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Last Flight - By Stephen Morris - Vermont Castings Sales Manager 1978-1986
A story of the life and death of Vermont Castings Pilot/n/n/nMy friend Don Lariviere of Northfield Falls was killed in a car crash several years ago. He was a pilot with the right stuff. He was 45 years old. I had not seen Don for several years, but he led one of the most beyondered lives of anyone I have ever known. Beyondered describes a unique style of contemporary rural life. Rather than defining it for you, I will just tell you about Don.
Don was a pilot, and in my judgment a damn good one. In the early eighties the two of us logged tens of thousands of miles in a corporate jet as we crisscrossed the United States and Canada looking for People to sell our wood stoves. Within our company his name became synonymous with air travel to the extent that we referred to the company plane as Air Don. We always flew single pilot, so I would sit in the co-pilots seat, bewildered by dials and the right stuff dialogue overheard through the headsets. The plane was a mystery to me, and I was glad to leave its intricacies to Don. That suited him, because if there was anything he hated it was an overly inquisitive passenger who disrupted his concentration.
You cannot sit with someone in a small metal tube, hurtling through the heavens at 22,000 feet on a coal-black night with the Northern Lights on your left and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on your right, without baring some soul. Dons soul was on his farm. He lived on a farm with his wife Cassy and beloved Belgian workhorses. His life was entirely Off the Grid, the power grid, that is. There was no indoor toilet, and the indoor plumbing was dependent on a gravity-fed spring that was prone to going GLU-R-R-P-P-P on frigid nights, leaving them without water until the next thaw. Each morning he tended the animals, shaved without hot water (no wonder he preferred a beard), walked almost a mile to the paved road, drove to the airport, and hopped in the jet. A typical day for us might involve stops in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, then home for dinner. He always tried to buzz the Northfield farm before landing so that Cassy would know when to expect him.
From the high-tech, high-expense world of corporate travel he returned home to a silent trek up an unplowable drive and a subsistence lifestyle forgotten by most Vermonters since the turn of the century. The same guy who thought nothing of flipping out the Gold American Express to pay for a $650 fill-up of jet fuel, wore a pilots uniform of down vest, flannel shirt, jeans, and Sorels. Don talked a lot about his horses, and about poultry. He majored in poultry sciences in college and filled me with more than I ever cared to know about the nuances of exotic fowl. He was as meticulous about his poultry house as he was about his aircraft, which testifies only to the immaculate living conditions of his chickens.
We had our share of adventures, too. There was a cargo door that opened during flight over Williamsburg, Virginia, and an autopilot that put us into a nosedive over Cleveland, and ice on the wings while crossing over the Continental Divide. Whenever the unexpected happened Dons voice would become calm and modulated, explaining each emergency procedure in detail, knowing that the unknown is what causes fear. I never considered that anything bad could ever happen to anyone on Air Don. The last time I saw Don was at a pre-Christmas party. A small crowd was gathered around, as People do with pilots, pumping him for stories of aviation derring-do. Hey Don, said one of the partygoers, Whats the closest you ever came to buying the farm? Was there ever a time when you thought, Im just not going to walk away from this one? Just once, he said in a soft voice that everyone strained slightly to hear. We were climbing to 20,000 feet over the Continental Divide when we began accumulating ice on the wings. But, but, I was on that flight, I sputtered. I never, you never.... He just laughed. You can always laugh when you walk away.
On Friday, April 12, 1986 the pilot who mastered complex jets and huge Belgian workhorses was killed when the car in which he was a passenger went off the road. He wasnt even wearing a seatbelt. Air Don will fly no more, but there wont be a time when I hear the drone of an airplane over Beyonder and dont think of him.