I awoke this morning to the news of the plane crash in suburban Buffalo. The news produced an instant flashback to a terrifying event that caused my world to shift when we lived in suburban New Orleans.
It was July 9, 1982. A Friday afternoon, I was looking forward to a weekend of fun with my young family – my boys were 10 and 8 and we were going to the Tomato Festival. We lived in Kenner, underneath the flight approach to the New Orleans airport. We’d been there 12 months, and hardly even noticed the rumble any longer.
At 3:15 p.m., a co-worker came rushing into my office to tell me a huge jetliner had gone down in a Kenner residential area, wiping out a entire block. I grabbed the phone and called home, knowing my boys should have been home from day camp by then. No answer.
I grabbed my keys and raced to my car. As I approached I-10, driving like a mad woman, I became mired in the usual Friday afternoon traffic jam. The radio reports did not identify the neighborhood involved, and I feared the worst. Those were the days before cell phones and all I could do was pray and scream at the drivers around me to get out of my way.
After an eternity, I saw an exit and screeched across a speed bump and down an embankment to find a gas station with a pay phone. I called home again. My youngest son, William, answered.
At that moment, my knees became so weak I collapsed to the pavement. Never have I been so grateful to hear that little voice. My boys already knew about the crash – they were outside watching the plumes of smoke which were rising from a nearby street.
What no one had the nerve to tell me until much later, was that the boy’s day camp bus passed the crash site only moments before the disaster.
PamAm Flight 759 had gone down next to our church killing all passengers aboard and becoming the 2nd worst U. S. aviation disaster at that time. I can’t remember how many died on the ground. I can tell you this. My family became a little closer and a little more loving – for at least a few weeks – until the minutia of life took over again and we returned our lives to “auto pilot.”
The crash last night brought all those memories flooding back. It also reminded me how fragile life is. How we should stop wasting our days and nights as long as we’re still breathing. We had a saying in New Orleans, that “Life is like a passing parade. You can either watch it from the sidelines, or get in line!”
Today would be a good day to put on your best costume and get back in the line-up. We’ve got a lot of living to do to make up for the lives lost last night.