John and I were paired together on a trip that involved a little longer than a two-hour break between flights at Newark Airport. Shortly after our arrival we were whisked off to a family dinner, Portuguese-style. Because I was John’s friend, I was family. Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles, cousins. Clams, mussels, whitefish. We were treated like kings. With barely a word of English spoken, I learned more about John’s background then he could ever tell me.
And John taught me how to cook … well, at least he improved my repertoire. I owe the success of my world-famous chili to John. I adopted his recipe. The recipe was born of a necessity to feed large groups of starving commuter pilots. Till this day, and to Carol’s dismay, I am unable to make chili for less than 20 people. As of this writing, a leftover Tupperware container competes for space in our freezer.
I also had the privilege of sharing in John’s nonaviation triumphs. He married and I was the best man at a civil ceremony in downtown Wildwood, New Jersey. Although it was a very modest celebration, it was affordable. And a year or so later, on a Super Bowl Sunday surrounded by half of the SJA seniority list at my carriage house apartment in Cape May, I got a phone call. John’s daughter, Melissa, was born. At John’s memorial service, I lightened the moment. I told his now 29-year-old daughter that a photo of me attempting to ride her first tricycle around the kitchen of their tiny condo really does exist. The search for that photo continues.
If the standing-room-only attendance at John’s memorial service wasn’t enough of a reflection on John’s character, those of us wearing uniforms made a statement. His company, Spirit Airlines, was well represented among others.
John remarried, and with Pam had a son. Dayne is 11 years old. I can already see a reflection of John in his character. Dayne will no doubt miss his dad. If he becomes half the man his father was, my friend’s short 54 years will have been a success.
Lastly, an old tavern in Cape May called the Ugly Mug was an establishment frequented by our brotherhood of SJA pilots. Just above the bar hang rows of mugs. The mugs belong to members of a club. As was done in the days of barbershop quartets, members participate in a contest to blow beer foam off the top of their mug. The member who blows his or her foam the longest distance is the winner. It is still a tradition. When a member dies, his mug is turned to face the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
In honor of my friend John, and all of our aviation friends that have since passed on, please join me in turning a mug to face the ocean. They will not be forgotten.