Grassroots Budd Davisson, 2001
The other night I walked out into the workshop to shut it down. I looked around at the hardware scattered around me and was hit with the realization that in so many tangible ways, my life had come full circle. Or maybe I was just coming to the end of the straight-line path I started on so long ago and it had circled life's globe to arrive back at the beginning.
Before going into the shop I had written e-mails to some folks about airplanes they were thinking of building. Then, as I trundled to the end of the shop in my stocking feet, I walked between my old street roadster and the workbench, where a flintlock Kentucky rifle was taking shape. At that moment, as I looked at the mechanical artifacts which had been around me for most of my life, I realized that this is where I had started nearly 50 years ago. Same tools. Same goodies. Same attitude. Same interests. So, what had changed, if anything?
The roadster entered my life in 1957, when I was 15 years old. The flintlock, or one like it, had hit me a quite a few years before that. The conversations about airplanes had been there all along. So, what had I done during the years that separated the teenage me from the senior citizen me? Part of me feels as if I've done everything, yet accomplished nothing. At the same time, another, bigger, part is frustrated that there is so much left to do and so little time in which to do it.
I suppose everyone feels that way at some point. Somehow, however, as I sat on a stool and gazed at the old flathead Ford that I had dropped into the modified Model A frame 44 years ago, it was as if I could reach out and touch all those years one by one. I found my mind shuffling through them like a deck of cards, momentarily glancing at each, and smiling, or frowning, depending on how it had rounded out my hand at the time
Then, I realized that the only thing that sets me apart from so many others in aviation is that I somehow managed to bring the mechanical parts of my youth along with me into the present, where most people leave them behind as a natural part of living. Within serious aviation circles, just about everyone's childhood was filled with the same sort of "stuff" I was seeing in my workshop. You'd be surprised how many serious aviators lived a parallel existence, as young men.
Right here, I should probably mention that the last sentence is politically incorrect unless it is written, "serious aviators lived some sort of parallel existence as young men and women." These days, as writers, we're supposed to recognize both genders. In this case, however, that wouldn't be correct, politically or culturally, because only a very few women in aviation lived the nearly identical adolescence the rest of us did. It must be a guy thing.
Also let me qualify how I'm using the term "serious aviator." That doesn't mean they are professionals or own an airplane. In fact, they may not fly much at all. But, most, if not all of them, have been plane-crazy since the first moment they could point up that object in the sky and utter a recognizable syllable. They are serious in their passion, if not their capabilities.
Most of these aviators (armchair or otherwise), if asked would
recite a background that, from person to person, is remarkably
o liked airpanes from birth
o routinely talked parents into stopping at airports to watch airplanes
o started building plastic models (circa 10 years of age), filled bedroom with same
o discovered gas powered models; free flight, U-control or R/C, depending on age.
o badgered parents into flying lessons, had paper route/washed planes/worked filling station for money.
o hung around airport and became "the airport kid," parlayed odd jobs into fight time.
o soloed between 16 and 17 years old (if able, otherwise modeling kept going)
o started building flight time any way possible.
It is at this juncture that the stories begin to change with the individual. As we all hit our twenties, the way in which our aviation careers took off ranged from flight instructing in college (me), going into the military flight programs (the lucky ones), flying checks, freight, charter or crop dusting until logging enough time to go into the airlines/corporate, etc.
As a normal rule, scattered through out the life being described was a motley collection of fast cars, motorcycles and other pieces of hardware that are high on any parent's list of causes of gray hair.
For most pilots, you could make up a rubber stamp with the forgoing tale on it, leaving the dates, ages and locations blank and we could just fill those in and have a reasonably accurate facsimile of our life story.
On the one hand, it's a little embarrassing to realize that your entire life is a cliché. As unique as each of us likes to think we are, we definitely aren't. Others have lived the same life in different places at different times. On the other hand, it's comforting to realize that part of the reason we seek each other out as kindred souls is because so much of our life-experience has a shared common base and we don't have to explain ourselves.
Without knowing why, we seem to understand the truth to the saying, "yeah, I know where you're coming from."