If you’re going to be an old car ….

small plane“If you’re going to be a pilot, be a good one.” My dad said it in a matter-of-fact tone, as he handed me all the pamphlets and books he had used years ago when he studied for his own pilot’s license. I was twenty-two years old and immortal, using the pay from my first real job to fund the expensive flying lessons I had yearned for throughout my childhood.

Years later, I found out that my dad never really got his pilot’s license when he was young. He had a student’s license to fly, and shortly before I was born he flipped a plane while trying to land in a crosswind.  He walked away from the accident and never set foot in a small plane again. “I got too busy to keep it up,” was only his more convenient story.

I think of the courage it must have taken for him to watch me learn to fly. I also never got my license, but in my case job changes and marriage and children put a stop to my airborne extravagance. I still remember the feeling of being alone in the cockpit, and of landing the plane and stepping out it safely. And I still remember my dad’s words, and the odd look on his face when he said them to me. Perhaps it was his expression that made the words stick.

200000A couple of months ago my beloved 2000 Camry Solara convertible turned over 200,000 miles. I took pictures and wanted to blog about it, but I was in the middle of packing up a house and time got away from me. I’m very attached to this car. It and I fly down the road together with the wind in my face, and I don’t have to look for a runway on which to land. After we returned from the odometer-changing drive, I gave it a loving pat on the hood. “If you’re going to be an old car now, be a good one.” I think it understood.

TabooJive2As of two months ago, the car and I both live in the mountains of North Carolina, a thousand miles away from steamy old Houston. I’m retired, and for the first time in forty-some years I choose how I fill my days. It’s a thrilling, daunting challenge, this making a new life with all these choices. I need to eat better. Exercise more. Find a social circle. Take some time for introspection.

I can still see my dad’s face. “If you’re going to be an old person, be a good one.” Good advice, dad. I’m working on it.

(For more thoughts on retiring early and pursuing a dream, see my posts Wise and Quiet, Am I a Shape Shifter Now? and Greener Grass.)