|Mention Friday the 13th, and Ray Goad's spirit soars with the eagles.
"Sixty-seven years ago on July 13, 1945, also a Friday, was when I made my solo flight to obtain my pilots' license," the 84-year-old Smyrna resident sailed back across parts of two centuries.
"When I got my pilot license, that's when I decided I would always consider Friday, the 13th, my Lucky Day," Goad heralds the often-times dreaded date.
He explains the unusual circumstances he obtained his pilot license in the equivalent of a well-manicured Middle Tennessee cow pasture.
"A drizzling rain was falling on a strip mowed out through a wheat field," Goad traced back through the clouds of innumerable flights. "The strip was 1100 feet long, bordered on one end by high tension electrical wires and on the other end by tall trees.
"It was there I made my first solo flight, in a military surplus Aeronica L-3 artillery spotter plane that had been used in the war," Goad accounted.
He was a 17-year-old youth at the time.
It was a pretty lofty achievement for a Tennessee hill country boy who grew up "trapping and selling polecat skins" back in Maury County's remote "Haywood Holler" on the heels of the Great Depression and in the midst of WW II.
More about those polecat skins later in this forum.
His first legal flight to leave the surly bonds of earth, was equally unusual.
"Legal requirements were that I have a minimum of eight hours with dual instruction before I soloed," Goad noted. "I had six hours, and 15 minutes. My instructor obligingly padded my logbook with the required dual instruction to make me legal.
"Since he's deceased, the feds might have a hard time prosecuting him now," Goad surmised with a wry smile.
The new pilot didn't realize the "significant date" of his fateful solo flight.
"After I completed the customary three takeoffs and landings, my instructor asked me if I realized what I had just done," Goad confirmed. "When I replied in the negative, he told me I had just soloed on Friday, the 13th. That's when I decided that would always consider Friday, the 13th my lucky day."
Cured and stretched polecat hides helped finance those early flight instructions, Goad verified.
"As a farm boy, I'd hire out for 25 cents a day, plowing all day behind a team of mules," Goad tilled back in the soil of his youth. "But grown men would get paid up to 75 cents to a dollar a day. So when I had a good day of polecat trapping, if it was a top grade hide, I could make a $1.25 profit per skin, a good profit for a country boy living way back in a holler."
The fact Goad was a "polecat trapper" was no secret, he recalled with a sheepish grin.
"When the pot-bellied coal stove in our one-room school house would get roaring hot, the smell from my polecat trapping and stretching would sometimes stink up the whole school house," Goad recalled.
"But polecat hides, if they were solid black, the highest grade, the more money I made to put in the bank," he accounted. "I had a pretty thick skin as a boy, so the smell didn't embarrass me too much, although the teacher one day excused me to go back home and return another day with less polecat scent on me."
His farm parents, Elmer W. Goad and Nellie Haywood Goad, helped instill a strong work ethic that included making "good grades" in the rural two-teacher school for first through eighth grades.
"There were three students in my eighth grade graduation class," Goad noted. "But my teacher and older sister encouraged me to read and study hard, although we didn't have a lot of resources. I recall reading all the books that we had in the little bookcase at one end of our school room. After graduating from high school in Columbia and serving in the military, Goad was off to Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Those "polecat hides" from youth played another major role in life for Goad.
"My senior year, the GI Bill that paid for my engineering studies, ran out," Goad accounted. "So the money I'd save from my polecat trapping days, well, that helped finance the end of my formal education leading up to my bachelor's degree in engineering."
Also as a boy, Goad was into "mules" before "mule trading" and "mule breeding" helped make Maury County globally famous.
"The money I earned and saved as a rural country boy, helped pay for my finishing studies at Vanderbilt University," he recounted.
While at Vanderbilt, Goad said his heart again "soared with eagles" when he met his wife, Wilma.
"We've been married 60 years now," he accounted.
They've shared life's interests more than six decades, including "bird-watching," a hobby that's taken them all over the globe.
He worked as engineer more than 30 years with Proctor & Gamble in Memphis, before retiring in 1991 and moving back to Middle Tennessee.
Not a bad life from his polecat trapping and selling days.