“If you’re going to be a pilot, be a good one.” My dad said it in a matter-of-fact tone, as he handed me all the pamphlets and books he had used years ago when he studied for his own pilot’s license. I was twenty-two years old and immortal, using the pay from my first real job to fund the expensive flying lessons I had yearned for throughout my childhood.
Years later, I found out that my dad never really got his pilot’s license when he was young. He had a student’s license to fly, and shortly before I was born he flipped a plane while trying to land in a crosswind. He walked away from the accident and never set foot in a small plane again. “I got too busy to keep it up,” was only his more convenient story.
I think of the courage it must have taken for him to watch me learn to fly. I also never got my license, but in my case job changes and marriage and children put a stop to my airborne extravagance. I still remember the feeling of being alone in the cockpit, and of landing the plane and stepping out it safely. And I still remember my dad’s words, and the odd look on his face when he said them to me. Perhaps it was his expression that made the words stick.
A couple of months ago my beloved 2000 Camry Solara convertible turned over 200,000 miles. I took pictures and wanted to blog about it, but I was in the middle of packing up a house and time got away from me. I’m very attached to this car. It and I fly down the road together with the wind in my face, and I don’t have to look for a runway on which to land. After we returned from the odometer-changing drive, I gave it a loving pat on the hood. “If you’re going to be an old car now, be a good one.” I think it understood.
As of two months ago, the car and I both live in the mountains of North Carolina, a thousand miles away from steamy old Houston. I’m retired, and for the first time in forty-some years I choose how I fill my days. It’s a thrilling, daunting challenge, this making a new life with all these choices. I need to eat better. Exercise more. Find a social circle. Take some time for introspection.
I can still see my dad’s face. “If you’re going to be an old person, be a good one.” Good advice, dad. I’m working on it.