We all know the saying “Do what you enjoy for a living and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Having worked many days of my life to date, I can say with some claim to credibility that there is truth in this proverb.
As much motivation as I get from flying and the day to day ops of this industry, I have found that the relationships built with our passengers are just as exciting and rewarding.
I’d like to briefly describe one of those rewarding relationships. Not long ago, one of my frequent passengers (we’ll call him Dave) called me to schedule a flight out to the Outer Banks, where he has a home. After the customary questions about date and departure time, I asked about the number of passengers, Dave said “It’s just me, but would it be ok if I brought Willie?”
Willie, as it turns out, is a Beagle. He’s 12 and he has quite the history with the family. He had been the beloved companion of Dave’s wife and Dave’s previous beagle, Hank. (If you thought Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, you thought right.)
After the unfortunate and untimely loss of Dave’s wife, followed by Hank’s departure, a strong bond developed between Dave and Willie, such that Dave rarely traveled anywhere without Willie.
When I first met Willie, his age was catching up with him. Medical and mobility issues had degraded his quality of life, and he was somewhat ornery towards this new guy who deigned to hold his leash while Dave stepped around the corner. But when Dave was around, Willie never looked anywhere but right at Dave, and wanted nothing more than to be sitting or walking next to him.
Once we boarded the plane and took off, Willie found a spot under Dave’s feet and went to sleep. He stayed there for the duration of the flight, waking upon landing and letting us know he was ready to disembark. I was fortunate enough to go to breakfast that morning with Dave and Willie, and was privileged to see a little more of their close relationship over those few hours. That experience continued about a week later when I had the opportunity to fly them back home. Willie didn’t say much on that flight either, and my interaction with him at the airport was brief but very friendly, as he must have accepted me just a little bit into his circle. Dave handed me Willie’s leash while he went to see to some business, and Willie sat with me while we waited. He kept one eye on the hallway Dave had walked down, but he eased up to my leg and sat down, waiting patiently and glancing up from time to time to make eye contact. As fleeting as the moment was, I got the distinct impression Willie considered me a new friend. When Dave returned, Willie hurried to his feet and left no question in my mind about his excitement to have Dave back and to be on to their next undertaking together.
I sent Dave a text last night out of the blue to ask how Willie was doing. He told me that, unfortunately, Willie had left us not a week prior.
It is hard for me to say why I was so affected by that news. It was obvious that Willie’s time was drawing to a close, so there was no reason to be surprised, and normally I don’t find myself too bent out of shape over life’s losses.
I can only surmise that it was the small glimpse into the age-old bond between a man and his dog, his faithful companion for so many years and through so many trials, that drove it home for me. We spend a great deal of time using technology to search for meaning and explanation in our lives, but all that talk and reason seems to lose clarity up against a simple demonstration of the love and devotion Willie had for Dave.
At OBXA we think all of our passengers are special. But some of them have stories we feel deserved to be shared. Thanks to Dave for sharing Willie and their story with us.
Willie Joe Nelson…3/12/10-10/20/22
I’ve loved several dogs in my life, but none as much as Willie. Through no fault of his own, he became just my dog, by losing his 2 alpha’s in quick succession…Hank (his beagle buddy) and Tammy Sue in ‘15-‘16. He and I had a fairly contentiousness relationship early on, due to our mutual obsession with food. He thought nothing of nonchalantly walking by, then snatching a whole sandwich out of my hand while I sat on the couch.
Willie was a trash hound like no other…tackling the biggest and heaviest cans with reckless abandon, just to score a licking on (and cutting his tongue) a sardine can. Legendarily, Willie once retrieved a 14 lb raw hog shoulder from a closed fridge, dragged it through the doggie door into the backyard and devoured half of it…leading to a $350 Vet bill to bring it back up and X-ray for bones.
And yet, as pissed off as he made me, I loved him…a little more every day. He was so stinking cute, with his white face and happy demeanor…tail at full wag when you walked in the room.
He gave me the gift of his attention and trust over the years…perhaps early on, by necessity, but later I know he sensed my affection and attention for him. He slept in the bed next to me through the very worst nights of my life…and I don’t really understand how being with him and taking care of him kept my loneliness at a palatable level. I guess he was really just taking care of me. I love him and will really miss him.
So go on, run in the tall grass, Willie. And knock over all the trash bins you want…you’re free now buddy, from earthly rules."