Don’t Tell Him He Can’t

cessna picMy father was an interesting man: intelligent, well-read, a deep thinker, with a lot of ingenuity; someone who believed he could do almost anything. He was generous to a fault, and very forgiving. On the flip side, he was often arrogant and thought he was the expert on most subjects. You had better not disagree with him, unless you were ready to debate, and then you would probably lose.

Not wanting to work for anyone, he became an entrepreneur in his 20’s. He was in the offshore boat business, operating crew boats and tug boats, in his early years, then later buying and selling them. He loved to work and he loved to play. Growing up with him as a father, life was never boring.

We lived feast to famine. If he made a good deal, he’d take some time off and do the things he loved most: boating, hunting, fishing, and flying airplanes. If he owned an airplane, times were good. And when they weren’t, it was the first thing to go.

Sometime around 1970, when I was about 5 years old, my dad owned an airplane that needed some work. It was a Cessna 172, an older plane that needed some new electronics and a new interior lining. He had been an electrician, before going into the boat business, so this was work he could do himself.

At the time, we lived in Bayou Vista, Louisiana, a suburb of Morgan City, and our house was in a neighborhood. It was situated on a corner lot, with a large side yard. Now the local airport was roughly 7 ½ miles from our house and he could drive there in 10 minutes. But the work he needed to do on the plane was going to take a couple of weeks and he didn’t want to drive back and forth. Why? He just didn’t. And if he didn’t want to do something, he would figure out another way. He was creative, remember?

One day while driving home from the airport, he came up with the idea to bring the plane home to work on. He had it all figured out. He had done his research and knew he could safely land his plane away from the power lines and on the highway near our neighborhood. Then he’d taxi it down the streets to our house.

When he told my mom his plan, she just laughed. “They’ll never let you do that, Pat” she said.

Telling my dad he couldn’t do something, was like daring him to do it. He didn’t care if it hadn’t been done before, or what anyone thought. He’d be the first and he’d show them.

So, he called the local police station and asked them if they would stop traffic on the highway, going both directions, and allow him to land his plane so that he could make the repairs at his house. And you guessed it, they agreed.

I don’t know how many people witnessed it, but I can still remember that day. My mom took my dad to the airport, dropped him off, and he waited about 15 minutes so that she could get home, before taking off. The police had the traffic stopped going both directions and he landed his plane on the highway, just as he’d planned. They even provided him an escort from the highway to our house. I remember watching as he taxied the airplane down the street. And for the two weeks that it was there, strangers would ring the doorbell asking my mom why she had a plane in her yard, and how it got there.

When dad finished the repairs, he called the police and they once again escorted him from the house to the highway. I wonder what my dad was thinking that day as he took off, looking down at the police cars and traffic stopped below, all this arranged just for him. I don’t really know; but I can guess. I imagine him with a big smile on his face, thinking “I knew I could do it, see there, I knew I could”.