Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rumble (copy)

I am reading a book with the underlining theme of regret. Rumble by Ellen Hopkins is a young adult book with an 18-year-old main character who is full of regret. What can he possibly regret this early in his life?
Reflecting on my life, one regret sticks out. I was 24 years old living in Memphis and proudly flew my 1969 Citabria back to Smyrna to show off to all the guys. As an aerospace student at MTSU, I worked the counter at Smyrna Air Center for two years. All the flight instructors used to be classmates except one, Col. Hawn.
Col. Hawn had his own office with a small desk and chair across from the counter. He would lean his chair back and kick up his legs on the desk to keep the pressure off his knees critiquing all our bonehead maneuvers through the smoky haze of his soiled pipe.
He was once a dashing Spitfire pilot in World War II. His war photo says it all. Col. Hawn looks at the camera, hat askew and fresh leather jacket bound, grinning with a pencil thin mustache. His career started outside of Memphis in a plane he rebuilt from a wreck. His instructor, Red, was paid in whiskey.
In his office was a book with pictures of all the airplanes of the world. Col. Hawn circled two thirds of the military planes indicating the ones he flew left seat. At the airport, he had a Cessna 150 and a Swift that he kept clean in a hangar. It was necessary for me to fly the 150, but it was an honor to be allowed to pilot the Swift.
Just thinking back, I can smell his pipe and see the yellowed interior of his little 150. We flew it down to Muscle Shoals for my first cross country and he slept on the return trip forcing me to navigate as if alone. All the jokes about Col. Hawn’s narcolepsy finally made sense. 
In order to fly his Swift, I had to open the hangar, tow the plane onto the tarmac, and await further instructions. It was a blustery day in February, both of us suffering with spring fever, when we took off. The Swift literally jumped into the air and we were at altitude in no time. Col. Hawn took me through a series of rolls and loops. The thing I most remember is his grabbing the wheel with both hands and running up behind a Cessna 152 pretending to shoot machine gun style with his fingers. He was fun.
My regret, and I shudder thinking about it, was not allowing him to pilot my plane. When I returned to Smyrna that day he was 76 years old and using a cane. He asked and I begged off blaming a family obligation in Gallatin. His eyes fell and so did my heart.
I had possibly 30 hours logged in the plane and I was afraid that if something happened I would not be able to land from the back seat. I also had concern about his weight. He was a tall man and easily weighed 250 lbs. To this day, I hate that I let my fear keep this sweet man from having fun.

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