Old Radios

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.

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.”

“YOU’RE stupid?”

“Compared to a pilot. They got big IQ’s, they can practically move inanimate objects with their minds.”

“What’s inanimate?”

“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.

“What’s retirement?”

“‘Course, I’d need someone to take flying lessons WITH me…”

“I can do it!”

“A fella in the sky needs him a partner…”

“ME! ME!”

“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.

18 comments

  1. Catherine - September 19, 2017 3:14 pm

    One day you and your dad will fly so high, they’ll never be able to get you back down. Love this one Sean.

    Reply
  2. Mike Mc - September 19, 2017 3:20 pm

    My own dad lost his dad when he was barely seven. All his life he struggled with that loss although he never much talked about it. Your comments help me understand what he was going through sometimes. thanks.

    Reply
  3. Ben Martin - September 19, 2017 3:24 pm

    Sean, how do I send you a p/m? Looking forward to seeing you in Hendersonville.

    Reply
  4. Jack Quanstrum - September 19, 2017 3:29 pm

    Glad to hear he did to. Hope my dad is seeing it from up high to. Good story but it reminds me of the hole in my heart for my dad. But that’s good it let’s us know how important father’s are. When we are growing they are first glimpse of God on earth. Shalom!

    Reply
  5. Cathi Russell - September 19, 2017 3:39 pm

    Sean, I hope you have the bestest day!

    Reply
  6. Melanie Howell - September 19, 2017 4:12 pm

    You are so incredibly talented! I bet he would be proud of you❤️

    Reply
  7. Barbara Jones - September 19, 2017 5:43 pm

    So enjoyed your story. Reminds me of my dad. Hope you have a blessed day.b

    Reply
  8. Diann - September 19, 2017 6:21 pm

    “Precious memories, how they linger. How they ever flood my soul. In the stillness of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold.”

    Reply
  9. Donna - September 19, 2017 6:43 pm

    Priceless!

    Reply
  10. justkerryb - September 19, 2017 7:12 pm

    Makes my heart ache for the dad I knew as a child before I lost him to mental illness. Saturday mornings he worked on his candy apple red ’62 Chevrolet SS. He loved that car, but he loved me more.

    Reply
  11. Dolores Fort - September 19, 2017 8:03 pm

    Tears! Thank you, Sean. Your words always touch me, especially when the tears come.

    Reply
  12. Barbara - September 20, 2017 4:35 am

    What a wonderful memory! My granddaughter was excited to receive the book! Thank you again! (Greenville) Barbara

    Reply
  13. Marty from Alabama - September 20, 2017 11:16 am

    Just quit it right now! Not this early in the day. Daddies are kind of strange characters at times, but when they are gone, what you wouldn’t give for just a few more of his whatever. Maybe a quick hug and to hear him call me “Mart.”

    Reply
  14. Mary Anne - September 20, 2017 4:20 pm

    Oh wow, Sean, you sucker-punched me with this one! Didn’t see that one coming. Memories of my own daddy rolling down my cheeks right now…he’s been flying high for 43 years now, and I still miss him so. God Bless You for your stories that you so graciously share with us all. Thank you for sharing this sweet memory of you and your father out in the garage together—we were all right there with you. You paint such a vivid picture with your stories, which is, of course, the sign of a great writer.

    Reply
  15. PJ Johnson - September 21, 2017 1:55 pm

    My daddy promised me we would go West and ride broncos together. Never happened, but it’s one of my special memories.

    Reply
  16. Linda Akers - September 26, 2017 3:28 pm

    THIS is one of my favorites! You are loved!

    Reply
  17. Melodie - September 28, 2017 6:00 pm

    Your daddy is flying high, my dear, and so will you. With God as your co-pilot, how can you go wrong? Sean, you are earning your wings in more ways than one! ♥

    Reply

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