At 35,000 feet, with a steaming Starbucks and a purring iPod I read my Grandfather’s memoirs last Wednesday. I’d already put in several hours of work when I decided to crack the sheaf of Xeroxed reflections written three years before he passed in 1964.
Ninety eight years ago in the summer of 1911 he was young Officer in Training in the English Army. Then poetry happened.
“I was on a march across Salisbury Plain in full regalia because we were going to sleep out that night. It turned out to be the hottest day on record and out of 600 more than 200 collapsed on the way. We were not a happy company, but we managed to bathe in the river when we reached out destination and that revived us. At night we lay down on the ground near the old ruins of Stone Henge, the oldest and most astonishing group of temple stones in England…The evenings are very short in England in summer and I think it was shortly after 4 in the morning when I was stamping around trying to get some circulation in my cold feet that I noticed the sun starting to rise over the old temple stones. At the same moment there was a racket and over the stones came one of the earliest aeroplanes in the world, the first I had seen and about 1,000 feet up. I was looking at a combination of the oldest and newest in the world. While I stood transfixed the motor of the plane conked out and the plane wobbled all over the place, but finally landed right side up. We rushed over and there was the pilot strapped in but shaking so hard he couldn’t do a thing. We unstrapped him and laid him on the ground to carry on his shaking because he had had a close brush with death.”