For the past year I’ve been fighting the compulsion to share the following tale. That it happened at all astounds me. It begins with a woman I call Burlee. We almost became friends soon after she moved to Springfield. When I told her I needed a volunteer who could be present in the AeroKnow Museum office while I worked on projects upstairs, she agreed to help. The hope was that if someone wandered into the Welcome Room office just off the FBO lobby, Burlee would briefly explain what AKM is all about, offer a brochure that explained a few details and offer to escort the visitor upstairs “to meet the director and see the rest of the museum.” She agreed to do that. What she did between visitors would be her choice. There were dozens of books and magazines within arms’ reach at my desk. She could use the AKM computer to work on business of her own. I had nothing to hide on the computer.
On her first day volunteering I was productively engaged in the upstairs Intake Room, with mo concerns about my new friend . . . .so you can imagine my surprise when I glanced out a window to the parking lot and saw her entering her car and driving away! She hadn’t bothered to come up and let me know she was leaving! Dashing down to the office, I found the door wide open. Anyone could have “liberated” any items — books, pictures, cameras, models — they wanted! That’s when the previous positive beginning began to go south.
At the time, I was the long-time producer of a pilots’ club newsletter. I enjoyed being a member, donating my time and talent. Some club members were kind, in turn, to AKM. They donated magazines, airplane rides, and their convivial fellowship. The organization donated a considerable sum which allowed me to purchase bricks and glass shelves for models during the early months, when I was setting up displays in the Welcome Room. After Burlee’s departure without letting me know, we kept our distance at pilots’ club dinner meetings, and I stopped attending regularly. A few days after a meeting I had not attended, a friend (a real one) let me know how Burlee had raked me over the coals, describing some typo errors in the newsletter and more, all of which gave the impression I was something of a brain-deficient dunderhead. I didn’t say anything in my defense because that would have cast her in an uncomplimentary light. It was obvious she could be a more significant asset to the club than I, with so much of my time devoted to developing AKM. My speaking out would not have advanced the greater interests of the club, and my friends who were members would have resented only me. I DID resign from my role as newsletter producer. Burlee became the new one.
Later in the year I found myself dismayed at the apparent theft of some rare aviation magazines from the Magazines Room upstairs. It tore me up trying imagine who might have stolen them and why. I had never locked to doors up there, but I hired a locksmith to re-key every room. One morning when I noticed Burlee, reading a magazine in the passenger lounge across the hall, I decided to let her know I was aware the magazines were missing. It would have been rude for me to accuse her because I had no clue, no evidence. So I didn’t accuse her. I asked “Do you know who took those magazines?” She said she didn’t, and that was that. I believed her. Days later I learned “through the grape vine” — I have REAL friends on the grape vine — that she announced at the pilots’ club meet that I had ACCUSED her of taking them! THAT was a LIE. Her antic generated more disappointment from people I had considered my FRIENDS!
A few months later while working on a project in the Welcome Room, I suddenly realized that a rare squadron insignia I had displayed for years on a nearby shelf was GONE! That of course brought more despair, hopelessness and depression! I asked the FBO service crew at the reception counter 10 feet from my office door if they had seen anyone enter and leave the room in a hurry. I was told that no one had seen anyone enter or leave during my brief absence when I visited the men’s room down the hall. I was reminded that it really wasn’t part of their duties to monitor traffic to and from my office. Okay. I was just asking a simple question. I had intended no offense.
Six months later while showing a visitor some old airplane magazines upstairs , I lifted a short stack of publications from a shelf and discovered the really rare ones I thought had been stolen! I was overjoyed! I was privately embarrassed over the fact that my jumping to the wrong had been so brainless of me. Perhaps Burlee’s lying about my conduct and bumpkin mentality had been more deserved than I had thought!
Later in the year — last December — I was relocating AeroKnow Museum offices from that beloved, cherished location in the lobby at the front of the building to a hall in the back of the building. It was a slow process, performed — as with nearly everything else connected with AKM — solo. I was lifting a sheaf of papers from a top shelf when I discovered the long-lost squadron insignia I thought had been swiped!
I was mortified and delighted in the same instant.
A regular gentleman such as I would have naturally. . . rightfully . . . logically shared the joys of re-discovery of materials I thought “cone forever” with those who knew of those “losses” and, in own venomous ways, had lied and labeled me something not much more than a jackal.
I didn’t let them know. I never apologized to Burlee. I’m being the wrong end of a horse over this because, after all she was the wrong end of a horse FIRST — when she abandoned my office without letting me know she was leaving. . . when she disparaged my ability as a writer by pointing typos . . . and by accusing me of doing something she knew I did not do.
(For the record, ever since, I have always proofread everything I’ve written for public consumption. )
I believe I can never be friends with the pilots’ club people again. This saddens me greatly. I’ve known a few of them since the 1970s. When we see each other at the airport we say “hello” and leave it at that.
I’ve learned that arriving out here at the museum in a mentally defensive frame of mind, with my guard up, expecting more challenges to my competence and composure, changes he way I regard some people whom I encounter frequently. I’m trying to loosen up, to not be so ready to be offended by folks who don’t want to offend me. The effort is working, slowly but surely, a day at a time.
Life goes on.