Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Childhood Love That Lasts a Lifetime

I love this photo of my friend Keith Brown, my sister Kimberly, me, and our other close friend Gene at the San Francisco Zoo.  It was for one of our birthdays, and we're all dressed up. Keith, who was gone from us just a few years later, is smiling and in motion, frozen for all time at a happy moment.

Thanks to the Internet, I have had recent, unexpected news of my childhood friend Keith Brown and his family.

A woman doing research on her own father was searching the Inernet and found my story about Keith and his father Exline "Brownie" Brown--a World War II flyer who became a well-loved pilot for Pacific Southwest Airlines ("The World's Friendliest Airline"). She had lots of information to share.

She didn't tell me where she was living now--we've only exchanged one email--but it seems she was raised in Los Altos, California, as I was, and that her father, John H. Lyon, owner of Lyon Air Service at the San Francisco Airport, taught Brownie to fly.

Since Browie and his family were from the California farm town of King City, on the far edge of the Salinas Valley, I had it in my head that he had learned to fly there and probably worked dusting crops before World War II broke out.

I had looked up his war record and discovered he was already thirty when he enlisted, but, funny thing, he appeared to have changed his birthdate by a couple of years and the Army records show he was just 28! He listed his occupation as "pilot" and son of a gun if he wasn't going to be kept out of flying in the war just because of his age. The Army didn't seem to notice this slight "paperwork snafu."

Anyway, back to Charlene, whose father taught Brownie to fly. She says she has photos of her father with Brownie and will be sending them on--as soon as her non-computer-comfortable older sister has the pictures scanned so they can be sent.

I can't wait!  I have no photos of Keith's father, who was a big, handsome, warm, wonderful guy who called me Towhead and put his giant hand on my little head in a cross between a pat and a blessing whenever I saw him.

Now that I know Keith's father Brownie learned to fly in San Francisco, and that his instructor lived in Los Altos, it explains some of his connections. How he ended up having a home in Los Altos after the war. And it may explain more about Keith's origins too. Keith was his adopted son--born in 1948--the year PSA was founded. When I obtained Keith's death certificate, a few years ago, to learn more of the swimming accident that took his life at the age of eleven, I learned he was born in San Francisco.

It certainly makes one wonder, doesn't it? Was Keith the natural son of one of Brownie's friends?Was Brownie once married to Keith's mother? Or was Keith, perhaps, Brownie's own natural son?  It doesn't really matter now, but it adds to the mystery of this story that has stayed with me so long.  My best friend, the only adopted child I knew growing up. His mother's death. His father's misery trying to be a single parent and an airline pilot. Keith's loneliness and misery. Brownie's remarriage. Keith's move across town. Keith's death.

So many of these things were not talked about then. Now, all the principals are gone so I don't feel it wrong to speculate.

What I do know is that Brownie and his wife Elma (who died of cancer a few years before Keith's own death) loved their son dearly. And I loved him too.

Word of them has filled my heart this week. I can't wait for the Lyon's family's photos of a young Brownie learning to fly--flying was a love my father shared with Brownie--and look forward to learning more about the Brown's family history.

God Bless you Keith.  Thank you for staying in my heart all these years.

The elephants at the SF Zoo salute (left to right) Robin Chapman, Kimberly Chapman, Keith Brown, and Gene Chalupa in an outing long ago.

To read my earlier stories about Keith:

Little Boy Lost: The Story of my Friend Keith

Paying My Respects to Keith

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