When I was ten I checked out a book on balsa wood gliders from the library. I have always loved libraries and book stores. Not sure where it started but my father had his library of books. Most of his books were utilitarian in nature, being devoted to construction, architecture and appliance repair. Looking back this one of the main sources for my love of books. As a child I was a amazed at how my father could learn to do anything from a book. There is some powerful and magical in that fact. My mother also took an active role in cultivating this deep, almost religious respect for nature I have in me. My elementary school sponsored book fairs every few months. The book fairs were special days for me. It was a anticipated the way other children looked forward to Disneyland or trips to the arcade.
Getting back to the subject at hand this book detailed several plans to build gliders. The suggested material was balsa wood. Being a small child my knowledge of woods was limited to that you would encounter at the local lumber yard. My father being a contractor I had much experience with red book, douglas fir and pine, but balsa wood as my father told me was a very special wood used in specialized craft project. The primary of these special qualities is its unusual lack of density or weight made it perfect for gliders. I remember my father using the yellow pages to find a hobby store in Buena Park. It was distance away from my childhood home but it was the closest business that had what we needed. It was a rare weekend where my father didn’t work, but he took Saturday afternoon of to drive me to this hobby store. I spent the week reading almost obsessing each glider this book detailed. I had selected the one I wanted and the previous evening my father and I reviewed the plans to determine what we needed.
I still remember walking in. It was the first hobby shop I entered. The ceiling was littered with remote controlled gliders and model planes. There were numerous aisles of special glues and paints only hobbyists would need. My father briefly talked to the guy at the counter, while I got lost in the fantasy land of remote controlled planes and cars. These were expensive toys I could only dream of having, but a boy could dream. My father called me to the back corner of the store where a small area of shelves and bins were devoted to balsa wood of various cuts thicknesses, cuts and shapes. Picking up my first piece felt surreal, as if I was touching some alien material. It looked like wood, smelled like wood, but it had the weight and density of styrofoam. I enjoyed these moments with my father. To me he was the source of all knowledge, there wasn’t ever a time I could remember in childhood where he didn’t have an answer or thoughtful response to my childlike inquiries. After selecting our inventory of balsa wood we went to the counter to purchase our supplies. On our short walk through the models cars, warships and planes he mentioned that we needed a special glue. He said this special glue was stronger and this was needed for our glider. I didn’t question it, but looked forward to playing with this special glue. Looking back I am not sure why my father knew of such things. His father was an alcoholic and from the stories I heard was never much of a father. Most stories my father shared led in disappointment or of him making the best with what he had. The closest thing he had to a fond childhood memory was a story about a schwinn bike his father promised to buy him. My father told me a story of anticipation of how his father gave him reasons to actually believe he was going to get a new bike. My father walked by this bike shop all week on his way home from school, which must have been torture to a young boy. Finally, the Sunday came when they were going to purchase the bike and the bike shop was closed. They never went back. His father never mentioned it again and that was the end of my fathers fantasy to own his own bike. Despite the abusive and selfish figure his father was I never heard my father say a bad word about his father. All he would say was he did his parents did the best with what they had. I thought it was curious that the shopkeeper kept this special glue locked up behind the counter so I asked my father about this on the way to the car. He said kids put it on a rag and smell the rag to get high. Like I said my father knew everything. I kind of find comfort in the fact that most people in my life see me as a source of knowledge.
We finally made it back to our house. Buena Park was about a 45 minute drive but to an adolescent boy with glider to build the drive seemed forever. It was late afternoon and my father reluctantly agreed to start building the glider. Looking back its moments like these that make me realize what a great father I had. It was a late Sunday afternoon and it was his first day off in weeks. I’m sure he wanted to relax but he said yes and we worked on the glider till late that night. He let me do most of the cuts on the wings, which was probably why it never flew quite straight, but we will get to that later. After hours of miter cuts and glueing there it was sitting on my kitchen table. I wasn’t allowed to touch it too much because my father said it needed to dry. Reluctantly I let it sit on my kitchen table sitting on a bed of newspapers so it there overnight. He said we would take to the park tomorrow after he got home from work.