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The Soldier and the Squirrel introduces children to the Purple Heart

through a loving story of a friendship between a newly wounded soldier

and Rocky the squirrel with his backyard friends. This story began as a

blog during my first year in bed after my incident. With much

encouragement, it is now a book and has been placed in the

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. Please watch the video

on the About page to learn for the Soldier & Rocky are changing children's

lives.

 

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Wednesday
Apr032013

A Life Lesson In The Pitts

The propeller drowned out my thoughts. The oversized headphones covered the sides of my face, edging into the sides of my mouth. I was five. My father sat in the back seat of his two-person bi-plane named The Pitts Special, one of the most famous acrobatic planes in the world. Some dads coach baseball. My dad did aerobatic stunt work for shows like Magnum PI and maneuvers like the Lumshevak when he wasn’t working as a captain for Hawaiian Airlines.

 

On this particular day, it was my first time in the Pitts. Just dad and me. I sat in the front seat too low to see much of anything outside the cockpit, even with a booster seat. He buckled me in with a web of a seatbelt. The click comforted me. He pulled it tight. As though he could lose me. He never did this in the car. Because we didn’t wear them. It was the seventies. No one wore seatbelts in the seventies. That’s why my brother and I fought all of the time. Because nothing restrained us from one another when we drove. Two opposite minded pre-pubescent scallywags floundering for position to prove to our parents who was worse.

This time I was alone with my dad, which rarely happened when I was little. I had my own my side. In the front seat. My dad in the back. Our positions had changed. I was never allowed in the front seat in the car. And for now, there was nothing to prove to anyone. The sweet and sour smell of worn leather and fuel comforted me. It wasn’t for everyone, but it reminded me of my dad. Like the tarmac of the airport with roaring engines, the cold floor of an airplane as I slept on a small square pillow under a stranger’s seat on the way to and from our grandparents' farm in Vermont, it was all a reminder of my father and his love for something greater than anything else in the world, airplanes. He is now 73. His house is a museum of airplane memorabilia. The only things missing is the thing he loved the most. The smell of worn leather and fuel.

I had no idea that on that day, when I was five, he was to lay the groundwork for one of my life’s greatest lessons.

The large headphones crackled, drawing me into my father’s world. Where it was just us. He spoke to me like God in a tin can.  When I answered him, I was heard. Was I ok, yes I’m fine Daddy, followed by an eek and a giggle. The only rule that day was that I had to wear close-toed shoes for safety. I didn’t understand how close-toed shoes could keep you safe, but I went along with it. I was elated with the newness of it all. He turned the propeller. I was sold. It roared. It popped like bubble wrap if you were listening to it with huge headphones that covered your face and went into your mouth. I was only five, but to this day have never felt so alive.

 

We began to taxi. The gibberish began in my ears as he spoke to a little man in my head who spoke the same language. My tiny legs dangled, but I could reach the stick. He wanted me to hold onto it, so I could understand what he did to make us fly. We positioned on the runway. The propeller and the engine grew louder. We began moving forward and faster, the rudder controls below my feel swiftly jolting back and forth.  Then he said it, “Get ready sweetie, here we go!” And we were up. I pulled my eyes to the sky and saw only blue. It was the first time I saw only the sky and nothing else. Higher and higher we went. Soon I could peek out and sense the enormity of what we just did. We were flying. Like a bird does without the leather and the fuel. I could see tiny houses I thought were huge, and huge mountains I thought were too big to climb. We flew between the hills of the Koolau range, like kids on a playground breaking the rules.

Dad liked to break rules. One time my brother was running for president of the student body. Dad printed up hundreds of flyers and buzzed the school, dropping them all over the campus. My brother won.

Then it happened. We had leveled out, and I heard him say “Honey, take over the plane.” I fought him, there was no way I could do that! I wasn’t able to fly a plane.  We would crash. Or so I thought. Until he convinced me I could do it. So I did. I took control with my hands and held on for dear life, following his directions. I did it. I was flying the plane. All by myself.  After about five minutes, he took back the controls and told me to “hold on!”. Then he rolled it. The sky and sea became a kaleidoscope of nature, and I have never looked at it the same way again.

It was a story I had in my pocket for years to come. How my father let me fly a plane when I was five. It planted a seed in my brain that I could do anything. By the time I was fourteen, my brain was a garden of possibility. As I grew it was my father’s goal to introduce me to the things he loved to do so we could do them together. Dad loved to SCUBA dive. By fourteen he had me PADI certified and diving to 90 foot depths and discovering sunken ships from WWII off the coast of Oahu. One of his favorite diving spots was Shark’s Cove. Although he didn’t tell me the name of it until after we dove. By 16 I was a certified sailplane pilot, positioning the rudders with my own feet. By this time my parents were divorced and I was living with my dad so much of this was out of my mother’s hands. She would have had a heart attack. Like I did when Dad told me the name of Shark’s Cove. But with each adventure came a shot of adrenaline. Something about them made me feel how magnificent life is when pushed to its limit. We hiked to the top of Mauna Loa, taking pictures along the way. He also introduced me to photography.

I often wondered if he really did give me the controls to the airplane that day. Did I really fly it by myself? The older I became, its truth haunted me. So this week as we sat on the couch after a long Easter weekend, I asked him, "Remember when I was five, and you gave me the controls of the airplane?" Fully expecting him to look down in to his gin and offer a condolence, instead he looked at me and said, "Yes, you did. You flew that damn thing all by yourself." It was then he said, “Flying isn’t all that hard, really. It’s like life. It’s just something you have to get used to, in order to do it well.”

My dad taught me I could do anything. Because doing anything, isn't really that hard. You just have to be willing to do it, and get used to doing it. Before you know it, you can be doing what you once thought was impossible.

So when life gets hard nowadays, I imagine sitting in that seat that was too low to see anything but the sky. The headphones hugging the sides of my head and over my cheeks. My father’s voice comforting me from a far away land. And I know I can do this. This life thing. Because one day, if I play my cards right, I will fly again and this world will seem so very small. I will soar and spin, into a kaleidoscope of nature and find something new that will let me know that anything truly is, possible.

 

 

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