I flew to Columbus, Ohio a couple weeks ago for work, which included changing planes in Chicago. After I found my seat and listened to the safety briefing, I thumbed through the pages of the latest edition of Hemispheres — the United Airlines magazine — to figure out what type of airplane I was on. I’m guessing that’s not the first thing most people do when they fly, but I’m weird like that. I found the list of United’s aircraft in the back of the magazine and learned that it was an EMB 170. That’s when I started missing my dad. He died twelve years ago.
Some kids’ fathers teach them about cars, but my dad liked airplanes. His father had run the fuel service at the Juneau airport in the 40s, and he worked there as a kid. He grew up around pilots and became an amateur historian of military and commercial aviation. He loved to share his knowledge and liked to test me whenever an airplane flew overhead. He could often identify a plane just from the sound of its engine, but I always had to look, and I often got Cessna 180s and 185s mixed up. The 185 has the swept tail, but I always forget.
Airplanes are a part of life in Juneau, Alaska. You can’t drive away from Juneau, and if you want to leave, you either need to take a boat or a plane, which makes it hard to be a rebellious teenager trying to run away from home, as ferries and flights are expensive. One of our neighbors was a bush pilot, and many of our summer camping trips began with a flight on an amphibious de Havilland Beaver to some remote lake in Southeast Alaska. I spent more time in airplanes as a kid than I did in cars.
So, as I sat on board the plane in Chicago waiting to take off, I wondered just what the hell an EMB 170 was. I had never heard of this airplane before, and the EMB designation made it clear this jet was not built by Boeing or Airbus. I wanted to talk to Dad about it.
I’ve thought about him a lot this week. This past Monday would have been his 80th birthday. He loved the fact that his birthday fell on King Kamehameha Day, a Hawaiian holiday in which they celebrate the most famous Hawaiian monarch. We visited Hawaii several times as a family, and on one of those summer vacations, Dad found himself watching the King Kamehameha festivities in Waikiki and vicariously appreciating the affection and admiration of the Hawaiian people. It’s good to be the king.
Wednesday was my son’s graduation from high school. We attended the event held in a crowded, humid college gymnasium, in which we sat on bleachers, and I giggled to myself about Dad. He attended my high school graduation, but, four years later, he decided to skip my college ceremony. It pissed me off at the time, but I don’t hold a grudge. That was just Dad. He didn’t skip the ceremony because he didn’t care, he just hated big crowds and uncomfortable seating. I know he was proud of me, just as I am of my own son.
Thursday was Flag Day, the day we commemorate the adoption of the flag on June 14, 1777, and when I saw the notation on my wall calendar, I retrieved the stars and stripes from the closet and hung it at the front of the house. He gave me the flag when we bought our first house. Dad felt it was important to post the colors on holidays, and I have tried to follow his lead. I don’t always remember, but when I do it reminds me of how much I appreciate our democracy and how much I appreciate Dad for teaching me about it.
Friday, I took the day off to prepare a feast of smoked meats for the graduation party we hosted on Saturday. My son requested barbecue, and I was happy to oblige, even though it required two days and minimal sleep to cook the brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and pork belly. I spent thirteen hours Friday worrying over a brisket and two pork shoulders as they slowly surrendered to the heat and smoke. The grill in which the pork shoulders cooked was Dad’s. He bought it in Juneau about 35 years ago, and it is a thing of beauty. Dad didn’t do any true low and slow barbecue cooking— he didn’t have the patience for it — but he cooked salmon steaks on that grill that I still dream about. I admire his ability to simply cook the fish until it was done perfectly. He didn’t use a timer, he just knew when it was ready to serve. I’m a slave to my timers and thermometers, carefully measuring and monitoring every aspect of the cooking process. While I take a more high tech approach to my pit mastery, my love for grilling, just like my love for airplanes, started with Dad.
This weekend is the 20th annual Olympic Airshow hosted by the Olympic Flight Museum. My dad was one of the early members of the museum, which houses a collection of some of the most beautifully restored warbirds in the world, including a North American P-51D Mustang and a Vought F4U Corsair. We went to the airshow together many times, and he got to tell his grandchildren all about the cool airplanes. I miss hearing his voice as he talked about the airplanes he loved.
I would like to walk around the airshow today with Dad and talk about airplanes. I want to hear those same old stories about old Alaskan pilots like Fred “Bax” Baxter and Shell Simmons. I want to remind him of the time we saw the SR-71 Blackbird fly at the Abbotsford Airshow. I want to ask him to remind me what kind of airplanes the Canadian Snowbirds aerobatic team flew (CT-114 Tutor jets; I had to look it up). And I want to ask him if he’s heard of an EMB 170. He would tell me it’s a twin-engine jet by the Brazilian company Embraer, and they first started flying in 2004. He always knew. He was my own personal aircraft wikipedia. I miss you, Dad. I’ll do my best to identify the planes as they fly overheard today. Remind me, does the Cessna 185 have a swept tail?
Happy Father’s Day.