Hank Williams music is playing on an old radio, sitting on a workbench. I’m nine. Hank’s voice bounces off the garage.
The room smells like gasoline and dirt. The walls are covered—and I mean covered—in posters of jet planes.
My father once wanted to be Navy pilot. He failed the physical exam into flight school. He was deaf on his left side. He’d spent a childhood wanting to see the world from the top, but he had to settle for posters.
“Toss me that wrench,” says Daddy.
He slides from beneath the Ford. There is a longneck bottle in his hand. Daddy sings along with the radio. He sounds like a dog with a chest infection.
“Daddy, will you ever fly a plane?”
“Nah, too deaf and stupid. Pilots ain’t deaf or stupid.”
“Compared to a pilot. They got big IQ’s, they can practically move inanimate objects with their minds.”
“It means UN-animate-like.”
My father walks to a white Philco refrigerator. He removes a bottle. He pops the cap with a box-wrench.
“You know,” he says. “I didn’t WANNA be a steelworker. I was kinda backed into it. Always WANTED to be a pilot. Wanted to see the world from up top.”
I look at him. He’s bone skinny. He has grease on his face and hands. There are scrapes on his veiny forearms. My father always had cuts and scrapes. It was the price of blue-collar workaholism.
“But Daddy,” I suggest. “You can STILL be a pilot. Billy’s daddy knows a man who gives flying lessons.”
My father takes a pull on the bottle. He smiles. He is all stubble and crow’s feet.
“Gotta be rich to take flying lessons,” he says.
“We could save up.”
“Take a lotta saving.”
“I’ll save ALL my money.”
He rubs his chin. It makes a sandpaper sound. “Guess I could take up flying during retirement,” he says.
“‘Course, I’d need someone to take flying lessons WITH me…”
“I can do it!”
“A fella in the sky needs him a partner…”
“Can’t be ALL by himself up there…”
“I’LL BE YOUR PARTNER!”
He smiles again. “Okay. You’n me take flying lessons, one day. Gotta start saving our pennies right now.”
“LOOK! I HAVE TWO IN MY POCKET!”
He turns up the radio. Hank never sounded so good. The world never looked so bright and promising.
My father crawls beneath the vehicle again.
I’m imagining candy-apple red airplanes with gold trim, built for two. Just me and my best friend.
“Ain’t it close to your bedtime?” comes his voice from beneath the Ford.
I look at the clock. Past 8:30 P.M. Son of a buffalo chip.
He slides from beneath. He kisses me goodnight. It’s been a long time since I’ve had one of those.
“Are we REALLY gonna fly?” I say.
“Boy, you listen. We’re gonna fly so high they’ll never be able to get us back down to earth.”
Then, he hugs hard enough to hear my bones crack. Hank’s still singing.
We never went flying. But good memories are precious to me now.
I’m glad he finally got to see the world from up high.