Every Good Kid Deserves A Biplane
She slipped the web harness over her shoulders, while I cautiously told her how to attach them to the lap belt. The trick, of course, was to convey the instructions without sounding like an instructor dad who still viewed his teenage daughter as a toddler in dress-up princess clothes--which, of course, being a dad, I do.
This was Emily’s first ride in an open-cockpit biplane. Shortly after her birth I’d taken her flying in our Cherokee; strapped in a baby bucket we’d climb and swoop, and she’d gurgle and burp. By the time she was three, she flew our Aeronca from the front seat, although, mostly that consisted of yanking the joystick back and forth while squealing: “Eeee-yaaah…” By age nine, she no longer believed in princesses, and airplanes were something that Dad kept at the “boring” airport where old guys retold the same dull stories inside smelly hangars.
Then, on an unusually warm afternoon when the countryside had changed to gold beneath a sky so blue as to make a Crayola engineer squint, I was headed to the airport and asked—as I always do: “Emily, wanna fly the biplane?” With my hand on the door I expected her usual: “Ah, no thanks…” But, instead, she replied, “Sure.”
One syllable broke through that long pause over the past half-decade. “Sure,” and she grinned slightly, because teenagers aren’t supposed to show excessive emotion to parents. She pulled a UC Santa Cruz Banana Slug sweatshirt over her head and said, “Let’s go.” I would’ve taken her hand—the one belonging to the three-year-old who used to fly with me—but I knew better.
Despite the time gap, she hadn’t forgotten how to behave at the airfield. She stayed clear of propellers and helped remove the cockpit canopies and mousetraps from beneath the seats. Luckily, the trap lines were empty, the mice having learned it was safer to nest in the neighbor’s Cessna 172 than inside the biplane.
“Pull on the strut,” I said, and then tugging on the opposite wing, we rolled the Marquart Charger from its hangar. Sunlight—the unreal kind in late afternoon across dormant farmland—lit her face as no canned makeup ever could. “Now, hold your side while we swing the tail,” and she understood how to turn the biplane until it pointed toward the grass runway.
It was a short but glorious flight across the few years that had separated us from her childhood to now, and as we landed—bounced—landed again, and taxied to the hangar, I anxiously awaited her approval as she would’ve awaited mine long ago.
She undid the harness, slipped the leather helmet from her head so the pony tail swung out, and then with a smile I’d waited to see for so long, she turned and replied to my, “So?” with, “I liked it…” And she pulled herself up by the top wing and just had to add: “Not much of a landing, though.”
And that’s my Emily, flying again at fourteen.
© 2005, Paul Berge; all rights reserved; first appeared in the Pacific Flyer, Wayman Dunlap, publisher