It was up in the extream northeastern Panhandle of North Texas, in Perryton, the County Seat of Occultree County, and it was the Summer of '50 and the grass~hoppers were everywhere. School was out and it was the perfect time for a kid. Fishing with Dad, hunting rabbits, riding around in Dad's old truck, just hanging out. Real quality time, pre-television and you made your days with action and imagination, not TV and baby~sitters.
Dad was a contractor, and one who built homes for all the large ranchers and farmers across north and west Texas, so much of my time was spent out in the country. I would ride to work with Dad in that old truck, and once at the job site I could spend my day wandering around in feed lots, barns, with horses, cattle, chickens. A young boy could not want for better!
It was right after "the war" and two of my older brothers, home from the war, worked for Dad, so it was really a family time, closeness, lots of love. And, as with all large Texas bred families, we were both close and protective. As the last born in a family of ten, and the last son to parents in mid~life I was the tag along and most protected of all, and also the constant imp and into everything!
As was the custom of farm families of that age my brothers and my Dad all carried .22 cal. rifles in their automobiles everwhere they went. Many a poor rabbit found it's self in a frying pan because it made the mistake of being in sight as we went home from work. My brothers took pride in their shooting ability, each were combat veterans, but it was to Dad that the honor of "best shot in the family" fell. Olin used to say "God never made a rabbit worth .02 cents", a reference to the cost of .22 cal. rifle shells at the time (.50 cents a box of fifty cartridges) so you picked your target, and one shot equalled one rabbit in the pan.
On this hot summer afternoon Dad had driven out to John Conley's ranch and I stayed in the truck while he visited inside the ranch house. Chalk it up to boredom, over active imagination, or just a kid playing around, but Dad's rifle became the object of my day~dreams. It was laying there in the truck, barrel down against the floor~boards, and I couldn't help but caress it could I?
I don't know to this day who the sound scared most, me, Dad or Mr. Conley.... But when the rifle went off I dove to the floor~board to get out of sight! At almost the same time my Dad and Mr. Conley came boiling out of that kitchen and into the yard. Not seeing me, their first thoughts must have been that I had accidently shot myself. My first thoughts were, oops I'm in real trouble now!
But I knew my father for 55 years before his death and looking back, his next actions came as very typical of him. Having once pulled me off the floor~board and making sure I had no bullet wound, Dad gave me the biggest hug I had ever had in my life, and with tears in his eyes he thanked God I was alright. Mean while Mr. Conley discovered that my shot had gone thru the floor~board and into the battery on that old truck.
Folks were different in those days, and Mr. Conley, typical of the panhandle wheat farmers of the day, just took us out to the barn where he and my Dad took a battery out of a farm tractor for the truck. But then
came the real surprise, and the making of this memory! There in the barn, covered with a tarp, was a Piper Cub single engine airplane. This was a time when boys layed out on the yard and seeing a plane off in the distance, mused "that must be the air mail" air travel was a novel thing. And a private plane was almost mystical.
Mr Conley took Dad aside and they talked for a few moments out of ear shot from me. Then he walked over and asked me to help him get the tarp off that Piper. He then picked me up and placed me in the passenger seat and strapped me in. There were no doors, and the airplane had cloth wings and a single engine. I was in rapture just getting to sit in that plane, a real airplane, up close! But the best was yet to come.
Mr Conley fired up that Piper and we bounced across the pasture and we were airborne! We flew across the countryside at about 500 feet and probably no more than 60 mph, chasing cattle, looking down on the rural electric poles, ranch ponds, my father and for the first time I saw what the world looked like from a bird's eye view. It was fantastic! I have carried that memory, and that summer with me for over fifty years, my first flight, the death of a battery! The love of my father, and the kindness of a Texas rancher that gave such a magnificent memory to a