“Kenny… Kenny… Kenny…”  My grandfather gently cooed.  “Kenny…”  I slowly open my eyes to the gently aged face of my Grandpa Holmes.  It was almost five o’clock in the morning and my vision was still blurry, but that was just going to be for a second.  For today Grandpa was taking me flying in t­­­­he Cessna.

            “Are you awake, Sweet-Cheeks?”  Grandpa always called me that, ever since I was born.  He didn’t want me to feel like I was different than anyone else because I was born with clef lip and pallet, so he gave me his own little pet name.  I am by far Grandpa’s favorite!  My vision finally became viable and I was ready to go, but first things first: breakfast!  Grandpa was very adamant that we eat a hearty breakfast before we go flying; especially for me because today was going to be my first day at the helm, or pilots seat!  The truth of the matter is easily this: the Cessna had two steering wheels and two sets of pedals on the floor.  Grandpa had it under control the whole time!  I may have known, but I didn’t care!

            Breakfast was delicious!  We had steak, eggs, potatoes, and toast.  I was sufficiently full by the time that I had eaten everything that was provided for my ten year old little body.  Then Grandpa and I went for a swim in the indoor pool that he had built himself!  Grandpa was not exactly the fittest person in the world, but he believed swimming was his source for letting go.  He let everything go to God in the pool!  He would teach me how to swim, but then afterwards he would teach me how to meditate and listen to what was around me; to listen to the world.  Grandpa wanted me to learn to appreciate nature and the peace and quiet that comes with it.  I just wanted to swim, but when Grandpa would start praying to God I would pray with him.  I also knew when he talked to God that God LISTENED because everyone listened to my grandfather!  I also knew that when Grandpa was praying it was almost time to get my pruned body out of the pool and into the shower to wash off the chlorine.  THIS IS MOST CERTAINLY TRUE…  Shower time!

            Grandpa and I met outside of their bedroom twenty-five minutes later.  Shh… It was very important to stay quiet so Grandma could remain asleep. Grandma needs her sleep because during the week she made sure that Grandpa had what was needed throughout the week – from food to beer and everything in between!  I got outside of my grandparents room first, and I sat there outside their room at the top of the steps and waited.  I didn’t wait long.  Grandpa’s portly figure came out of the room and put his finger to his white whisker bearded lips, motioning for me to be quiet.  He did not want to wake Grandma either!  I followed Grandpa down the hallway, and out the door that led to the garage.  There Grandpa let out a sigh!

            “Ahhh… What do you want to take today Kenny Lee?”  Grandpa was asking me what vehicle I want to take to the airport!  Hmm…  This was a very important decision and one that should not be taken lightly.  My choices were: the Lincoln Continental Mark VIII (which meant we would have a light lunch in the air), the Ford Ranger 4x4 (which meant we would get to eat at McDonald’s after the plane ride), or the Honda Goldwing (which meant wind in my face and the frozen yogurt on the way home).  Now I am not a dummy; I chose the motorcycle!

            Grandpa was very happy with my choice!  He loved to ride his motorcycle, and he loved to give his grandchildren rides, especially me.  Grandpa’s motorcycle was dark red, almost maroon.  It was big – very big.  A lot of people over the past have mistaken the bike for a Harley Davidson Touring Class.  The bike had two saddlebags where we loaded our stuff – jackets and helmets that we were wearing at the time.  It was still too crisp for us to not have our jackets on for the ride on the bike.  Early May is still chilly at seven in the morning.  Grandpa helped me on to the motorcycle and off we went.  I was always afraid of leaving the house on the motorcycle because my grandparents lived on a lake at the bottom of a hill, a very steep hill.  However, I held on to my grandfather tight as we traveled up the hill.  I am sure he knew that I was afraid because he would always take the hill very slow.  An amazing thing happened that morning that I had never seen before or since: as we were going up the hill we saw white-tailed deer.  Grandpa stopped the bike, turned off the engine, and popped the kickstand.  He pointed, and in a hushed voice he whispered, “Kenny look…  Count with me.”

            “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…”  We started counting in unison; we counted, and counted, and counted, “…15, 16, 17…” Then we counted some more: “…24, 25, 26, 27…”  The deer just kept coming and crossing our path – each one seemed to nod to my grandfather, as if they knew and respected him.  “…45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50!”  Grandpa and I were almost speechless. I was able to come to my senses and began to speak, “Fifty deer Grandpa!  Fifty!  Fifty!  Wow!  Have you ever seen such a thing?!”  I was very excited and I knew Grandpa was too!  I could feel his gaze on me as he nodded, smiled, and started the motorcycle back up.  He never said a word.

            When we finally got onto the road we drove and drove and drove.  I never thought anything of it because Grandpa would take the long way everywhere he went.  When we got to a private airfield, I was dumbfounded.

“Grandpa, I thought that we were going to Elkhart, where the Cessna is…”  I asked warily because I knew my Grandpa did not like smart talk, and I did not want him to think that I was smarting off.

“No Kenny Lee, it’s here now!  Are you ready to fly?”  Like there was another answer… Grandpa stopped the bike in front of a hanger, we got off of the bike and I rushed to help my grandfather open the hangar door.  I wanted to impress him with my strong arms; much stronger than the average ten year old boy!  We opened the hangar, and there it was, the Cessna that I had ridden in so many times before, but today was different.  Today I got to fly in the co-pilot spot!  Today, I would take the helm!

My grandpa and I pushed the plane out of the hangar and he helped me into the cockpit.  He didn’t like to have anyone near the plane other than himself.  That was a lesson hard learned years earlier when my uncle lost the tip of his nose to that very same propeller.  Needless to say, from that point on my grandfather was very cautious.  Today was no exception.  Grandpa got the engine going, and to the runway we went.

Loud, very loud!  When we got to the runway Grandpa handed me a headset and he put on his own.

“All right Kenny, listen, and listen good!”

“Yes, Sir.”

“See that handle there in between us?”  I nodded because I was told to listen, not speak.  Grandpa continued, “Push that handle forward… Gently.”  I complied with little hesitation, and pushed the throttle forward, “Slower, we don’t want to stall the engine by giving it too much gas.”  I finally had it all the way forward, Grandpa released the brakes and away we went.

“Here we go, Kenny.  Slowly pull back on the wheel.  Keep it straight.  Good job… There you go!”  And with that we were airborne.  I looked over at Grandpa while he sat there looking at me with a very wide grin – arms crossed over his belly and chest.  Right then and there I knew what had happened:  I took off by myself!