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I am struck with oddity of what memories we carry from our childhood. The significance of "the now" insignificant, and moreover the innocent mind to which the tongue is expressed from. Funny how somethings make us feel, simply because we encountered them as children. Revelations with beautiful insights to memories of long ago.
During my work for the Bahrain Aviators website, I have been asking people about their first memory of flight. I used it as an ice breaker to the people I interview, and it has served me well in that respect. Little did I realize the value of this question, that is until someone asked me, but with a different perspective.
My reply was basic and usually referred to a flight I was on as a kid, but then someone asked, what about that memory that made it significant enough to mention? To which I had no reply. I had so many answers to that question, none of which I can verbalize. It was the first time I actually realized my point of passion to flight was broader than a moment.
My earliest memory of flight had more to do with those big yellow directional signs in airports, to which I still have an odd attraction to. I can remember the signs and maybe some detail here and there but nothing life-changing, yet my first memory of flying is a completely different story.
As the question was rephrased, I found myself teleported to my adolescent self, peaking outside my window flying over a city. Looking down at the buildings between the cumulus summer clouds. My yet to develop mind could barely comprehend the concept of what I was experiencing, but the rush of emotions and the muted excitement were etched into my psyche like a thought marker. I knew I was taken.
I remember my father abruptly woke me up before landing, He tempted me to look out the window, and my passion for flight was born. A perspective like no other, omnipotent yet humbled by my fear.
I can't remember what was said, I can't remember what the rest of the trip was like, not even the details of what I was looking at outside my window; but I vividly remember the feeling that took over me. A realization to the deepest parts of my soul, I was Flying!
It was my mother who introduced me to the romance of flight. Partly to the elegance of a generation passed, and another "at least back then" to the glamour of a 5-star ambiance.
From airport lounges to the flight crew's hospitality, it felt incredible just to experience; even the utensils felt rich. You can keep your “sky chefs” and microwave tea, I'm proud to have witnessed that era, even if it is a romanticized version of the truth, flying back then was an event.
The Stewardesses, (truly Stewardesses), knew how to put the G in glamour. Well presented and with eyes wide enough to fit the world in. It seemed like every airline took it upon themselves to present their best to the world. What interesting times...
Back in the day, Travel and Flight was somewhat of a social affair, My mother would have me dressed extra proper, as if expecting Royalty to be on board. As pestered as I was about he laced shoes, Archie combed hair and buttoned up shirt, it was the norm for most people to dress up for the journey. None of that “Juicy Couture” business.
My curiosity to a world beyond my eyes came from her, my mother would psych the whole household in a frenzy of travel fever. Bags and clothes would be planned and sorted for no less than a month in advance. O the tension of misplaced shirts...
I didn't mind the hectic environment as much as my childish need to sleep in my Spider-Man PJs that were already locked in a bag. We even had a kitchen bag with everything you can imagine, oils, sweets, rice, salt, spices, etc... Mind you, this was the 80s, and we were heading West to a land never lacking in the abundance of all of the above, or in catering to the “sophisticated” Arab pallet. But I have to admit, Machbous in Denver was Epic!
She spoke of the trip as this approaching adventure. She would name out all the landmarks that we might see along the trip, mimic the local accent of places we might visit, even some history or story that might relate.
I stood witness to my brothers and sister, when my mother would try to explain an upcoming trip, she would ask intently if they knew what we are about to do. She would then proceed to mimic the sound of engines and swoop hand gestures of planes in front of them. I am guessing that this was done to me as well, as anyone who knows me would tell you, I still sound off random airplane SoundFX. Maternal legacies of love I guess..
As for my father, he always presented knowledge insight, he was skilled in geography, a great teller of history, well versed in politics, and to top it off avid HAM Radio operator. My father sowed my understanding of the world, I remember we had one of those big antennas atop our house, on weekend his friends would come over and talk to people as far as Australia, some even visited us. Mind blowing in the 80s!!! CQ..CQ..
