Drone on, Old Man
Updated: Dec 24, 2021
Years ago I lived in New York. Not the City, but upstate in a still meadow neighborhood outside of Rochester. My wife was in school and I was working. Often I was at my job before the sun was up, but on days when my shift started at a more humane hour, I'd drive past an old man. He may have been in his eighties at the time but could have been younger. He was always sitting in a lawn chair just under the bough of a large tree trying to fly a drone.
I was amused by the scene at first. The sight of a senior citizen endeavoring to master a technical skill like remote-controlled flight made me chuckle at the obvious futility. I could imagine that the drone was a misguided gift from an in-law or a tired wife's attempt at getting her cranky husband out of the house for an hour or two. Yet the man and his drone remained constant on those days I went into work late. Always sitting under the same bough and flying the drone just above eye level with the focus of an angler. I doubt he ever noticed me as I drove by. The intensity of his expression as he piloted the drone was unwavering. All that mattered to him in those moments was the flight path of that little flying machine.
Weeks went by but he remained. Only blizzards seemed to keep him inside. By this time my amusement had turned into curiosity. I wanted to know about this man and his devotion to mastering the art of flying his drone. Of course, I never had time to stop and say hello. I'm sure that would have only peeved him anyway. Instead, I drove past and contemplated his motivation on my way to work.
I imagined him as a boy. Too young to join the second world war effort. When it was over and his brothers and uncles returned they enthralled him with stories of daring pilots and the planes they flew. His youthful eyes looked to the sky as he resolved himself to one day fly amongst the clouds. When it was his turn to enlist in the next conflict he tried to make it as a pilot. The tenacity was there, but his sight wasn't good enough. So he joined the Navy to keep their planes in the air and out of the sea. He found himself in the engines and the grease. With bruised knuckles and a wrench he defended his country, but never did he step out into the sky.
The man found a job keeping machines operating when he came home from war. He met a woman that became his wife before she could think twice. They bought a home that he could pay for with his tools, and his wife would raise the kids by herself except for on weekends. Soon the man forgot about wanting to fly but always found himself looking up whenever he went outside. His wife bore him children and taught them to obey their father, but she would have been better off teaching them calculus. As a result, he spent more hours with the machines than at ball games and dance recitals. He didn't realize how much time he missed until the police knocked on his door, and it was too late for one son. He cut back his hours to be there for the other kids, and the youngest appreciated this the most. She started to look up, just like her dad.
Years later I am sure it was her that got the man the drone. I doubt it was for Christmas or a birthday, but more likely a gift that she gave him just because she could. The girl had found a means by which she could fulfill the old man's dream. He could fly, and also honor his natural inclination towards keeping things in the air from the ground. Decades spent adjusting cogs and turning a spanner made spinning toggles on the remote easy. The man could keep the drone in the air with little effort so long as it stayed within the boundary of his declining eyesight. That tiny aircraft would keep his eyes to the sky, albeit a little lower than he once gazed. In the twilight years of his life, the old man found something special.
Often I was at my job before the sun was up, but on days when my shift started at a more humane hour, I'd drive past an old man. He may have been in his eighties at the time but could have been younger. He was always sitting in a lawn chair just under the bough of a large tree. He was living his dream.
This short story is a work of fiction. The normal disclaimers about all people, places, and things being imaginary applies, and any coincidences with reality are just that.