The boy grasps his grandfather’s hand, calloused from years of hard work, and looks up, big brown eyes filled with wonder. He doesn’t look at his grandfather’s face, but beyond to the sky above, towards their shared dream and destiny.
The soft purr of a motor from afar grows louder as the boy and his grandfather instinctively shift their gaze, focusing their eyes and ears on the familiar sound until a faint speck appears in the distance. Gleaming in the midday sun, a small airplane comes into sight. It’s single propeller whirls as the adept pilot keeps the wings steady despite the afternoon breeze. As the the wingspan casts it’s shadow across the boy’s face, his heart swells with amazement. His mind races with the possibility of this impossible feat – earthbound man taking flight.
“Papou, can we fly?” the boy asks his grandfather, timid but excited.
His grandfather looks down into those brown eyes and smiles, a soft but reassuring grin, and leads the boy over to his plane. They push the plane out of the hangar together; the boy learning to believe in his own strength. Patiently, Papou walks the boy through each step of the pre-flight checklist. Like waves on the sand, each new piece of information washes over and exhilarates him as the boy soaks it all in. He’s attentive, yet tentative, as he learns about the instruments and ailerons. Though he intuitively understands the concepts of lift and airspeed and altitude, he carefully listens to every word his grandfather says, hoping to absorb his years of experience.
Finally they are ready for takeoff. After taxiing to the end of the runway, Papou instructs the boy to take the yoke – he will be flying. The boy is filled with fear, doubting his own abilities; but as he looks into his grandfather’s eyes, a reflection of his own, he sees them filled with trust and confidence. His small hands grip the yoke tightly, white knuckles steadying their shaking, as the propeller spins and the engine revs to full throttle. The plane speeds down the runway, and with only a little guidance from his grandfather, the boy firmly pulls back on the yoke.
They are aloft.
Out of the corner of his eye the boy sees the ground quickly dropping below him. He sees the green leaves of the trees wave farewell, beckoning him upward; then he’s above the towering trees. Up, up, up they climb – like Icarus daring to soar ever closer to the sun. Keeping pace with the altitude, the boy’s exhilaration and assurance continues it’s ascent, his apprehension fading with the landscape below.
As he levels off the plane, the boy looks to Papou with pride. But Papou is no longer visible. Confused, the boy looks down at his own hands and realizes something stunning – he is no longer a boy, but now a man. He is doing the impossible, taking flight, all on his own.
The man is in the left seat now; a pilot of his own dreams and destiny. Yet he’s always aware of his ever-present copilot, the source of his inspiration and motivation, Papou.
This story is in honor of my incredible husband, who just fulfilled one of his greatest life dreams, becoming a private pilot, and in memory of his beloved Papou, who would have been 91 last week and has endlessly inspired Andrew’s consistent love and pursuit of flight.