Monday, May 5, 2008

Eagle, eagle, eagle

by John D Ramsey

When Daniel was a boy, he loved things that could fly. When he was born, we moved to Westwood, Kansas. It is a little city in the northeast corner of Johnson County. Kansas City, Kansas shares its northern border and Kansas City, Missouri shares its eastern line. It was close to the Country Club Plaza, and we would often drive that direction. When we drove down Ward Parkway approaching 67th Street, Daniel was predictable. He would always shout, “Eagle, eagle, eagle!” He was always surprised to see the sculpture, and his response was often the highlight of our day. If we were feeling stressed, we could strap Daniel in his car seat and drive south. “Eagle, eagle, eagle!” and Lisa and I would feel happy again.

There was much stress in those days. When circumstances settled down, Daniel was in first grade and we moved to Stilwell, Kansas. In Stilwell, the A-10 Warthogs from Richards-Gebaur AFB would fly low directly over our yard. Daniel would run out into the yard waving his ball cap, and the lead pilot of the squadron would tip his wing.

The Marines flew Chinooks in and out of Richards Gebaur, too. When Daniel heard the rotors in the distance, he would position himself in the open field. When the helicopters appeared, Daniel would wave. Each time he did, the pilots would flash their landing lights (Semper Fi). Not every youngster has an opportunity to command the sky, but Daniel did several times, if only for an instant.

When Daniel was ten, we bought him an Estes rocket kit for his birthday. It was just a cardboard tube with fins and cone, but he assembled it carefully and painted it black. When it was finished, we drove to his grandparents’ house on the other side of Stilwell because they had more space for launch and retrieval. Daniel assembled the launcher behind a hedgerow. His head was down he was attentive to every detail of the launch. The countdown came: five, four, three, two, one. The rocket motor spit and hissed. The rocket flew, but Daniel soared. All the eagle-eagle-eagles rolled into one five-second flight. It was exhilarating.

Daniel’s favorite holiday was always the Fourth of July. He loved fireworks. When we moved to Minnesota, we discovered that fireworks were illegal. We would try to return to a free state (Missouri) to celebrate the holiday. Some fireworks are legal in Minnesota now thanks to former governor, Jesse Ventura.

For a few years, around Christmas we would smuggle mortars from one of the permanent fireworks stands along I-35 in Missouri, through Iowa, back into Minnesota. On New Years Eve, I would synchronize my watch with the USNO master clock and Daniel or I would light the fuse 10 seconds to midnight. Happy New Year! BOOM! I am not sure who enjoyed that more, but Daniel did not complain.

I remember one Fourth of July, when Daniel and I could not stay in Missouri for fireworks. I have forgotten why we could not stay. We drove to Minnesota leaving Kansas City in the afternoon. It was a silent ride. We were both traveling away from where we wanted to be. We arrived at Albert Lea Lake just as they were setting off fireworks in town. I stopped the car on the shoulder of I-35 and we watched the display mirrored in the lake. The sound effects rumbled across the water. It was like a private celebration for just the two of us, but it was not the same as being with everyone.

The joy of childhood is a fragile thing, and it is hard to see when it is fading. We can only retrospectively see that it has passed. When Daniel was in high school, the joy had faded. High school was an artificial place with arbitrary rules favoring some and dismissing others. Daniel grew his hair long; I think it was a way of showing his disapproval with the system that disapproved of him.

When Daniel was a senior, he took action. Without talking to Lisa or to me, he approached the guidance counselor, and said, “Transfer me to the ALC.” The guidance counselor responded that he could not because the ALC was for kids at risk. Daniel asked, “What do I have to do to be at risk?” They transferred him, and Daniel finished graduation requirements in three weeks. He has worked fulltime since, even while attending the Institute of Production and Recording. He is doing well. I am just sorry that we are in Kansas City and he is in Minnesota.

The year after Daniel’s high school graduation, I was reflecting upon his experiences. It was the middle of the night and I remembered his love for flying things and discovery and his antipathy toward school. They took a bright, sensitive young man and suffocated his imagination with their inanity. I began to write. Before reading, you should understand that sarcasm is one of my finer faults.

usd 2oo

dummy down danny
don’t you know it’s time for school
there is no god of rocketry
there’s only you, you see
ambition is a lonely flight so mediocrity
is what you’ll want to learn
so put creation out of mind and be
a normal boy of sports and toys and free
of all allegiances
for heroes there’s no need
dummy down danny
we don’t want you to succeed

Daniel survived high school by escaping high school. I am proud of him for that. Sometimes, he tells me stories from his work, and I know that he has compassion for the downtrodden. I know he has a good sense of fairness. He has some business sense, too. He is a wonderful big brother to Claire and Gabby. He is a wonderful little brother to Cara. The girls love him dearly. His mother’s heart aches when he does not call at least once a week.

Daniel still has a Minnesota accent while the rest of us have recovered our natural twangs. We all feel his absence more than he knows. Daniel has a girlfriend, I hear. There is energy in his voice again. We recently sent him a fishing pole for his 23rd birthday. The little girls baked treats and sent them along with some tackle. He got the treats and tackle first and figured that the pole must be coming. I missed his call on his birthday. He sent me a text message, “Thanks. It’s been the best birthday in years! Miss you.” He sent the same note to his mother. He was planning to come home for Mother’s Day, but in Minnesota, it is fishing opener. Actually, I think he will be working so that others may fish. He is unselfish, too.

When I do see him again in a few weeks, I know my heart will cry, “Eagle, eagle, eagle!” and I will be happy again.

1 comment:

  1. AnonymousMay 16, 2008

    "Daniel has a girlfriend, I hear."

    Depends on the definition of "girlfriend" ;)