Winging It

Winging It

The Movie, “Paint your wagon” was always one of his favorites. He summed his life up in two verses of the song “Born under a wandrin’ star:

Home is made for coming from, for dreams of going to

Which with any luck will never come true/


But his life was much more than that. Donald was a self-taught man, and knew a bit about many subjects. He taught himself advanced mathematics, the piano, the violin, and harmonica. He had several golden ages in his life, but the beginning was a very rocky road. As a child, he was raised in the ethos of the depression, an upbringing which would always make him a “Union Man”. He remembered the roaming communist labor workers who would congregate at his mother’s home and speak about social revolution. Born too young to serve in WWII and too old to serve in Korea, he felt stifled by being forced to sit and learn from people he considered his intellectual inferiors and, always rebellious, he quit high school in his freshman year in protest. He was convinced that they had nothing further to teach him that he couldn’t learn far better on his own.

The difference in our ages was no so much that we didn’t have the same teachers in high school. His was a tough act to follow, and everyone seemed concerned that I would follow in my uncle’s footsteps and quit school. This didn’t happen. His mother, my grandmother, raised me and Donald was an occasional visitor. He loved my mother, his big sister, and she did everything to make his life easier by encouraging him to expand his horizons in music, literature, and the arts. But he preferred electrical and mechanical engineering, and soon found work in those fields while still in his teens at the Highway Trailer factory which was the former Mandt Wagon Works. In those early years. He didn’t have much to do with me until he turned twenty when I became interested in building model gliders with him in the hot upstairs room of his mother’s farm house where I spent most of my summers when school let out.

That farmhouse had an outside pump for water, and an outhouse, a wood burning stove for cooking and a great potbellied stove for heating in the winter. There was a foul mouthed parakeet who would sit on Donald’s glasses when he shaved, and cackle and curse. One day Don had enough and left the widow open, the bird flew out, cackled, and drove the local song birds who would visit the garden away until either Grandma’s black cat got it, or the parakeet simply flew away.

I was fascinated by his motorcycle…a BSA single cylinder which had a distinctive sound. Donald was an expert rider and often performed when the local festival came to town riding the BSA on the Wall of Death, even allowing daring passengers to ride behind him. The Wall of Death has been the most enigmatic dare-devil motorbike stunt for more than 100 years. Motorcyclists ride around the inside of a vertical wall, rather like a huge barrel, at speeds of around 30mph. Most Wall of Death “drums” are about 32 feet (10 meters) in diameter. It was exciting to bring my friends to watch the exhibition.

As I grew older, Donald became more and more an important part of my life. Building gliders was soon joined by trout fishing expeditions, and seasonal hunting either in the crisp cornfields of Southern Wisconsin in search of Pheasants, or searching the woods and hills of the mysterious and beautiful Ridgeway valley. He taught me to drive, and we spent hundreds of hours together learning the intricacies of traveling on gravel roads, learning navigation using section maps, which were essential in plotting fishing expeditions. One of us would drop off and start fishing upstream which the other would take the car to the next upstream bridge, leaving it there, and in this way, we could leapfrog the entire crick.

The hours of driving was spiced with philosophy which challenged my young and developing mind, when, finishing the day we would sometimes travel a few hundred miles home.  Soon this became a weekend things, sleeping overnight in the Nash Rambler, whose seats would fold down into a comfortable double bed.

We learned the intricacies of stalking trout, fly fishing, stalking game birds, and rabbits, but he would never allow me to shoot deer or squirrels. I asked him why not and he would say that they were special; deer being majestic and squirrels being far too amusing to kill. We never did kill or catch much of anything, but we really didn’t care about that, the time we spent together was more important that bring home the meat.

We drifted apart when I went to the University and then jointed the USMC and spent time in Vietnam. When I returned home to find my mother murdered, he met me at the airport and asked me if we should kill her murderer. I let the man live (which is another story that is in my published novel “A Destiny of Memories, Fire and Rain” available on Amazon and other outlets.

Then, I returned to the University, met my soul mate, and immigrated to Israel and he, moved to Alaska. At that time, the only way to communicate was by snail mail, and later with the advent of the internet, via email and skype. Today he is somewhere in America, no longer flying, but traveling in his RV across the North American continent, my uncle, the eternal Gypsy, following the sun.

book cover

The Life and Times of an Alaskan Bush Pilot