Night flying brought on an embarrassing episode for me. When it came time to make our first night flight, the instructor flew the first couple of flights with the student. In my case, Lt. Buckner took off, flew around the pattern and made a landing. Took off, flew once more around the pattern crawled out and turned it over to me.
Night flight is a beautiful thing. The air is always very calm and comfortable cool. The earth looks different at night. A great black void punctuated by small stars both above and below. In the San Francisco bay area, the flying was exceptionally beautiful because of the tremendous light patterns provided by the many cities in the area. Each city is unique in its pattern and size, but each one is as a diamond with an indefinite number of faces, each with its own tiny light. I was so entranced with the view for the first time and the excitement of the night flight that I probably forgot to pay much attention to the aircraft.
After Lt. Buckner turned the bird over to me, I taxied out, criss-crossing the taxiway to clear ahead of the aircraft, lined up with the take-off field, got clearance from the tower and poured on the coal. As the plane lifted off, I became aware that the exhaust manifold was putting out a huge steam of fire that extended back alongside the aircraft. There didn’t seem to be any loss of power and it flew alright but I thought maybe I should check it out. I picked up the mike and asked the tower if this was normal. I was assured by the duty pilot in the tower that was normal and to continue the flight. I then continued to fly the traffic pattern and make the required three take-offs, approaches and landing then taxied back to the ramp area and shut the bird down, filled out the form and walked into the ready room. There the vultures were waiting for me. It so happens that the biggest thrill an instructor pilot gets out of night flying is to listen to the cadets report his airplane is on fire. Of course, there is much harassing the dumb dodo that does. I was it for my class. I was nicknamed, “Touchy” and required to write an official report in rhyme before next day’s flying session. That I night, I spent a few hours composing a not-altogether-serious poem no the thrills of night flying. The next day none of the cadets or ground instructors even mentioned the incident until I got to the ready room for flying in the afternoon period. I, there, presented my paper to Capt. Holstein, the Squadron Commander, and thought the incident was finished. Not so!
All the instructors marched in to the ready room from their more private lounge and the boss announced that I would stand on the table and read my report. The poem seemed to be fairly humorous because everyone had a good laugh, except me. We then went about our usual business without further comment until the class book came out and there I was on page 2 with my infamous poem signed “Torchy Bryson.” Then a few weeks later a national magazine picked up the story and ran the poem. So I was branded for many years with the nickname “Torchy.”
During basic I also became acquainted with some of my long lost relatives. I had an Uncle Bill, my father’s brother who lived in Oakland with his third wife, Mary. Seems Uncle Bill had three wonderful wives and within my family different age groups knew different ones. My oldest brothers said Aunt Naomi, his first wife was the most wonderful woman in the world. My sisters and some of the brothers held the same view of Aunt Helen, the second wife. After that summer at basic, I became convinced Aunt Mary was the greatest.
Years earlier I had met my uncle and Aunt Mary when they visited our home in Utah and I remembered her as a very beautiful woman. When I moved to the Bay area, my father suggested I go visit his brother. After a brief phone call, I was invited up to their home for a weekend. I arrived Saturday afternoon and after searching through many of the Oakland hills, I finally found their apartment overlooking beautiful Lake Merritt. I was received most graciously and made to feel completely at home. To my surprise, they had another nephew living with them, my cousin Chet, whom I hadn’t seen since I moved from Woodruff eleven years before. We had been great friends as kids and had a marvelous time getting reacquainted.
In the evening, Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary took us to a dinner with a group of their friends, all of whom were middle-aged married couples and one widow, who, with her husband had been good friends with this crowd. There were all people of consequence and it was rather expensive get-together which the group had each month. Even though I and Chet were twenty years junior to the crowd, we were made to feel completely at home and treated as if we had been friends forever.
I was invited back for another weekend later with a promise that Aunt Mary would get a whole bunch of my relatives together. When the next weekend came, I was back again to meet another of my cousins just younger than I and an older cousin and his wife. All my life I had heard about two cousins, Lou and Newell, that had lived with our family for several years while they were growing up and had been like brothers to my older brothers and sisters. Newell had grown up and was the Fish and Game Commissioner for the State of Utah. Lou had gone to work for Safeway Company and had advanced to be Vice-President and General Manager of the Western division. He made some wise investments and was accredited with being a multimillionaire. My father had often said Lou was the only one of his sons that had amounted to anything.
The other cousin was Cousin Lou and his wife, Gert. Even though they were my first cousins, they had always been elevated to Uncle Lou and Aunt Gert. They, too, were very gracious, but down-to-earth people.
In addition to my relatives, Aunt Mary had invited her sister and family, Mr. and Mrs. Ellis. At the time, Mr. Ellis was National President of Federal Land Bank. Of course, they were very wealthy, also. The Ellis’ had a son and two daughters about my age. One of which turned out to be my date on several future occasions. It was interesting to meet the financially successful part of my clan and find they were very fine people.