By Julie Jindal
The scents of machine oil, fresh paint, brass polish and old rubber welcome my father, and he eagerly enters the cement-floored hangar. He takes a few minutes to look left, right, up. I notice that his hair has thinned a little more, which I know doesn't bother him as much as losing one of his front teeth a couple of days ago. While his hearing has faded with age, his vanity has not.
Dad leans on his gnarled wooden cane, squinting to read the first placard. He likes to read every word in a museum, but I wonder how he'll manage. Yesterday, when he arrived from Arizona, he couldn't walk the sixty feet from our front door to a shady bench, saying it was too far.
Today, however, Dad is willing to go a little farther. As he shuffles up and down the gleaming rows, every car and plane lures him onward with another memory. He forgets his hair and his fragile teeth and thinks about being a teenager, chasing girls, the joy of his first solo flight. Some of the memories are so powerful that it's like his physical body is becoming transparent, and part of him lives in 1951 for a few moments. I look around the hangar and I see the same effect on several other visitors, gazing at lustrous metal with profound longing or a secret smile.
As we spend more time with the planes, I brace myself for the inevitable argument. He has cajoled me, begged me, even tried to boss me into taking flying lessons. "It's the best thing I ever did; it's given me more pleasure than anything else," he would say. More fulfilling than fatherhood? "I like being a dad, you know I do, but up there with the world below …" his voice trails off. Once again, he is somewhere else.
Today, however, the argument does not come. Perhaps Dad has given up. I should be glad that he has finally accepted that I don't love planes as much as I love horses, and as I repeatedly told him over the years, I can afford only one expensive, time-consuming hobby. Dad found this baffling. To him, preferring horses to planes is like preferring broccoli to ice cream. But instead of feeling victorious today, I feel hollow.
How simple it would be to sign up for lessons and make my father happy. His health won't allow him to fly anymore, and I suspect that the last few years, his pressure for me to fly has stemmed from his desire to go up again in a little Cessna, even as a passenger. How can I deny him this joy? I think of my horse, and my own dreams, and I tell myself that I am not selfish for refusing to let my father live vicariously through me. But as I see him walk the entire length of every row in the hangar, I wish I could live another life for him.
Julie Jindal has been a freelance writer for more than ten years, producing nonfiction essays, articles and reviews, plus promotional copy for clients. Her work has appeared in The Seattle Weekly, Salon.com and several Travelers' Tales anthologies. She lives in Hood River and is currently writing her first full-length novel.