My father approached the runway in his Piper Cherokee Cruiser. Moments after the
wheels touched down, he took off again…. He banked to the left and circled around until he
was in landing position. Again, he swooped down and took off…. He shot landings five, six,
seven times before I stopped counting. Each time he came down to land, I thought he was
going to crash. Each time, I thought, I didn’t come home all the way from Malaysia just to
watch my father die.
Since it was Thanksgiving, it’d be a double tragedy if my father did die. Instead of
spending time together, I would be mourning his death. His death would forever be associated with Thanksgiving, thus putting a damper on whole holiday…. Thanks to the holiday,
we had the local airport to ourselves. In other words, if my father did crash, there would be
no one around to help.
Each time my father landed, he looked over at me and I would take his picture. Each
time he took off my heart took off with him. If he did crash, one thing was certain, I would
crash along with him…. In case my father did crash, I worked out in my mind what I would
need to do. Instead of running to the crash site, I would jump in my car and race there to
save time. If my father was still alive, I would help him out of the wreckage and drag him
away, lest the plane erupted into flames. Then I would rush him to the hospital—the same
hospital where I was born thirty-one years ago. I thought of my stepmother Marie and how
she would react when I broke the news. In no time she would be in her car racing helterskelter to the hospital, ignoring all traffic lights and stop signs. I would insist that a neighbor
or Roy, her son from a previous marriage, drive the car. I didn’t want another death on my
hands. Maybe I wouldn’t call Marie after all because I knew she wouldn’t wait for someone
to drive her. Instead I would call Roy and ask him to pick her up.
There was a hitch in my plans. I didn’t have Roy’s phone number. Perhaps I could ask
the operator for assistance or have the police notify her…. I was hoping as I planned all this,
I didn’t have to call anyone. I was praying really hard in the back of my mind that my father
wouldn’t crash. Not today. Not when we still had so much to discuss…about my future in
Malaysia, about my mother’s past, about their divorce, and about Grandfather Thomas.
My father came in for another landing, but this time he didn’t take off…. I breathed a
sigh of relief. Today he was not going to die…. At the end of the runway, he turned the
plane around and headed back in my direction. I was about to get into the car to meet him
at the hangar, when my father stopped the plane in front of me and waved me over.
My heart sank.
I didn’t want to do this.122
I didn’t want to climb into that plane.
As a boy I would avoid flying with him…afraid if we would crash it would be my fault.
If he hadn’t taken me up for a ride, he would still be alive. Even in death, I didn’t want that
hanging over me…. In a labored dead man’s walk, I approached the plane with distinct sense
of dread, its wing aimed at me like a drawn dagger. Not paying attention, I circled around to
the right side of the wing. I could just as easily circle around to the left side; the distance
was exactly the same. In the Cessna, my father’s previous plane, there was no question as
to how to board the plane. The door and step-up were clearly evident below the wing. To
get into the Cherokee Cruiser you had to climb onto the wing, and if the plane was at rest
you could actually climb onto the wing from either side, as I did earlier that morning when
my father introduced me to his new airplane.
Busy writing something down on his clipboard, my father looked up. He jerked to attention and called out, “Whoa!” His tone was firm, without a hint of panic, yet I
immediately knew something was wrong, so I halted in my tracks. He waved me back
around to the other side of the wing and said, “Never go to the front of a plane when it’s
Had I kept going, I would’ve walked into the propeller. It was slicing through the air so
fast I couldn’t see the blades.
My father just saved my life. All it took was a firm, “Whoa!” and a wave of his hand.
Had it been my mother, she would’ve screamed in hysterics. In not comprehending, I
would’ve run toward her to see what was the matter, and the propeller would’ve sliced the
life out of me.
That was the difference between my father and my mother.
But was it really her fault?
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