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My wife and I were grocery shopping the other day, and on kind of a whim, I bought about a half a gallon of fresh squeezed cider. Not the frozen concentrate, not the stuff that’s so clear it looks like it’s already gone through you once. This was the real stuff, and I wanted it because – oh – here, hold the bottle and just come with me into my time machine… Let’s go back about 40 years or so to when I was a kid…
My dad was off at college to get a degree for his second career while we were trying to live off his military pension. Mom was using ductape and paperclips trying to make ends meet, and doing her best to keep us from being worried, or even aware of how little money there really was.
So we had our own little special things that didn’t cost much.
Among the many things we couldn’t afford was soda – or pop – whatever you call it in the part of the country you’re from.
So we did something else.
We made it ourselves.
We had apple trees, and we had my grampa’s cider press, and we put the two together and made apple cider, just as the last of the apples were falling.
There was a special time, several weeks after the cider had been made, when it started to ferment a bit, and get fizzy. Understand, we kept it outside. It was just cold enough to keep it from fermenting too fast, but not so cold as to preserve it perfectly. If you haven’t had this treat, you’re clearly missing something – it’s something they try to sell in stores – you can buy “hard cider” just about anywhere now, but what made this special was that time in the fermentation process where the sugars were just starting to turn to alcohol. There was a mixture of the still-present, but fading sweetness, that was a being replaced by the zing of the bubbles and alcohol that you simply can’t get from a store. It’s a transitional state… Not too sweet, not too… Hard, I guess. And that was the perfect time to have it. Usually about the second half of November through the first half of December was when it was best…
That’s when I especially looked forward to Friday night… Pizza night.
Pizza wasn’t delivered out where we lived, so we made our own. Made the dough from the USDA donated flour we got because we were too poor to afford any. You could smell the yeasty warmth of the dough rising throughout the afternoon. We grated the cheese from the USDA commodities donated cheese we got. We put the homemade pizza dough in a flat rectangular baking pan. I never understood people not eating pizza crust, for us, the corner pieces were fought over.
So that time at the end of fall and beginning of winter, that was when, if the cider wasn’t frozen from being outside, it would be cold as I brought the bottle in, then fizz as I opened it, sometimes fizzing and leaving little chunks of ice all at the same time, and we pretended we were like the rich people who could afford soda.
What I didn’t know then was that it beat anything you can get in a bottle or a can today. We’d squeezed it ourselves, from apples we’d grown, and it had aged either on the back porch or out in the pump house, which was always pretty cool anyway.
It was a family meal, at the dinner table, and it was special.
When the last of the hot pizza was gone, washed down by the last of that bottle of ice cold cider, I leaned back, trying to decide which felt better… the savory pizza still warm in my belly, or the last bits of sweet coolness from the cider fading in my mouth.
And it got me thinking – standing there in the grocery store, with a rather expensive bottle of apple cider in my left hand, something just clicked. Growing up, we often forgot how poor we were financially, because we were so rich everywhere else.
Happy Thanksgiving, folks…
It’s been a few years since I had my introduction to sailplanes, and after much prodding by my friend Greg, and me saving up to fly again, I was finally able to take advantage of some time a few weeks ago and go out to the airfield again.
It’s a quiet, grass field out in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a dead end road about an hour and a half out of Seattle. The last bit of the drive was through a forest that, in the light I was seeing it, looked like it easily could have been home to Hobbits or Dwarves or a possible dragon lurking back in the underbrush.
I smiled a little to myself and kept my eyes wide open, looking deep into the woods, imagining I might see one. The road turned left and I emerged into a clearing, a fence to my left, and some cars parked neatly on my right. The Fairies that I’d imagined would have been at home with the Dwarves and Hobbits in the forest had taken the elegant shape of sailplanes taking off and landing on the other side of the fence.
Greg came up to greet me, his traditional peanut butter sandwich in his hand. He’d been sitting in one of several plastic chairs lined up in the shade on the south side of the field. He got one out of the shed for me, and invited me to sit down and chat while he spliced the end of a tow rope.
Part of me really wanted to get in the air, but another part of me was just happy to enjoy the peace and quiet of the fall colors, the fresh air, and the occasional gentle breeze.
There was another flier that visited every now and then. It was a dragonfly (or maybe it was a baby fairy) and its wings almost imperceptibly thrummed as it inspected us. It was never in one spot long enough for a good picture, but it emphasized the almost palpable quiet there. I mean, there can’t be much background noise if you can hear a dragonfly…
It was nice.
I heard the towplane fly overhead , looked up, and saw that someone was enjoying a ride in the same sailplane I’d gone up in a few years ago.
I smiled again.
His peanut butter sandwich finished, Greg now had both hands free and we chatted some more while he continued working on his towropes, with the dragonfly checking in every now and then.
The tow plane – a hard-working Piper Super Cub flown by a an equally hard working gentleman named Patrice, pulled many planes up into the sky, including the PW-6U we’d be in.
The afternoon went on, and I saw it go up and down a few times…
I could sense my eagerness, verging on impatience, wanting to get in – but there were people ahead of me in line, and they had to go up first, and the tow plane needed gas, and a student needed scheduled practice, all valid things, but all making me feel like a fidgety kid peeking around everyone else standing in line for a ride on the roller coaster at the fair. The only thing missing was the smell of cotton candy and popcorn wafting in the breeze.
So I waited, and chatted with Greg, and John, the fellow I’d gone up with the last time, and a few others, and the afternoon wore on – no – it didn’t wear on, it was better than that. It passed, pleasantly, softly, gently.
The shadows grew longer, and longer, and finally, as the sun was casting its last warmth over the horizon…
…we got in. With Greg in the back, me in the front, and Patrice in the tow plane, we all took off and headed for our release altitude. As low as the sun was by that time, Greg said it would be a “sled ride” (all downhill) as we needed to be down before the sun actually set.
We kept climbing, turning gracefully behind Patrice.
At one point, I looked out the right side and was speechless at the absolute majesty of Mount Rainier, almost close enough to touch…
…and then, looking closer at the picture, realized it’d be a good idea to not wear a striped shirt next time I flew. (How cool, I’m already thinking of a ‘next time’)
Greg had me pull the release for the tow rope. It sprung and coiled for a bit before straightening out as Patrice flew back down to the field off to our left. We found our way along the big ridge behind the airfield, turned again, and given the sled ride nature of the flight, Greg flew, and I was just in awe of the beauty around me.
He asked how I handled steep turns, as he was going to burn off a lot of altitude very quickly to get down in time. I grinned as he banked hard and did an amazing corkscrew into the pattern, extended the spoilers,
and put the setting sun behind and the moon in front of us as we approached the field. We squeezed right between the trees, and the gentle hiss of the sailplane was replaced by the shuddering rumble of the landing gear on the grass, quieting down to silence as we rolled to a stop right where the plane needed to be put away…
We got out, I turned around and saw the sun setting behind the trees as Greg got my Nikon out of the front cockpit.
I heard something ticking off to my left, and as I turned, I realized it was the engine of the Super Cub that had taken us up, still cooling off and resting from its day of labor.
It was already tied down, the moon reflecting off its wings…
Greg helped put the PW-6U we’d flown back in the trailer and after he’d made sure the cover was down and latched, we headed over to the edge of the fields where the cars were.
I thanked Patrice for his tow, and Greg for the flight and conversation, and then headed back through the woods I’d come through earlier.
Only this time, I knew the Fairies were real.