It’s talking to me now, this excerpt from an old piece. Maybe some of you remember it:
The next morning I went out into an open grassy space between the buildings. There wasn’t a soul around. Carefully I wound the fuse wire into a perfect spiral and loaded the Jetex. I lit the fuse, waited for ignition, and let go: incredibly, beautifully, my custom-built flying wing hissed off and up into the sky! It climbed perfectly in a straight line, turned gently in the breeze, and circled even higher. I couldn’t believe how well it flew. When the Jetex quit, the plane slowly and majestically descended, gliding safely to the ground. It had been a magnificent flight, witnessed only by myself. Even then, I knew this was something special: taking pieces from a model plane, building another aircraft spontaneously from scratch, attaching a solid-fuel rocket motor, and having the darned thing actually fly! Not only fly, but fly higher and better than anything I’d ever built before.
I was ten and a half years old. In the original, I remembered that my dad—an Air Force pilot—didn’t believe me. Now I wonder if he couldn’t take the competition.
Flattens all the straw men, brothers. Bet they heard the rumble down in hell.
I remember you from a few years later as still being a tinkering, thought-experimenting kind of kid. It’s not a bad thing at that age. Every bright kid becomes for a time an avid hobbyist. Then as one plunges into adolescence and begins to glimpse the iron realities of the adult world those enthusiasms start to seem a bit silly and gradually fall away. My experience, anyhow. One day electronic gadgetry and ham radio was everything to me, and then it seemed a little less so the next day, and pretty soon, one day at a time, I discovered I couldn’t care less about any of it. Did any of the mind-set that lay behind it make it past the great divide into adulthood? Not much. But, still, those early enthusiasms play a part in a kid’s developing sense of himself and of his ability to exercise some control and achieve some understanding of a formidably complex world. I saw that in my own children. Any thoughts on your own experience?
Hi Ken! No, nothing to add at the moment. The point of this post, of course, is what I finally grasped about the old man’s put-downs. That’s all.
I get that from your story well enough. But you were doing this thing on your own, and it worked so well. Why would you need parental appreciation of such an event? It was your own damn thing. When I knew you some years later you were an unconventional kid still doing your own damn thing. That was part of your appeal then and I think still is today. My reading of your story – and also my own story in that I also had a father who had no enthusiasm for boyish fiddling around – is that doing your own stuff makes you stronger and more independent. Not saying we should thank our fathers for their inattentiveness. However, there’s an opposite sort of way that fathers can screw up – by being overcontrolling and over protective. Kids need air and space to be themselves and discover their own enthusiasms, with or without parental approval. Doing things that matter to you in the face of outright disapproval can be especially invigorating. It’s a good lesson to learn in the greater game of life awaiting every prepubescent hobbyist.