Through most of my married life, which has been most of my life really, my Old Man has been the backbone of this family. Sure, I often have to be the navigator, gently — and sometimes not so gently — guiding us in the proper direction, but once on course, his strength and determination sees us through whatever obstacle or situation is at hand.
I am a pretty tough old gal, but I’m able to be tough because I have a safety net to fall back on, a strong pair of arms to keep me safe, a shelter from the storm, and all those kind of sappy, cliché phrases that happen to be true in this case. In fact, in our social circles, this is so well known that the Old Man once received a commendation at a Luscombe banquet for being the “wind beneath my wings.”
I could only hope to offer him such support should he ever need it, and unfortunately recently he did. His dad, Sam, had been in poor health for some time. Over the years he had faced several difficult challenges and survived, but I believe that he finally came to the place in his life where he felt the next world held more for him than this one. He took his last breath on this earth the last Saturday in March surrounded by those he loved and those who loved him.
At first I thought the Old Man was holding up well. A frantic life-flight to a city hospital, a week on life support, and then the conference with doctors informing his family that it was time to let Papa Sam go kept his mind busy. It wasn’t until the machines were silent, the funeral was over, and the crowds were gone that a 60-year-old little boy realized his daddy was gone.
To fill the silence, I talked. When words weren’t needed, I held his hand. In the deep, dark recesses of the night, I snuggled closer just so he would feel that I was there. After, the have-tos and need-tos were done, I took him to the hangar. It would be some time before he would feel like taking his 8A out for a trip around the patch, but there was nothing like a little metal bending to take away one’s worries and woes.
So it began. When he wasn’t helping to settle Sam’s affairs or checking on his mom, he retreated to the hangar and the comforts that he found there. At first, he decided that he would focus his attention on his cowling. After 66 years, it needed a little TLC. The little patch that he planned to install turned into a big patch, and after a few weeks, it was a rebuild. He beat and flailed, riveted and bucked, cussed and prayed. One day turned into the next and the world continued on.
After some time, he grew tired of working on his cowling and turned to repairing his carburetor heat muff. Again there was some beating, some cussing, a little flailing as metal and man came to an understanding. The metal won on some days, the man on others. When he found the crack on his exhaust stack he was truly annoyed, but a little welding seemed to settle his nerves.
As weeks passed, I gave encouragement at the progress of the repairs. I offered to fly him in Lester, but that offer was gently refused. It was not time. Instead, I fed him; a good, hearty breakfast in the morning to get him going, and I packed a homemade lunch for him to take to the hangar.
He repaired several sets of stacks that he had put aside for hard times. Then he went back to the cowling and beat and flailed some more. His airport bum buddies often came by to offer their support and supervision. There was approval at times and occasionally a suggestion that a particular repair should be returned to the workbench.
As the days passed, the haunted look of the little boy who lost his dad began to fade. His smile returned and devilment replaced the sadness in his eyes. When he laughed so hard that tears came to his eyes at some funny post on the Luscombe list, I knew it was time.
On a Friday afternoon, I topped off Lester at the FBO. I cleaned his windshield and checked his oil. I performed my typical walk around for good measure. He was in fine shape. I checked the weather forecast and then went home.
Saturday morning dawned clear, bright and calm. I woke my Old Man with his typical cup of tea and this announcement: “Go fly.”
“My airplane is in pieces,” he said into his pillow.
“Mine’s not,” I replied as I handed him the keys. “Lester has been topped, the oil is good, and the windshield is clean. The winds aloft at 3000 are 10 knots at 270, and the surface winds are calm. There are no TFRs. Go fly. ”
The joy that leapt into those green eyes was a balm for my aching soul. I reminded him to pick up a biscuit at the local biscuit shack before he flew as he headed out the door. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all. “Buzz me before you land.”
A couple of hours later I heard that familiar throaty sound of a beefed-up C-85-12 with straight pipes and ran out of the house, still in my nightgown, to offer our regular acknowledgement of such endeavors. As my shiny Lester circled our farm, my heart soared. My Old Man was going to be okay.
I didn’t ask where he went. It didn’t matter. But I was pretty sure some of that time was spent flying in and around those old mountains that he loves. When he returned, his step was lighter, like a man who let grief and pain go to flutter harmlessly to the ground.
With grief gone, I believe he remembered that where his dad had gone he didn’t need wings to fly.
Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. Deb can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.