PDA alert! Who are those people? Is that a drunk pilot smooching a cute young photographer? No….shame on you guys for thinking that! Those are my parents! (I’ll let it slide this once.)
This photo was taken after my dad’s “fini-flight.” When a pilot climbs down from his aircraft after his last flight, he is traditionally doused with water (and sometimes champagne) and congratulated by family and friends and comrades from his (or her) squadron. One of the biggest regrets that I have is that I wasn’t there to see this. I was about 12 years old when Dad flew the F-15 Eagle, the crowning glory of his career as a pilot, for the last time. I remember Mom asking me if I wanted to go and I said no, not fully grasping how meaningful this was to both her and my dad, and also completely unaware that this would be the last time that my dad ever flew for the Air Force.
As a kid, I never appreciated that my dad had a very cool job. To me, it was just his job, another day at the office. Except that his “office” was the cockpit of a jet that he flew at ridiculously high speeds through miles and miles of endless blue sky.
Some people may join the Armed Forces because they want a secure job, a dependable paycheck, to travel, to get help paying for college, or even because they don’t know what else to do, and there is nothing wrong with any of those reasons. (Actually I even considered, very briefly, joining the Air Force in my early twenties when I was a hot mess, freelance writing wasn’t paying the bills, and I didn’t have many other promising options). But, Mickey Folsom was not one of those people. He joined the Air Force because he had known since he was a boy that he wanted to become a pilot, and he was ready and willing to fight for his country if he was asked to do so. He even hoped to get that opportunity. I remember hearing him complain that he didn’t get to fight in Desert Storm because my mom and my two grandmothers prayed him out of it.
He was a little cocky back then, but the nature of the job really calls for a little cockiness. In the jets that my dad flew, his quick decision-making kept his aircraft operating as it should instead of hurtling to the ground. He had to be 100% confident in the cockpit. He had to be sure of what he was doing, and this quality of his reassured me even as we moved from country to country , settling in new homes and making new friends in the middle of the school year, that our nomadic life was normal and that each move was an adventure. At times this lifestyle was incredibly stressful and difficult, but we accepted it out of respect for my dad.
Dad’s job took up most of his time. Until I was about 13, Dad was gone for weeks, months, and once even spent an entire year in South Korea in training to fly the F-15 Eagle. Often the amount of time that he was gone made it difficult for me to reconnect with him when he came home, but it wasn’t because he didn’t try. Dad intentionally abstained from hobbies and projects so that he could spend time with us. He didn’t play golf all day on Saturdays, he didn’t go hunting or sit in front of the TV watching football. He played with us, he came to our games, recitals and church plays. He snuggled us, talked to us and played in the back-yard (or garden for all my Euro friends).
He showed us the world. Thanks to Dad and the Air Force, I have seen things that many will only experience through photographs. I have walked through Sherwood forest, been to Stonehenge, seen endless rows of tulips in Keukenhof, watched a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, danced at Oktoberfest, visited East and West Berlin before the wall came down, learned to snow-ski in the Alps, toured the Roman catacombs and the Jesuit caves of Belgium, gazed at the Sistine Chapel, stood inside the Coliseum, gone on safari in the Serengeti, taken a boat ride on the Nile River, descended into one of the Pyramids at Giza, seen the Sphinx, picnicked in the Champagne valleys of France, toured Versailles, been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, had beach vacations in Greece and Croatia, taken a road trip along the Amalfi Coast, felt the cold winds in Ireland and gone clubbing in Sweden, learned to water-ski in the Emerald Coast of Florida, and have tasted oh-so-much good food and wine.
Those days are long gone, but they instilled in me an itch to travel and a terminal condition of cabin fever when I’ve been in one place for too long. As an Air Force “brat” I learned that making friends is a survival skill, and that you can in fact have a decent conversation with someone who speaks a different language with the help of hand gestures and a bottle of wine. I’ve seen that our military is a well-oiled machine that works around the clock in ways that most of us cannot comprehend, and that our service members deserve way more credit than we give them. I know that the men and women of the Armed Forces observe a code of honor and integrity that many have foregone, and are willing to wake up in the middle of the night to put on a uniform and leave the safety of their homes to defend our country’s freedom and fight for the lives of terrorized people across the globe.
So I want to say thanks to my dad, retired Major Mickey “Mikhail” Folsom, for his service to our family and our country. I love you Dad, and am grateful for all you have done for us. Happy Memorial Day! You were and still are my hero!