in 1987 i decided to visit the US branch of my family. we never met before and had exchanged more or less trivial christmas cards since i was a kid. i was greeted with a very warm welcome. my late aunt trudi lived in a trailer in the middle of the forest in north florida, the so called panhandle. her ex-husband johnny in another trailer 100 or 200 meters away. lots of dogs around.
trudi had three children, one of whom was sylvie. sylvie and i were almost the same age and very close. she then lived in a wooden house with her husband john.
i visited often, mostly after a couple of days in manhattan, via pensacola where my relatives picked me up from the airport. i stayed in sylvie’s beautiful house. my bed was on the top floor. the contrast between new york city and rural north florida couldn’t have been bigger. most people i met in that part of florida were pretty much right wing, although they insisted they were not rednecks. my aunt drove an old car she got from the local sheriff. it was so cheap because a corpse was found in the car while it was still in the sheriff’s hand. my cousin wore a t-shirt with the letters “english for florida” – which was targeted to cuban immigrants. there were barely any cubans in sylvie’s part of florida, most of them working very hard.
john had studied agriculture at university and taught me a lot about farming, harvesting machines and sawmills. at me third visit he provided me with an old chevy van, so i could move around freely. the van was robust, but the brakes had very little grip.
in the nearby town defuniak springs i learnt to fly single propeller airplanes. in the photo below i‘m in the middle of a pre-flight check. i received my PPL (private pilot license) in 1990, and sylvie made a suprise party in the evening. she hated flying but permitted me to take her up for brief flight. the flight took maybe 3 minutes because she got airsick right after takeoff.
the man who ran the airport when i started learning to fly was a kind and modest man named charlie. soon he handed his little business (no landing fees, no tower, but a nice restaurant) to an ex-military helicopter pilot walter and his wife maria. walter was an amazingly skilled pilot who wanted me to learn to fly helicopters. he treated his wife so badly that i lost all interest in the defuniak springs airport.
my cousin sylvie suffered from depression and took her life 15 years later.
her ex-husband john runs a natural burial ground now.
sylvie‘s father johnny published several books, radioplays and audiobooks under the name john aalborg.