My dad turns 86 next month. He is the oldest in his family line, the patriarch, or “the Old Fart” as he prefers to call himself. I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Mom and Dad over the summer and talk, just talk, about different things—family, politics, memories of when I was a kid. But one the things I like best is getting Mom or Dad talking about when they were “younger”. I say younger, since Mom and Dad somehow have refused to grow old, despite the inconveniences of the aging process on their physical flesh and blood equipment.
Who knows how the topic came up; doesn’t matter. Dad began telling me about being in the Navy during the Korean War. He worked as a mechanic on airplanes, and went on later to become a mechanical engineer from Purdue, which might not have occurred based on what he told me about this particular stint serving our country. (Which logically follows that my brother and I might not have occurred, either…!) He did not work off of an aircraft carrier, however, but something called a Currituck-class Seaplane Tender.
See the picture? That’s a seaplane being hoisted up out of the water to be serviced on the boat. They weren’t big on luxury space in those days (I’ve also heard the stories of the sleeping quarters piled three-high in the
guts of the ship…), and so the belly of the plane fit on deck, but the wings stuck w-a-a-a-y out…over the water….with sharks swimming around.
And guess what Dad’s job was. To walk out onto the wings, untethered. (Dad says “well, yeah, at first”, which to me, untethered means untethered.) Airplane wings are, by design, flexible, so that means bobbing up and down. Boats, by design, roll with the waves of the sea, so that means rocking back and forth. I’m no engineer like my dad, but the bottom line is an unpredictable, three-dimensional, continually unstable motion under your feet….over the water….with sharks swimming around. (“Sometimes they were porpoises”, says Dad.)
“Did you ever fall in?!?”, I inquire.
“No”, says Dad, calmly. “Almost, but you get used to it.”
I’m such a wimp.
One of many stories that are far too rapidly fading into the backdrop of our American history. But rather than bewail the current state of affairs that the media chooses to cover, I prefer to humbly salute my folks, their friends, and their incredible contribution and legacy.
Happy almost birthday, Dad! I love you dearly!