It's Valentine's Day 2011. Dark clouds are scudding low across the Northern California sky. I can see my father in them. He died this morning. He's not sitting on one wearing a white robe and strumming a lyre. No, he's wearing his leather flight jacket. He's tearing through the clouds in his old P-51. He's doing barrel rolls, loop de loops, spins, dives, and stalls. He's having a blast.
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, an early airborn experience was falling out of second floor window when he was two. I don't know exactly what transpired, but at some point he went through the screen and ended up in a bush below, unhurt. The family was Catholic until there was a dispute with the Catholic school involving and older brother and a suit for graduation. I'm pretty sure I would get the details wrong, but suffice to say his mom decided that they would be Episcopalian from then on.
He had a paper route during the depression and earned about 10 cents a week, which his dad took. His dad then took off leaving the five boys and their mom in Fort Wayne. Many other men left their families in the depression. It was easier for families without a man to get charity. Many years later she took him back.
He loved flying. It was war he didn't love. He enlisted when still a teenager and became a fighter pilot stationed in Duxford, England. He flew 47 missions over Germany, including a raid on Bertesgarten, Hitler's summer palace. He was shot down once. He was flying through some flak and noticed a chunk missing from the forward edge of one wing. He should his head and told himself that it couldn't be. But the ship started tilting over and he had to push hard against the stick. It was real, all right. He flew for a hundred miles as the hole grew larger and he had to lean harder on the stick. Luckily he was able to keep flying over the lines and into France. There he realized he wasn't going to make it and would have to bail out. So he hooked his thumb under the rip chord, closed his eyes, popped the canope, and jumped. He counted to ten nice and slowely as he had been trained. He opened his eyes and pulled the chord. His plane spiraled down and created a crater below him. He got back to the base and was taking a shower when he looked down and realized he still had the rip chord in his hand. Guess it was important.
After the war he came home, joined the Quakers, and married a German-American girl. Sixty three years later death did them part on Valentine's day.
But what a ride it has been. They raised six kids. Most fathers take their kids out to play. Ours took his wife and kids out to play in the sky. That's right, in the sky. Sure, he built us a sandbox and swing set, but, come on... He showed us how the clouds and the terrain can give away the secrets of the wind. He could find where it rose and fell. He knew where the waves were. He palled around with hawks. Light planes and gliders took us around, over, under, and through the clouds.
"Look, there's our house." It was the one with the shiny roof. He coated it with something reflective to keep it from warming up too much in the summer. He also put up insulating tiles under it to keep us warm in the winter. The snow piled up on our roof showed that it worked. This was in the sixties while the rest of America was binging on energy. Later, in the nineties he built a super efficient house from prefabricated highly insulated panels.
In 1953 he took his young family to visit relatives in Indiana. He had gotten his master's degree in Business at the University of Chicago and he and his wife, Doris, moved to New York to start his woking career as an industrial engineer. While on this visit he got into a car crash. Everyone, except one son went through the windshield. So when he got back to New York he hunted down an aircraft supplier and bought some seat belts. Such things weren't really available for cars, but he drilled some holes in the floor of his 1949 Ford and bolted those airplane belts in there. So we werre probably one of the first families in America to be strapped in. Ironically, he never got in another car crash the rest of his life.
Somewhere in here he took up flying gliders, or, more properly, sailplanes.
In the eighties he put a computer in his car so he could get direct feedback on how his driving affected his mileage. Now days they call it hyper miling and some new cars have such computers built in. He got 70 mpg in that car. But, the car that I really liked was not at all efficient. In the late sixties he bought a cream colored Jaguar XK-150. It had red leather seats and rolling up to high school in that ride was bliss for his oldest son.
In (date?) he helped design and had built an energy efficient house out in Eastern Long Island so that they could be near the new grand children.
After a long and far ranging search they moved into a retirement center in Davis, California. It was to be their last move. Not coincidentally it was also not terribly far from Berkeley where they had three young grandsons. He tried to talk the retirement center into installing more efficient lighting and taking other steps. They didn't really respond - until energy suddently got expensive. They they turned to him and he helped get a co-generation facility going there. In his last years he struggled with advanced Parkinson's Disease. He *never* spoke a word of complaint about it.