Somebody once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Neither is a life without perspective. To gain new perspectives you must change your position from time to time to get a fresh view. On the ground we feel big and important but take to the skies and we realize how small we are and remember how big the world is. I got a chance to fly with Brent, an old high school buddy, and see a slice of Kansas from the air, up above the farms and fields that produce a lot of our food.
Brent has been working on planes since he was in diapers and has been fascinated with machinery ever since he can remember. His father worked for TWA as a mechanic and taught his eager son everything there was to know about engines and fabrication. He was a year ahead of me in school but we never really hung out and I don’t remember seeing him much in high school. Before my junior year I spent almost an entire summer with him in his parent’s garage overhauling nearly every inch of my ’69 Camaro but can’t say that I got to know him at all. His mind is wired and geared to work on wires and gears which leaves little room for socializing as far as I could tell. He would talk about mechanics for hours and I learned an incredible amount from him but hardly a thing about him. His mother was a teacher in the grade school where my mom was a secretary and as both of them had strong spiritual backgrounds they were naturally friends and became very close over the years. Our families lives were further woven together by my family’s bad luck and their family’s ability to fix things and incredible compassion. My parents rarely had 2 nickels to rub together as I was growing up and almost every car they bought was a lemon. The 2 good ones we ended up with were totaled in weird accidents. I can not recall how many times our cars broke down, leaving us stranded but Brent or his dad would help us every time, replacing every part for free or little money and keeping our cars running until the next piece broke down. They saved my parents a lot of headaches and money over the years and were our guardian angels.
Our mothers both retired and remained close up to the moment that his mother passed away two years ago. For years Brent has spent all of his time at a small air field in Gardner, KS where he gets a lot of work restoring planes and is in high demand. He flies as much as he can. My mom is still in touch with him and called him to see if he would mind taking me up. As always his response was “no problem” so we met up and he dutifully walked me around his hangar and showed me the planes he was working on but his eyes really lit up when he asked me, with childlike excitement, if I was ready to go up. The thrill in his voice was just as I remember from when he was teaching me about cars 20 some years ago.
His wife and 2 small children are with him at all times at the airfield. His 4 year old boy has that same passion and aptitude for mechanics that Brent had as a boy and is learning at a rapid pace, another torch being passed down. The plane he flew was small but Brent and I crammed into the front while his son politely climbed into the back although it was clear he was not happy that he couldn’t sit up front. We flew for a little over an hour as I continuously snapped the shutter, mesmerized by the patterns in the fields below and marveling over how big the farms were as Brent gave commentaries that I couldn’t hear.
The farms we flew over are all family owned, most having been passed down for generations and it’s hard to comprehend how much food a small team can produce. Admittedly, I seldom think of this as I eat from day to day but the plane ride was a humbling reminder. And if only for a while it was a different perspective that I greatly needed. The pictures I got will continue to remind me.