Lightning. A passing thought. The awakening of memory.
I’m five, maybe six years old, sitting in the front seat of my dad’s Bonanza. Right seat. The single, swing-over yoke is in front of him, his hands playing lightly over the off-white plastic ‘wheel’ while I look out the window at fields and lakes passing by far below.
A summer day. North Texas. Hot outside, even hotter inside the small cabin. Tiny brushed aluminum nozzles let the outside air in, but it’s hot too, too hot to stop the beads of sweat forming on my forehead. His too, I can see. There’s no air conditioning, just the warm air hissing from those nozzles over my perspiration.
“Little bit hot up here, isn’t it?” I suppose he said just about then. “What say we cool off some?”
He turns the wheel and aims right at a boiling white cloud, and I don’t know whether to be scared or not. The things looks like snow covered mountains up here between them, but to a kid in kindergarten clouds are still pretty mysterious creatures. One minute you see a shape that looks a little like a whale, and the next it’s an elephant’s head.
The cloud grows ahead until there’s nothing but a wall of impenetrable white, and just before we slam into the mountain there’s a little extra turbulence to stir up the butterflies in my gut, then…
…we’re inside the cloud. Our world grows impossibly small and too bright white.
But no, we’re skimming through the top of the cloud, skipping along like a stone crossing a lake. White – blue flashes, then he trims the nose down…
…and now it’s impossibly cool inside the Bonanza…then he dives deeper into the creature, and as suddenly it’s almost blistering cold. My world feels strange, almost weirdly disorienting and there’s a wild grin on his face when I realize I’m hanging from my seatbelt. As in hanging upside down. He holds the roll on the yoke until we level out, and I can feel an unseen hand pushing me down into the seat as he pulls back on the yoke…
It’s gray deep inside that cloud, but a moment later the light is white and pure, blinding pure again – then a shattering blue as we leap from cloud back into to sky…
And still he holds the roll and I turn my head to the ceiling and look down on the sun-dappled prairie through the clouds below, and I watch – fascinated – as the world rotates ahead of us…until the earth and the sky are back where they’re supposed to be…only now we’re zipping along through another canyon…a solid white canyon made of walls of clouds I want to reach out and touch.
And I remember my father whistling. That little tune John Wayne whistled at the end of The High and The Mighty. Why do I remember that now?
I watched a summer afternoon’s thunderstorm building today, watched the white cumulus reaching skyward again and I thought of my old man. Of his hands on the yoke, the smile on his face, the joy he shared. We shared. The love of flying he passed on to me.
I guess there are days, when the clouds are ‘just so,’ those memories come for me. All the clouds we visited over those enchanted skies, all the cooling sweat and the sudden grins that claimed so many days.
So, Dad, we were back at it today, and oh, how I missed you.