Recently, my parents celebrated their forty-fifth wedding anniversary and I almost ruined it.
I almost ruined it because for a few hours yesterday, my mom and dad were too consumed with worry that I had crashed my father’s float plane to actually enjoy themselves.
The day started out innocuously enough. Rob, Graham, and I had arrived on Saturday and spent the better part of Sunday morning lounging around the lake. My parents had plans to go to concert featuring Irish folk music at 2 p.m. in a town about a half hour away and I was planning on tagging along with Graham.
Rob was heading up to his brother’s cottage further north for a few days and we decided I would fly, rather than drive, him up. My parents stayed with Graham.
“If I’m not back by 1:30 p.m. or so, just take Graham in my car to the concert and I’ll take your car and meet you there,” I advised blithely. “I should be back, but if not I’ll just be ten or fifteen minutes behind you.”
Rob and I took off about 12:30 p.m. for the half hour flight. The winds were strong. Although staying straight and level and maintaining altitude was a struggle, both the plane and I were capable of handling the conditions.
Until we landed.
Because minutes, seconds really, after we landed, the winds at our destination lake started to howl and whip the water into frothy waves.
A float plane is a graceful bird in the sky but a heavy, sluggish chunk of metal on the water. Virtually powerless, I spent fifteen minutes alternately driving and sailing the plane just a few hundred meters to the dock where we tied up and waited for the winds to die.
I called my parents but they had already left. I left a message but they have an old-fashioned answering machine from which you can’t retrieve messages. They weren’t carrying a cell phone. I called my brother but he wasn’t home.
I was left to sit and wait out the winds with a churning stomach and a heavy heart, knowing that my parents would be growing more and more worried as time ticked by and I failed to arrive.
I knew they had been looking forward to the concert for some time and would now spend it running after a toddler and worrying about me. But I also know that 90 percent of flying is decision-making and it is far better to worry than to grieve.
I thought about our friend who succumbed to the skies just a few months ago and about how all parents worry about their children. I thought about how I sometimes lie awake at night plagued by nightmares about the dangers that lie ahead for Graham. I am thirty-eight years old: I wondered how many times my parents had been forced to fight the creeping fear that their worst fear might be coming true.
Finally by three o’clock, the winds settled down. I kissed Rob goodbye and took off, fighting the plane’s instinct to jump like a spirited, wild horse into the still lively air. By the time I landed at my parents’ place a half hour later, all four of my limbs were aching with exertion. I docked as quickly as possible, jumped into the car, and headed to the concert.
It was 4:05 p.m. when I spotted my ashen-faced parents in my car, pulling out of the concert area, just as I was pulling in. I beeped the horn and they started. As if in slow motion, I watched their faces lift and their eyes brighten. We exchanged waves.
“I’m proud of your decision-making,” my dad said later. “A good pilot doesn’t try and take on Mother Nature. Today was a good experience for you.”
But it wasn’t a good experience for him, of course. It was a stressful and scary experience, one of many he and my mother have endured in forty-five years of marriage and forty-two years of parenting.
“I’m proud of you too Dad,” I said. “Happy anniversary.”
Photo courtesy of Don Mills Diva