My father and brother used to build radio-controlled model airplanes in the basement. Sometimes I went down to try to join them. The steps down to the basement were painted maroon. The basement floor was a reddish cement, and fluorescent lights glimmered overhead. A smell of dry plaster lingered in the air. On the wall hung a large portrait of my father, and for some reason there was a stain of spray paint on it that looked like a bug sitting on his lapel.
My father and brother leaned over their intricate work of gluing balsa or soldering the electronics. There was no room for a casual dropper-by. They barely raised their heads to say hello.
On Sunday mornings, they took their airplanes out to the schoolyard to fly. I tagged along sometimes. I really wanted a chance to fly an airplane by remote control, but it turned out that he who built the plane got to fly it.
My brother splashed fuel as he poured it into the little engine, and I didn’t like the smell. My father spun the propeller until it snarled to life. The sound hurt my ears. The plane climbed, banked, covered some distance, and as it turned for home, went into a spin and crashed. We tromped through the brush searching for it, getting burrs stuck in our socks, and once we gathered up the pieces they took it home for another week of repairs and adjustments.
It was so boring. For weeks and weeks I tried to love any single thing about model airplanes, but I couldn’t.
One day our calico cat gave birth to kittens on the basement stairs. She wasn’t the brightest or most experienced of mothers. She just lay down on a step, fat and heavy, and one by one the kittens in their glistening gray packages plopped onto the next step down. It was fascinating. My sister and I caught the kittens as they dropped so they didn’t just keep on bouncing all the way to the bottom of the stairs. Then their mother licked them off.
I don’t know if this is true, but I imagine my father and brother still bent over their models, oblivious to the drama occurring behind them.
My brother became an engineer, my sister a farmer, and me a doctor. And I still don’t love model airplanes.