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April 26, 2005

It may be the whiskey talking, but the whiskey says I miss you every day

Last night I couldn't sleep; I've had a lot of trouble sleeping over the last couple of months. It's a new thing for me, as sleeping has always been one of my favorite hobbies. When all else fails, I give up and sip a little bourbon and try to get some writing done. Fiction has been right-the-fuck out lately, though I very much want to get back to my poor neglected protagonists. Instead I've been writing up anecdotal essays, based on whatever niggles at me that day.

My friend Columbine posted some stuff about flight on his journal, and I got to thinking that he didn't know that I had once wanted to learn to fly a plane, so I wrote up a little piece about that. It mentions my dad, but the act of writing it made me miss him so terribly. He died suddenly two and a half years ago, and my mourning has been haphazard; last night I found myself on the couch sobbing fiercely over all the things I'll never get to talk to him about.


I can't remember if you ever knew this about me. It seems strange that you wouldn't know something about me, but there you go. I have always wanted to learn to fly, although the ambition has dimmed with age. My fervor was greatest as a teenager, when I read books about barnstorming. I wanted to learn to fly maybe some sort of Cessna, although sometimes I thought I wanted to fly an ultralight. The age for a student pilot's license was actually lower than the driver's license age, if I remember correctly (I just tried Googling it, and that seems true, but of course I can't check for what it was in 1986).

I read Richard Bach's book Biplane, and then his other books about flying, and eventually I read his random crappy books about spirit and wonder and soulmates (which contain some truth and a lot of crap); I was probably the only teenaged girl in the world who read those after reading his books about flight.

One day in the Gonzales library I was supposed to be shelving books, and I was instead standing by the book cart pretending to be shelving books while reading a book about planes, and a man asked me if I was interested in flying planes and I started talking to him. I still remember a little bit about him. It's been nearly twenty years, but I'm pretty sure I'm right (and was right then) that he wasn't a pervert. He flew out of the little airstrip near the Kleinpeter dairy, between Bayou Manchac and Baton Rouge. He did sometimes fly Cessnas, but he really loved flying ultralights, and he explained that you trained to fly the ultralights, and that they were one-person machines, and that your first flight was a solo, and I definitely do remember the thrill that gave me, standing there in the stacks thinking about being up in the air alone looking down over the crown cover.

I knew my dad had flown in the navy, but I didn't really know that he hadn't successfully flown in the navy, that he'd washed out of flight school. (I'd later learn why, and it's an interesting story, and much to his credit.) I hadn't told him that I'd been getting interested in flying, but I know that I thought he'd be really excited to find out. He'd be proud and happy and thrilled to find out that his daughter wanted to do one of the things that he'd done.

That guy in the library told me that if I could get to the airstrip regularly, I could trade labor for flight lessons. (He'd offered lessons, and I'd explained that I surely couldn't afford flight lessons, and he'd said many teenagers who wanted to learn to fly couldn't afford to pay, and that barter was common.) I was fucking beside myself. I wasn't afraid to work hard, and that particular kind of working hard was exactly what Richard Bach talked about in his books, the kind of grease-under-fingernails and oil-fumes-up-nostrils labor that I'd been daydreaming about while treading the wall-to-wall carpets of the parish library.

It had been about four years, so I'd forgotten about the fiasco that had ensued when my choir teacher had offered to teach me piano for free. ("We don't need charity.") It didn't occur to me that my father would accuse a stranger in the library of being a child molester. (He wasn't a pervert! He was a PATRON!) And it couldn't cross my mind that my desire to fly would bring up painful memories for my father, whose own flying career had been brought short by his disinclination to fly bombing raids over Korean villages of defenseless women and children.

Daddy said I couldn't do it. Just flat out said no. It was not the kind of no that allowed for any sophistry on my part; it was a very scary kind of no. This was just before the shit really hit the fan; this was while I still thought he'd hung the moon, and while he still thought I was his good little girl. So I didn't argue. I lost the phone number, I "forgot" about the airstrip, and I stopped reading books about flying. In fact, I've never read another book about flight since. I had a driver's license then, so it's been almost nineteen years.

I've had that span of my teenagerhood on my mind a lot lately, so when you posted your links to flight stuff that was what came up unbidden. I do know I could still learn how to fly; I'm a damn good driver, so it doesn't strike me as being impossible, but it has slipped down on my list of things-to-achieve-before-eventually-dying. On the other hand, if I want to do it, I should probably do it sooner rather than later. We shall see.

Posted by Rose at April 26, 2005 11:37 AM


Mary Cleave, my childhood baton teacher, gave twirling lessons in order to pay for her flying lessons. She later became an astronaut!

I knew Mary had become an astronaut, but found out about the flying/twirling lessons thing by Googling her recently.

So in my own little way, I contributed to the space program.

Posted by: Ellen at April 26, 2005 07:46 PM