally accomplished woman would have been 109 today... she remains such a wonderful part of our lives...further proof that those who go before us are never really gone.

All families should be lucky enough to have an 'Oma', a character, full of talents that makes us ordinary mortals feel somewhat...well, ordinary. They are to whom we aspire ! to be. And as that wonderful man Sing Wells once said, "You know she just don't think with nobody's mind by her own." She was probably one of the biggest singular influences in my life.

Happy Birthday Oma!