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Earning My Wings

Earning My Wings

I’ve mentioned my weird happiness around heights before, but have I told you how high I’ve gotten so far? Oh, stop giggling, silly. I didn’t mean that way. I meant physically . . . though the euphoria of doing it was pretty mind-blowing.

I’m talking about flying. Not the unassisted flying I do so much in my dreams, but when you climb into a plane–in the front seat, with the wheel thingie and pedals–and fly yourself into the sky like a deranged penguin with an engine strapped to its back. Sure, I enjoy getting on a commercial flight and taking off to heights that made my little two-seat Cessna jealous, but to sit behind that windshield with your hands on the controls flying yourself into the sky . . . That’s the biggest self-inflicted wonder of all.

But this post isn’t really about me . . . it’s about my grandfather, a quietly amazing man I never really got to know. My grandfather was an engineer . . . an aerospace engineer. He was one of the many who helped create the very first space shuttle, or parts of it, working for Martin Marrietta out in the desserts beyond the suburbs of Denver, Colorado.image

Perhaps it was no fluke that his engineering talents were directed toward that particular project. I wonder if he too was inflicted with this odd desire for altitude. Perhaps he even yearned to be one of the engineers aboard the shuttle when it finally left earth’s hold. I like to think he had. I kind of wish I’d had that opportunity myself.

I never knew my grandfather in his heyday. I hope one day my mother will regale me with her memories of him then. All I truly know about him was that he was happy off of the ground. And he loved to build things. Those two desires came together in his garage, where a cloth-winged airplane was taking shape by his hands. Perhaps this is where the seed was planted for me, seeing this project at such a young age.

A couple of decades later, I would embark on an adventure in flying that sadly began when his ended. It was such a poignant irony I found myself writing a little piece about it in my poetry class. It’s about the weird day I officially earned my wings after months of practicing to fly, first with an instructor and then on my own. It goes something like this:

               Last Flight
My grandfather’s home was the sky
His heart aloft from the ground
An imagination that helped
Launch our first shuttle to space

I remember purple-doped wings at eye level
Drying on sawhorses in his garage
But a fluttering heart stole their air
His license floating away in the wind

Unsmiling pictures of him, fettered to the ground
I ached to see him take wing again
Taking lessons as soon as I left the nest
But the ground took him too soon

The morning I earned my wings
I alit from my perch so early
Wing’ed faeries still flit about
Setting diamonds to the leaves

A stern stranger sat right seat with clipboard
Ready to catch any falling mistakes
Checklists and run-ups, then “Clear!”
Pointed questions as we taxied

Cessna’s were not designed for the ground
An empty coke can rattling on asphalt
But once the Earth drops beneath
An aluminum bird returns home

The climb brought my grandfather’s eyes
To unruffle my sputtering nerves
The clipboard man slipped behind a cloud
My purpose became clear blue sky

I’m a bird, climbing, rolling, stalling, diving
Seeing the airport reminded me of rented wings
Runways shaped like a crooked cross
The shorter piece tree-hemmed and disused

I faltered here when clipboard pulled a lever
My engine mock-failing before approach
I saw a sloppy circle to runway’s end
The shorter far too close beneath

My confidence veered, I froze in midairimage
Then … I imagined a hand touch my shoulder
I heard “Whoa!” from the right seat
As I banked, left wing pointed at the ground

Right pedal down, flying sideways
We side-slipped straight down,
Righting, flaring, touching like a feather
Before my hands were my own again

I felt my grandfather’s proud grin
In place of clipboard’s shocked stare
I taxi back to undeserved praise
Happy he got his last flight

One day I hope to take to the skies again. I know I’ll be thinking of my grandfather when I do. And thank him for helping to make it happen. Happy flying Pop-pop.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2015 in Bloggie Bits, Flying Bits, Miki Bits

 

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