by Carl Bartlett, Jr.
Where, oh, where, have the days gone? It seems only yesterday that we were decorating the house for Christmas. Now the lazy hazy days of summer are upon us. It also seems only yesterday that I was playing marbles in the school yard and exploring the world around me. There was a small airport not far from where I grew up, and I spent most days of the summer watching the planes take off and land. I'd sit at the edge of the woods next to the runway, eating wild plums and blackberries and daydreaming of flying.
Most of the planes were small and privately owned, and there was one plane I always looked for. This one was a yellow and blue Stearman biplane, slow and noisy compared to the other planes but exciting to watch. Because of the open cockpit, I could see that the pilot wore a leather helmet and goggles.
It's funny how things work out, but some thirty years later I would fly in that very same plane as a passenger. I flew with a stunt pilot, and we did all the aerobatics and stunts a plane can do. I wore a leather helmet and goggles just like I remembered the pilot had thirty years before. And I even had a parachute on my back.
That day up became down, left became right, in became out, and dreams became reality.
Filled with excitement as we took off, I didn't look toward the skies but instead looked to the woods where I had spent my youth watching the very plane in which I was now flying. There at the edge of the trees was a little boy sitting and gazing as I had so many years before.
I was taken back to a hot summer day some thirty years before when I had seen something I would never forget.
In my memory, I sat again at the end of the runway watching the planes take off and land. I heard a plane flying overhead and looked to the skies to see a small red and white plane I'd never seen before. I would later hear that it was an experimental plane. This was its first flight. When it was directly overhead I watched in horror as the unimaginable happened. The plane started coming apart. First I saw the right wing break away, then the left. Time stood still as I watched the pieces fall from the sky.
The pilot would not survive and I would never go to watch the planes again.
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