My wife and I were empty-nesters for a minute there. Our son is a great success, living in New York City with his own growing family. Our daughters had moved out and were sharing a house together. Then one daughter moved home. A few months later the other followed suit. We are empty-nesters no more.
It’s good to have family around during the holidays. Maybe not on a full-time basis, but still, it’s good to have them close by. This allows me more opportunity to share in their lives and make memories that will last. Sometimes I enjoy embarrassing them with an unexpected hug now and then, or an impromptu dance in the living room. They hate it, but they love it at the same time.
Being a parent is a balancing act that never ends.
Recently, with nothing on my schedule, I discovered the afternoon was warm and the sky was clear. Florida’s first winter cold front had yet to flow across the big sandbar I call home. This left me with an opportunity to do something I truly love to do — take one of my kids flying.
My older daughter was home, so I posed the question. “Wanna go?”
“Sure,” she answered without hesitation.
Nikki is brave. She’s loved flying since she was a kid. We took her to the SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In and Expo when she was only two months old. While still a tender young thing she attended the grand opening of Fantasy of Flight. Ironically, she’d work for Waldo Wright’s Flying Service as a teenager, based right there on the same grass strip where she’d seen all those Mustangs amass a dozen years before.
She’s flown with Kermit Weeks in his P-51 and his Curtiss Headless Pusher. She’s flown Stearmans and Wacos, too.
That makes it a bit tough to impress her with a flight in a Cessna 172, but she accepts whenever I ask her and she gives every impression of enjoying herself as much as she does when flying something far more valuable, exotic, and historically significant.
On this outing I opted to take the AirCam. Nikki still refers to it as Grandpa’s airplane, because he built it and we all still think of it as his, even though he’s moved on to the next big thing at this point. She climbed into the back seat, buckled in, and got situated while I busied myself closing the hangar door and locking up.
It was 4:45 p.m. by the time we taxied out. Sunset was expected in less than an hour, making our window for flight relatively short.
That’s the perfect scenario for me, frankly. I get to fly. She gets to enjoy the sunset. We get to bond over an activity that never gets old, or dull, or completely predictable. As I said, perfect.
When I look back on my career as a pilot, I wish I’d realized sooner that some of my most memorable flights would also be the shortest and least expensive.
The airplane is designed to fly. Where we fly is entirely up to us. Since cost is a function of time ticking over on the Hobbs meter, shorter flights result in fewer dollars escaping my wallet or yours. It’s worth noting that and reminding ourselves from time to time.
Short flights can be just as satisfying as longer forays into the ether. And being the cheapskate I am, it makes my heart sing when I tally up the meager cost of a half-hour hop.
I relish these opportunities to take the kids, or anyone else really, on these extraordinarily visually appealing tours of the neighborhood. There’s something about the setting sun that grabs our attention, helping us to recognize the massive expanse of the world we live on and the remarkable beauty it possesses.
Nikki and I chatted casually as we flew. I pointed out landmarks I thought would be of interest to her. She asked about others I hadn’t thought to mention. The landscape we live with is constantly changing for natural reasons, as well as because of man’s intervention. The transition can be fascinating.
We never got more than 15 miles from home on this particular flight. Turning back to beat the sunset to the runway, we were presented with a western sky that was absolutely on fire with a wide range of yellow, orange, and red. The sky behind us was darkening, while the horizon behind Tampa blazed with an intensely too powerful to look at directly.
As we entered downwind I continued my usual patter, but noticed Nikki had stopped answering. Twisting in my seat a bit, I could see she was still with me, so I let her silence go. Perhaps she was just enjoying the moment. Then again, maybe she was fed up with my blabbering. Either way, I was having a good time lazing my way into the pattern at a whopping 60 knots. So I flew on, keeping my thoughts to myself, just flying the airplane and embracing the moment for what it was.
We rolled onto final dead on the centerline and held that track all the way to touchdown. A slight bump and a squeak of the tires verified we’d made it back to earth safely. A tap of the brakes allowed us to make the first taxiway turn-off, which also gave me the chance to turn and ask number one daughter if she was okay.
“You’ve been quiet,” I said. “Are you doing alright?”
“Yeah,” she said holding her phone up with pride. “I was just concentrating on shooting video of your landing.”
It was short, it was sweet, and yet another oh so memorable flight is in the books. And this one is preserved on Facebook. Which at least suggests the kids enjoy these short flights as much as I do.