Bob Huber: Local Columnist
Dad always used holidays and birthday celebrations as an excuse to climb into his cups.
One time I even heard him give a toast, “Here’s to the groundhog, God bless him.” Hardly a 24-hour period went by without Dad recognizing some festivity or other. Dad favored that condition until one winter’s night when he slipped on ice on the WPA Bridge spanning Clear Creek in my hometown and flipped over the handrail.
What followed was an execution of unique aerial pirouettes and profanities until he landed spread eagle in the freezing water.
His midnight plunge and the resulting blind staggers through a raging blizzard caused him to catch pneumonia, after which he swore he’d never touch another drop of evil rum. I was in the beginning of my mid-youth crisis when he broke that vow, but my mother never complained. “That’s one drink he earned,” she always said.
All this took place at the same time my friend Smooth Heine and I decided to take up flying. We’d gone to a Saturday movie matinee and witnessed Don Winslow of the Navy save the British battleship HMS Glutinous by piloting his seaplane under the San Francisco Bay Bridge and nipping the periscope off a Nazi U-boat with a single shot from a Very pistol. It was never explained why a Nazi U-boat was stalking a British ship off the coast of California, but we didn’t care. We lived by a code that said, “Never let facts interfere with a good story.”
As we walked home after the movie Smooth’s eyes took on a faraway glaze, and I shook my head. Past experiences taught me he was about to think of something screwy for us to do.
As it turned out, we built an airplane. Don Winslow would have been proud.
It wasn’t that difficult. All it took was a Christmas vacation from school, hammer and nails, some canvas, a few long boards, lots of rope, a couple of trees, a dozen cross ties, old tractor tire inner tubes, and an abandoned bamboo baby carriage.
What we had was America’s first hang glider, a giant kite with the baby carriage mounted under it as a cockpit.
We fit the entire apparatus into the business end of a slingshot made of the inner tubes and strung it between two elm trees behind the barn. The cross ties served as a runway pointing skyward at 60 degrees. The crew’s seat in the baby carriage was within arm‘s reach of a trigger made of rope.
Our plan was to hold a one-minute countdown culminating with the copilot chopping the rope with a Boy Scout hatchet and releasing the slingshot. We were convinced that early the next day we’d be somewhere west of California soaring over Nazi U-boats in the Pacific Ocean.
As we sat down at the supper table, I absently asked, “Where’s Dad?”
“He’s restless,” Mom said. “He gets that way when Smooth comes over.” Smooth and I looked at each other, then at my mother. “Mom,” I said, “there’s something you should know.”
I never got the chance to finish, because at that moment we heard chopping behind the barn, a resonant twang, and Dad yelling, “HOLY JEEEEEEEE….”
Later we dug Dad out from beneath a pile of hay and rubble in a neighbor’s barn a half mile away. He was mumbling, “I passed some geese. It must be spring.”
Dad never mentioned his vow again. Once in a while he’d look at Smooth and me, and a horrible spasm would jerk his entire body. When that happened, he always turned to Mom and said, “Essie, isn’t it someone’s birthday today?”
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. Call him at 356-3674.