Obviously more of a technical guru, yet I'm still not too sure if he's the master of travel or a just flight romantic. It was he who allowed the concept of flight to fit my tiny head. He would explain in bits of information, carefully timed with the actual surroundings. He would read out all the details printed on the ticket, and then show me what each symbol looked like, where it usually is, and most importantly what it meant.
On the ground, he would walk me to the massive airport gate windows, to show me all the service trucks swarming the plane, with commentary on each one's purpose. The best part was when he would spot something unusual, such as a car being loaded, or security detail surrounding a VIP flight.
He would point and laugh with excitement, depending on how rare or odd the event would be, he might even pull my mother in to see it happening. Usually, she'd be the least interested, but never the less she'd entertain the simple joys of life that my father shared.
One thing that got me hooked on planes was our visits to the cockpit. I think this was more for my father than it was for me, a treat of fatherhood if you may. Once on board, he wouldn't waste a minute to ask the crew about visiting the Captain.
Every time a stewardess would pass (Stewardess: refer to the above), he’d be sure to remind them. I couldn't even count the number of times I visited the cockpit, and I can still remember my father's smile when they called on us. #priceless
Entering the cockpit was a grand event by itself. 2 sometimes 3 seats in a cramped space, illuminated only by panels of backlit knobs and buttons everywhere! The Captain was ALWAYS an older character, usually salt and pepper hair with a great smile, a Man’s Man. The tight space was one of action, and me being there felt important. What a team…
The captain would always ask if I knew what any of these buttons do, I would usually shy behind my father, with a mischievous smile. My father would take over from there and get his bonus tour, while I marveled at the surroundings.
We would spend about 5 minutes with the pilots, then leave with pinned wings on my chest, placed by the Captain himself! I used to parade down the aisle with pride, having been the only one on the flight with a special pin from the Captain. Father, Thank you for that memory.
As most of us did back then, westbound flights usually left Bahrain at midnight. Most kids were limp with sleep on their parent's shoulders, not me I was usually rushing the isles to my seat, I had a fire of excitement within me. The unfortunate thing was, I would usually miss the landing approach; factors of nature no child can comprehend or control.
Until the day my father woke me up to see the view. Usually, I'd wake up at landing or when we get to the gate, but this time was different. The buzz of the engines, the smell of breakfast, the bright light, I can't remember a time before that moment when I was awake for the day part of the flight. My father's hurried words to wake and look outside still echo in my mind.
It could be because that for once we landed in a sunny London, or it could be my father's appreciation of the clouds floating above the city. I still remember lifting myself on the seat to peer out to the most incredible conceptual sight I have ever seen.
A live miniature land laid below me, distances and dimensions never imagined before, stretching my sight towards an endless horizon. Clouds floated just above the city, almost brushing the buildings below, I can see patches of green and blocks of builds as if rolled out on a carpet. With muted excitement, I turn back to my father in amazement, having just realized that I am Flying!
In that moment l realized that this is what birds and clouds see every day, this is what it is to fly, I lost my surrounding, and merged with the window in absolute joy and disbelief. This was the moment that travel was no longer the destination but the journey.
Those simple sound effects I used to make as a child influenced by my mother, all the way to my father's visits to the cockpit, built this passion towards flight beyond the confines of an Airport or Aircraft Cabin. The thought was relived every time if lifted my toy plane and banked it above the furniture, the countless touch and goes on the carpet were all reminiscent of that trip. Constantly recreating the memory in my mind, with my father pointing out what is going on, and my mother explaining how it's done. It is no surprise that I look to the sky with passion.
There are countless more memories that I can build on to name my point of aviation passion. Be it my extensive model collection, or the endless flight sims hours that drove the household crazy with needless noise. The trips and views experienced, are all more than worthy to mention, but when asked about the emotions, nothing surpasses that moment overlooking London from my seat.