The seeds of wonder: Part 1
It was 1967. I was 4. The sky was overcast. It was most likely Spring…sometime in late March or April. I don’t remember wearing a coat and it wasn’t hot out. Dad came and picked me up from daycare, which was a couple of streets over from where we lived in East Austin. Instead of heading back around to the house we went the other way, to the airport.
Every now and then we’d sit and pass an hour or so watching planes take off. This time he drove to a different spot. We parked and got out, and I followed him into a big grey building which I found out years later was a hangar. We walked past small planes and he pointed and called out names like Piper, Cub and Comanche, and Cessna, and numbers like 172. We went inside an office for a few minutes and he filled out something, or signed something. I couldn’t tell. I was short. Then we walked out to see more planes. We went up to one and Dad stepped up onto it’s right wind and opened the door. Then he climbed back down. I couldn’t reach the little step of the ladder that was hanging down form the wing. So he picked me up and stood me on the wing, and he climbed up and got me seated in the plane. Then he shut the door and went around to the other side and climbed in.
“Clear prop!” He yelled out before starting the engine. As the years passed and we went flying more I learned that it was part of a start-up protocol he followed.
The engine started and we began moving forward, turned and made our way to the runway. The first thing I noticed, other than the dials moving was the two ‘steering wheels.’ Actually they’re called yokes or control wheels. But in 1967 my only frame of reference was cars.
At this point I’m not sure which was bigger, my eyes, or the grin on my face.
The plane picked up speed and lifted up off the runway and we were in the air. I don’t remember how long we were up…maybe a half hour. I could ask Dad but he wouldn’t remember a particular flight from fifty years ago.
I don’t remember how high or how many turns. My guess is 1,000 feet or so, and I know he made a few. And at some point we landed, went back to the car, and drove home.
I had zero fear. None. And that lack of fear of flying has stayed with me all my life.
We got home, and I was still over-the-top excited. I ran up to my grandmother and said, “We went flying!” Well, she did not exactly share my excitement. The look on that woman’s face was something I never forgot. Ashen is a word that comes close. It was a look of fear and disappointment. All she said, at least all I heard, as she looked at my father was, “Please don’t take him flying.”
Well that didn’t happen.
I just learned to keep my mouth shut around her about our occasional trips to the airport.