Photo courtesy of Lawrence West
I grew up in South Georgia on a tobacco farm. No one in my family had ever been a pilot and my father once told me that airplanes were rich toys for rich boys, which he said to dissuade me from learning to fly. I raised my own money and would sneak off to the airport to take flying lessons. My first solo came while still in high school and living at home. I tried sneaking in without anyone seeing my t-shirt back missing, but I was not successful and had to fess up about soloing. My mother came to my rescue and explained to my dad that having gone that far on my own, I should be allowed to continue flying and so continue I did.
My private certificate came a few months later and I invited my family to come fly with me. My mother, dad and youngest sister came to the airport. Mom had told me she was attending to "watch only" as she had never been flying and was too scared to go. When we got to the airport, a few of my fellow student pilot buddies were around and mother decided at the last minute to come flying anyway. My father later told me that she had been terrified, but went anyway as to not look as though she did not have confidence in my abilities in front of my peers. She and my youngest sister were killed in a train wreck two weeks to the day after this flight, so it was the only opportunity I ever had to show her what I had learned and what flying meant to me.
That was 37 years ago and I can happily say that I have been a commercial pilot for of those years. The acknowledgment I received from my mom gave me the confidence and drive to continue on with my flying career. I am now a flight instructor and try to give back to aviation what it has given to me, all the while remembering that without her intervention, it might never have happened at all.