Last week my out-of-town son called to say the weather was perfect for a ride in his airplane. He has had this tiny aircraft for about two years. And although several family members have taken a ride, my husband and I have remained adamant: No way were we going to go up in a machine that could be loaded in the back of our pickup. My son didn’t even try to persuade my husband. He knew how much his father hated flying in big jumbo jets; there was no way he would ever strap himself into a plane that he towered over. But my son kept trying to reason with me, saying something about how safe the aircraft was and how more people die on the highways, blah, blah, blah. But I didn’t relent. My son said I was a wuss, and I agreed.
The call came on Friday. My husband and I were at the lake, where he works one day a week. My son dangled a carrot to entice me — a flight over the house we are building.
“OK, I’ll do it, but only for five minutes,” I said, not quite believing my spur-of-the-moment decision.
The fear of death didn’t hit me until I drove into the airport parking lot. As I waited, scanning the sky, I tried to think up an excuse to postpone this adventure. When my son called earlier in the day, the sky was spotless — not a cloud anywhere. And there was no wind — something I’ve been told you don’t want when flying in a small aircraft.
Now, I noticed the sky was blemished with dozens of big misshapen clouds — a couple of them dark gray. I also noticed that the red sock they keep on a pole near the runway was blowing straight out, thanks to the wind that had started to pick up.
Then I saw the speck and heard the noise of the engine, and within minutes my son was taxiing toward me. Taking a deep breath, I walked toward the airplane as my son swung open the passenger-side door. He showed me how to grab the handle bolted to the outside and pull myself up onto the wing. I then had to fold myself into the seat. The first thing I noticed was each of us had a steering stick. I guess that’s in case the pilot blacks out and the passenger has to take over. My son handed me a pair of headphones, but I told him I wasn’t interested in listening to music. He gave me one of his looks, and I put on the headgear. His voice came through the earphones, and he explained that this was the only way we could communicate because the plane was so loud. Great, I thought, now no one will be able to hear my screams for help.
My son showed me how to buckle in. He pushed a button, and the blade in front started to turn. He then announced something very official-sounding to someone inside the airport (the airport didn’t have a tower, so maybe it was someone with binoculars). So far, so good, but we were still on land. Then, he revved the engine, and two seconds later we were in the air. That’s when the queasy feeling started. When he banked to the right, I was thankful I hadn’t had a big lunch. I tried to open my eyes, but every time I looked down and saw the lake snaking all around us, bile and half-digested food started to rise in my throat. My son asked if I was enjoying myself. I just grunted. He took that as an affirmative. Then he pointed to something below us. He said it was our new lake house, and I believed him, but by this time I wasn’t looking at anything. It took all of my energy to not upchuck all over the cockpit.
A few minutes later, my son announced that we were at the end of our little trip. He maneuvered the plane to the runway and slowly lowered the bucket of bolts — not without tipping to the right and then the left. By now I was gritting my teeth and praying to the saint of airports. A couple of little bounces at the end, and we were down and taxiing toward the hanger. I don’t remember kissing my son goodbye, I just remember opening the door and trying to get my bulky body out to the wing, where I crawled on my knees to the edge and rolled off the aircraft. I literally fled to my car.
My son called later that day and asked about when I’d like another spin. I told him the next time I would be in an urn and he would be scattering my ashes around our — by then — old lake house.
If you have a comment or know of another way my son can travel to see his mother, please e-mail me