A birthday gift that took off

Posted 10/19/22


he unexpected can make the best gifts.

But finding the unexpected gift that the recipient truly appreciates can be daunting. And the older the recipient, the increasingly difficult the …

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A birthday gift that took off



he unexpected can make the best gifts.

But finding the unexpected gift that the recipient truly appreciates can be daunting. And the older the recipient, the increasingly difficult the challenge. Gifts for kids can be easy and fun. Armed with some information of what they like and what’s the current rage, you have a great chance of being the “best ever” parent or grand parent.

But try to get the perfect gift for a parent or grandparent. That’s a challenge.

My father would say, “I don’t need anything” when I’d ask what he would like for his birthday or Christmas. I soon stopped asking because I knew it was the thought that went in the surprise that really mattered. That made it difficult.

I recently had the tables turned on me.

In August, a good month before my birthday, my son Ted inquired what I’d like. Surely there were things I could use, yet nothing came to mind instantly. My kids have come up with some unique gifts that have endured over time such as the SUP (standup paddle board) that they had to show me to use. It was not something I had thought of getting myself.

This time, my daughter Diana had me wondering when she dropped a clue that she, Ted and Jack were conspiring on a gift. That had me intrigued, as surely she intended.

On my birthday I received a text with a photograph of a seaplane with a telephone number and a name. Instantly I made the connection to Otsego Lake in upstate New York where on quiet summer days a seaplane would skim over the treetops and land. They had arranged for me to go on a ride.

How they had found the owner of the plane is another story. The phone number with a local area code and name was all I had, however, in all the years I hadn’t heard of anyone offering flights.

The following day, I was on my way to Springfield Center, NY, with sailing friend Claude, who played a role in the birthday gift scheme. Claude is a pilot and the kids reached out to him to help track down who might own the mysterious seaplane. I called the number and left a message. Two hours later I got a return call. Yes, he had a seaplane and maybe he could pick me up that afternoon after getting out of work. Another call and we planned to meet at the public landing up the road at 5 p.m.

On schedule we heard the engine before spotting the floatplane as it circled to land. It powered past the public dock and drifted into the beach. My pilot -- who asked to remain anonymous in this story -- stepped from the open cockpit and onto a pontoon. Both doors were locked back against the fuselage. From the pontoon he stepped into the lake and easily turned the plane around so it was facing away from the shore, ready to leave.

To my amazement, I learned the plane is a year older than me. It’s a 1940 Piper J4 Cub Couple with side by side seating built of metal tubing and wood covered with fabric.

Claude was fascinated and asked plenty of airplane questions. The plane is kept on a pond just a few miles from the lake. My pilot went into details of personally rebuilding the engine and passing the required inspections.

That was reassuring.

Then it was time for the ride. I walked along the pontoon to the cockpit and wedged myself into the seat. My feet rested on the rudder pedals and there was a control stick between my legs. I didn’t need to be told not to hold the stick -- I didn’t want to interfere. After being strapped in I put on a pair to ear phones so that we might talk over the roar of the engine.

But the pilot didn’t join me in the cockpit.

Was I expected to fly solo?

The pilot walked out on the left pontoon, reached for the prop and pulled it down quickly. The engine came to life instantly. He raced back to the cockpit to adjust the throttle and soon we were motoring into the lake. The takeoff seemed effortless. We leveled off at about 200 feet. As we flew the length of the lake, my pilot pointed out homes of friends and accurately predicted one of them might be waving. She did. We turned, circling back and then leaving the lake behind to a quilt on forest lands and fields connected by roads and spotted with farms and houses. In all the years I’ve visited this part of the country had I ever seen it from this height. It was an insight to the vastness of the area. The experience from the takeoff to the pilot’s stories of the area was a gift that I never would have imagined.

As my kids did, let your imagination take flight and give the unexpected. As a recipient, I can tell you, you’ll make a lasting impression.

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