A good thing about social media is its ability to remind us of good times and people.
One of the few features of social media I enjoy anymore is the occasional reminder of what I may have been doing on this or that day four years ago. And one day last week I was reminded of how it was at this time of year when I would receive a call from Mr. Al Berry to take him for a flight over the strawberry fields.
As a proud lifelong Florida Strawberry Festival supporter (practically their mascot in the flesh), Al wanted to go up to take a few photos from the air, and, before drones, such was a rare and privileged vantage point. In addition, he always wanted to get a few shots of Plant City’s actual growing fields in their flush with green and dots of bright red.
Despite getting up there in years, no one would dare suggest Al Berry was getting too old for anything, and so several times during the last few years of his life during the late winter strawberry harvest time he would call and meet me at my small grass strip to take a photo journalism flight. Always jolly, but with increasing difficulty, he would gamely fold himself up like an accordion bellows and get into the back seat of my old Aeronca Champ and we would take a morning flight. I regret now that I didn’t get back from him any picture I insisted on taking of him with his camera: him crammed in that seat back there smiling like a Cheshire cat or afterwards leaning like a celebrity with a hand on the old plane’s wooden prop (a Sensenich manufactured here in Plant City). I wish I had one of those photos for it would be a dear keepsake of a great, gentle and affable Plant City ambassador.
To remember someone after they have passed is a gift to them and to yourself, I suppose. But to me it seems even more so to keep an old tradition alive, solo, which once was shared between two. And so, this morning when I found myself driving out the back gate of my home along the edge of the mist and dew-covered runway, I pulled over on a whim at the hangar and decided to take my “Al Berry” flight.
There was a slight chill in the air, which I know he would have reminded me should be good for sweetening the berries. And the air was still calm with the sun not yet above a low cloudbank to the east. Flying solo is often a wordless, calm, and serene moment. But as I flew around the many strawberry fields with some workers waving up at me, and my wagging the wings in return, I found myself smiling in remembrance of Mr. Al Berry. I hope he enjoyed the flight with me.