Step on the Sky by Cayte Bosler
The warm night, thick with haze, coaxed my grandpa to inadvertently land his Waco biplane in the tops of coastal Redwoods. He had been following a stranger’s tail lights coasting across the highway to chart his short course home when the night suddenly dropped a foggy cloak. Knocked unconscious by the force of branches smacking against the intrusion of his plane, he later awoke, maybe an hour later, foisted open the door, swirled his body to lower down and struck by the vacuum of air, his wits popped back into place and a frenzy of fear beseeched him.
I wonder, when he was rescued, if his whole life felt irreversibly precious like a dried leaf that could be whooshed away, or if he ate some food, iced his head, and grimaced at the story.
My grandpa died when my father was younger than I am now, shy of thirty, and my dad somehow got along with life, though I can’t imagine the grief that must have ravaged the rhythms of his every day. Twisted his hours into silent battles of endurance, a leaky volcano no one can see, that you must outpace.
With hands on chin, I might think something like this about family: the bright pain of the past can dim into a torch we carry into the night that is the future. That is - if we choose to see it that way.
Both my grandparents took to the sky, I think, fueled by a feeling of necessity. They both had fled provincial farm lives. My father flew by extension, though he grew up trick or treating for silver dollars from the house of his neighbor, Frank Sinatra; not a farm at all. He flew acrobatically in his Pitt Special: 9G snap rolls and hammerheads for a day's practice.
When I took my first flying lesson beginning over the shy mouth of the Colorado River, a pride pierced me and flooded me with unfettered joy. The feeling was precise. I traced the veins of the river as they whipped and weaved through the arid West, the precarious future of the river, anything but clear.
My grandfather, Robert Bosler, was a pioneer of a number of famous acts in air shows. My grandmother, Bernadine Cote, won a Powderpuff Flying race, appropriately dubbed for its era, in 1949.
My grandpa was an active “barnstormer” making way across the country by landing in farmers' fields to give rides, do emergency repairs then spend the night in a barn. I wonder if he felt the thrill of a great adventure stitched together by the homes of strangers or if he fussed to get comfortable on, I don't know, hay or wood.
As a teenager, he delivered J3 Piper Cubs to customers. No pilots licenses were required in that era. He also installed the first set of floats on a J3 Cub. They later became the most popular float plane. He He owned the first airplane rental service at Van Nuys Airport in the late 30’s called Bosler Air Service with Waco and Steerman Biplanes for rent and offered flying lessons. Van Nuys was, and is, the largest private airport on the West Coast.
After WW2, my grandpa restored a Fairchild PT-19 trainer in his garage. After it was assembled, he discovered it was too large to get out of the garage so he had to remove the wings.
I wonder, if he took some lesson about time and missteps and carried on or if he cleaned his brow and forged, unceremoniously, ahead.
My grandpa joined United Airlines in 1940 and was a captain with them for 34 years. During that time he never missed a flight for health or any other reason. He flew the DC-3 under a military contract in WW2 taking soldiers and supplies to Alaska and elsewhere. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant while staying with United. While he trained a number famous fighter and test pilots, he was grateful that he never had to “fly a plane in anger.”
My grandmother’s pilot logs were buried under garments, some of the last she wore, sweaters with her name inked onto the tags. In the days after her death at 95, I adored the pages where she wrote extensively about her flights down to the pedestrian details of the day's weather some decades ago. I use her notes to light up the past, but also, to enforce where I want to go.
We are led to believe by popular adventure tales that our quests must have a romantic origin. I can’t find a single case of this among mine. In fact, I’ve often set off to the chagrin of everyone around me. Most recently, interviewing women in Afghanistan including Massouda Jalal who ran to be President in 2004. It’s nearly impossible for these women to leave their homes - let alone take to the sky.
As someone who grew up in over thirty houses and has charted a nomadic life, I often ask myself where is home?
Nothing changes my understanding of home more than exploration. As a child growing up in the woodlands of Washington State, I learned the limitations of my body by climbing Evergreen trees. Here began the buds of joy, as I stretched out the soft animal of my body on tree limbs. Lost under the sun and clear pebbles of the rain. That was happiness.
To me, home is something internal and portable; rooted in my passions, values and deepest friends. That is - when I choose to see it that way. Other times, it’s a step onto the sky.