From my logbook, that date: My last flight lesson for 9 years. Too expensive for college. Had to wait to get job at TI, with flying club and good salary
Although the logbook entry listed above was from December 22, 1958, I’m posting this as the year 2020 comes to a close, because I believe there are two very relevant messages for us in that logbook entry, lessons we would do well to pay a moment’s heed at the end of this traumatic and pestilent year.
On Pearl Harbor Day, of this year, I posted the story of how a window blowing out of the old Aeronca Champ, in which I had taken my first flying lessons, had led to me being switched over to fly a Cessna C-140. Just fifteen days, and three lessons, later my life-long dream of becoming a pilot came to an abrupt halt.
So, had the bone-chilling experience of losing the window on the “Airknocker” made me give up the idea of becoming a pilot? Not by any stretch. Perhaps it was the difficulty of “steering with my feet” that proved too daunting. No, a patient flight instructor was getting me past that hurdle. Actually, it was simple economics that put the plane back in the hangar, for me. For Colleen and me, working our way through four years of Kansas State, paying for flying lessons was simply a bridge too far for our meager budget.
Years later, I would laugh as I listened to the tales of woe of guys complaining about flying lessons costing at least seventy five dollars an hour for plane and instructor. “It’s just too expensive,” they would complain. “I can’t afford the lessons.” To add a little salt to the wound, I would then tell them, “When I started lessons, in 1958, lessons cost me about two seventy five an hour for the plane, and maybe seven, for the instructor.” They would shake their heads in disbelief, but then look at me rather blankly when I would add, “But I had to quit because it was too expensive. I couldn’t afford the lessons.”
“It’s all relative,” I would explain. “At the time, Colleen and I were making fifty cents an hour for our part-time jobs. Our grocery budget was five to ten dollars a week, tops. One flight lesson was basically our weekly grocery budget. I could fly, or we could eat. But not both.”
It’s All Relative
So the first “message” for 2020 from this story is one of relative economics. Unless a person were sufficiently fortunate to come from a background of wealth, meeting the economic demands of life has always been a challenge—quite often, a rather daunting one. That is certainly true today, in this environment of economic “shutdowns,” with the inexplicable, seemingly capricious, closures of jobs and businesses. Millions are struggling to stay afloat, and many aren’t surviving, economically.
Tough as that is, unfair as it often is, there is nothing really new about it. One doesn’t have to go all the way back to the Great Depression to find instances of nation-wide economic challenges. Always, people have had to struggle to overcome those difficult times, those challenges. But they didn’t give up. We are a nation that has always found a way to overcome difficulties, to get up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work.
And as we celebrate the end of this tumultuous year, 2020, and move forward into the unknown of 2021, we must do the same.
“Just Keep Swimming…”
But the essence of my relating this story, my second message, is the word “persevere.” My next logbook entry, after the one above, is dated August 22, 1967—nearly a decade later. Between those two lessons was another year and a half at Kansas State University, a move to New Jersey to work for two-plus years for Bell Telephone Laboratories, a move to Columbus, Ohio, working full time at the Ohio State University Antenna Lab while getting a Masters Degree, a move to Richardson, Texas, to take on a job at Texas Instruments, the purchase of our first for-real home, and finally, joining the TI Flying Club to pick up where I left off, that December day in 1958—this time in a bright red and white Cessna 150 (with windows firmly attached to doors).
For all those years, I had to give up flying, but I did not have to give up my dream of being a pilot. Having grown up with grandparents born not long after the end of the Civil War, and parents, aunts and uncles who lived through two world wars, monstrous dust storms that wrecked their farms, a global depression, the Spanish Flu, measles and polio epidemics, I had learned, if nothing else, the meaning of the word “persevere.” And that’s what I, too, had to do. I had to persevere, to do what had to be done to permit me to once again crawl into the cockpit of an airplane, and take to the skies.
Even that brought with it another lesson in perseverance, as it required well over a year before I walked out of the flight school office at Addison Airport with my brand spanking new Pilots Certificate. But that perseverance, that started in 1958 but didn’t end until 1968, brought with it forty years of flying thirty-one different types of airplanes, Instrument and Multi-engine ratings, and a total of over seventeen hundred logged hours.
And so it has been with so much of our lives as a couple, and is, by and large, true for all our friends, in life. The year 2020, finally coming to a close, has presented us with that lesson in many ways, in spades. A global pandemic with its growing count of those who succumbed to the disease, the loss of businesses and jobs, the closing of schools, the resulting emotional challenges that have all too often resulted in drug addiction and suicide, a bitterly contentious presidential election, all have conspired to challenge us in ways never before experienced by much of the nation.
Yes, the economic challenges have been daunting to many of us. But in truth—and this is the point of my comments above—that has been true in various ways for virtually every generation. Depressions, recessions, economic “bubbles” and “busts,” financial scandals, global epidemics, all have presented those facing them at the time with similar life and death challenges. But they persevered, and survived.
And so must we, as 2021 faces us with all its unknowns, as well as opportunities.