Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sky Engagement

"Republic tower, Cherokee 5-4-1 sierra papa at runway 1-niner ready for takeoff."

"Cherokee 5-4-1 sierra papa, cleared for takeoff, runway 1-niner."

Some of my fondest memories as a young child growing up in Brooklyn, NY, included time spent with my grandmother, circa 1977, perched atop the international arrivals terminal at JFK.  It was at that spot and at that age where aviation took on a mystique and fascination that would forever play a part in my life.  I'm sure my grandmother was doing my sleep-deprived parents a favor as they were tending to my infant baby brother.  As they were busy changing diapers and filling bottles and making silly faces and sillier noises, my grandmother and I were soaking in the sights and sounds of big birds taking off and landing on runway 31 left.  I don't know how many times my grandmother took me to the top of that terminal, but looking back at life's special people and special times, what I would give to have one more moment taking in that scene with her.  Just one. 

My grandparents lived across the street at the time.  I suppose that back in those days families were less scattered.  So I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with my grandmother.  And she would feed me by putting food on a fork and pretending it was an airplane. 

While she did that she wore a beautiful heart shaped diamond necklace, given to her by my grandfather.  There was a single stone in the middle of the heart. 

I was fortunate enough to spend many special moments with my grandmother.  We shared a unique and unbreakable bond and she clearly made an indelible mark on my life.  She watched her grandson grow from infant to young man and helped me get through teething and the teen years before guiding me as an adult.  She called things as they were.  I didn't always like or want to agree with what she said.  But it was like she was spot on and I could either accept her wisdom and the inner disappointment that sometimes went along with that or ignore her advice and eventually grow into a lesser man. 

I loved her.  She passed away in 1999 and I can still feel the emotions of that day.  As all special people do, they live on within us.  Their wisdom and guidance live on and continue to impact the world by impacting us. 

The roar of an airplane overhead brings a smile to my face and peace to my heart.  It brings back special memories with a special person.  It's time I'll never get back but it's also time that will never get away.  Memories don't fade. 

My grandmother never met Maureen.  But she did get to see the positive changes that Maureen made in my life - that experience she gave me to change myself and to take ownership of my life.  My grandmother witnessed the transformation that has been mentioned in previous posts and I know that she was thankful that I was given that opportunity. 

One of my life's goals was to earn a private pilot's license.  From the time I was a teenager this was something I wanted to pursue.  But for one reason or another, it remained on my to-do list.  Then came last Christmas.  Maureen is a go-getter!  And so she went and got me a gift certificate for my first flying lesson.  I had a date with the sky!  Little did she know that she was creating a monster - a sky monster!

I took my first lesson on February 23.  After climbing into the Piper, my instructor went through the start up checklist and started the engine.  He then pointed out the throttle and rudder pedals and had me taxi to runway 32 at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, NY.  Up until that moment I had flown countless commercial flights.  What I was about to experience dwarfed commercial flying.  We approached the runway, put the flaps down 10 degrees and requested clearance from the tower.  I was giddy and anxious and happy and thrilled and I couldn't believe I was moments away from flying.  We received clearance and my instructor told me to taxi onto the runway and apply full throttle.  Who was I to argue!  When the plane sped up to 60 knots I pulled back on the stick and we were sky bound!  Peaceful, beautiful and serene.  Many years passed by since those days watching over runway 31 left, but these two experiences felt linked.  And the women responsible for providing me with these rich experiences seemed linked, too, in a special way.

The time was coming to ask Maureen a certain question.  I wanted the moment to be special and memorable.  For a while I was struggling to think of a way to do it.  I wanted to do it in a unique way.  Then one day while at the gym it hit me.  And from there I drove to the flight school, which was only a few blocks away from the gym and proposed an idea for my next flight.  My instructor was on board with my idea.  It was a go! 

"Cherokee 5-4-1 sierra papa, cleared for takeoff."

And with that I throttled up and taxied onto runway 19 with Maureen, Caitlyn and my instructor, Gustavo, on board.  We took off and headed out over the Captree bridge and over Robert Moses Beach.  And then Gustavo asked me if I wanted to take a break.  So he took the controls while I tended to another in-flight matter. 

At some point in this video you'll see me take out a white box.  Within that box contained a stone once worn in the center of a heart-shaped necklace by a woman who was responsible for my love and fascination for things that fly in the sky.  Lucky stone to adorn two beautiful women.

Love you, Grandma!

Love you, Maureen! 

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