“Hey lady!” a squeaky boyish voice behind me called. “Is that your plane?” Another young voice said, “Wow, this is cool!” I straightened up from the horizontal stablilizer, holding a dripping sudsy sponge and turned. Four boys astride BMX bicycles were looking at me and the Student Prince, their eyes bright and curious, reminding me of young squirrels.
No older than twelve, they had the look of boyhood summer vacation; tanned arms, frayed jeans that were too short, faded t shirts, their hair needing trimmed. The tallest kid had a dirty blond bowl cut that was buzzed up the back of his neck, the long hair on the sides falling forward and covering big brown eyes. There was a chubbier boy with an affable smile,a medium sized kid in a striped shirt with a red stain on the front, and the smallest, a wiry dark haired boy with an impish grin. Astride their bicycles on the dusty late summer road, the scotch broom bushes behind them in full bloom, barn swallows swooping overhead, they seemed straight out of a movie.
“Hi guys,” I said, “what are you up to today?” I wiped soap from my nose and squinted at them. The littlest one spoke up, “Well, we were just riding our bikes on the power line and found this place! Is this the airport?” They were clearly enthralled with their unplanned adventure and listened closely when I replied, “Yes it is, and that’s my airplane there,” I pointed to the Prince. “I’m just giving it a bath.” The boys erupted in chatter, exclaiming, “That is so bitchin! A real airplane, how rad, and look! It doesn’t have a roof!” Their excitement was infectious and I said, “Listen, if you help me finish giving the airplane it’s bath, I’ll take you each for a ride in it.” “Oh WOW, that is AWESOME!” they pushed their bikes to the grass by the hangar and walked to biplane, two of them high fiving each other.
I gave them each a sponge or a rag and dumped the bucket of old dirty water, refilling it from the hose and adding soap until it bubbled over the rim. “Now listen up guys,” I said loudly enough to quiet them down, they looked at me expectantly, “First you want to get the airplane wet with the hose,” I demonstrated, squirting the fuselage ahead of the tail, “but be careful not to get any water in the cockpits,” I pointed, “I have to sit in the back one, and you will ride in the front. I don’t want to look like I peed my pants.” The boys giggled, the tall kid peeking shyly at me from beneath his bangs with a dimpled smile. “Then, you rub it with the soapy rag, getting all of the dead bugs and grease off. After that, you want to rinse it really well, avoiding the cockpits.” The boys nodded earnestly. “Ok,” I said, “go to it.” In a flurry of energy, the boys quickly sorted out who would run the hose, and what part of the airplane to wash first. I stood back and watched.
In no time, a water fight erupted, adolescent voices on the verge of deepening cracked as they whooped and laughed, fighting over the hose, slinging wet soapy water from the sponges at one another, their sneakers squishing. When they settled down and began scrubbing the surface of the biplane, the small boy contemplatively rubbed the rudder with a soggy rag, “Isn’t this just the best you guys?” he said, “We’re together and we get to do something.” All the other boys nodded, “Yeah.”
The airplane didn’t look much cleaner an hour later, and I could plainly see where spots were smeared with grease or had been missed all together, but I didn’t say anything as I emptied and rinsed the bucket. The kids were soaked and grinning, proud of the fun they were having. I told them all to pose in front of the airplane for a photo, and they gathered round, the chubby boy sitting on a step ladder, the two larger boys behind him, arms around one another’s shoulders, the small boy next to them. “Ok then,” I pointed the camera at them, “say biplane!” Just as I was depressing the shutter, there was a loud crack! The step ladder crumpled and broke, the boy who had been sitting on it sprawling on the asphalt in surprise, the other three boys falling down, shrieking with laughter, holding their stomachs. “Hey you guys! It’s not funny!” The boy who had broken the ladder tried to sound offended, but he started laughing too. I managed to snap a photo of the chaos; the broken ladder and mirthful boys on the ground, looking as innocent and playful as a box of puppies.
When the hilarity had abated, I asked them, “Are you ready to go flying?” The littlest one pumped his fist into the air, “Yes! And I get to go first!”
……To be continued (don’t you hate that?) I have to fly a jet tomorrow. A simulated jet, but that means that all kinds of wild emergencies are guaranteed, and I need to have my wits about me. It’s time to rest up.
Stay tuned, this story has a really beautiful ending, I promise.