Summer of curly-haired Ray’s eighth grade year in 1978 was memorable. Not only had he just given a voice-cracking speech as valedictorian of his junior high graduating class; not only did he overcome initial adolescent shame to proudly hang his very first “girlie poster” on his bedroom wall (The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders!) – which gave his father some masculine “Atta boy” pride; not only was Mark Hamill, flush from Star Wars superstardom, back on the big screen in “Corvette Summer.” Nope, for Ray the most memorable part of that summer – thanks solely to his eccentric father – was the delivery of “one of the greatest fighter aircraft of all time” to the very driveway (!) of his family’s suburban (exurban, really) subdivision home.
Let me repeat: A genuine. North American Aviation. F-86. Sabre Jet. Right there, in dinky, thumb-sized Temecula, a town once-so-small the notoriety-craving townsfolk sacrificed the cleanliness of their “whitest white” clothes by swearing-off Clorox Bleach for a whole month for some silly commercial of the era.
Ray’s physician-father was unusual, to say the least. He was a proud Korean War veteran who actually volunteered for the Army after hearing radio reports that the Communist North Korean Army had crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea in the summer of 1950. And Ray’s best childhood friend – his blonde-haired, fraternal twin brother Rob, adored their dad as much as Ray did. Even though it was the late ‘70s, the twins were not really so much products of their day, like other local kids. Rather, they were like little clones of Dad, at least through the easily-influenced seventh and eighth grades. The inseparable brothers cut their hair unstylishly short like his, eschewed sports as he did (though Dad respected football for its war-like strategy), and dressed older for their age (Rob bizarrely even wore actual military-issue black patent leather dress shoes for a spell in junior high). For a short time there, they desperately wanted to be Dad.
Given their father’s Korean War experience, he regaled them with the F-86 legend. It was a godsend to the war. Packing a lean 17,772 pounds of gravity-defying mass onto its economical 39 foot, 1-inch wingspan, its single J47-General Electric-27 air-sucking engine blasted some 5,910 pounds of dog-fighting thrust up to a near sound-breaking speed of 688 miles per hour, all the while boasting an aerial armory of six .50 caliber, M-3 enemy-killing machine guns, a handful of 2000 pound bombs and a couple 16.5-inch air-to-air rockets! In a word, the F-86 was an arsenal in-the-sky. And to hear Dad tell it, the fighter saved not only his life, he claimed, but that of his fellow American troops many times over. The jets flew protective cover, carpeting Chinese and North Korean troop positions, thus becoming the instant hero to the impossibly young infantry ground grunts on the battlefields below. Dad wasn’t the most outwardly emotional or sensitive man, but an occasional feeling or sentiment reluctantly seeped out on occasion. So it wasn’t exactly unexpected that he’d have a soft spot in his heart for the plane that had been his personal wartime savior when he was just a young lad himself.
So imagine how the twins reacted that early summer afternoon, driving on the outskirts of a depressing, desiccated Southern California Inland Empire town, when Dad caught a glimpse of a familiar old friend peeking over a fence at an old airport junk yard. There – sedentary among other ignominiously ditched military ruins in an otherwise overlooked scrap heap – it was: a discarded F-86, perhaps a bit alone and forlorn, like a forgotten soldier in some old folks’ home.
“Yeah, the kids really took the hatchets to it!” the grizzled junkman loudly called out minutes later as he approached the trio as they stood worshipfully before the plane.
“Hatchets?,” Dad queried.
“Yeah, over at the Edgemont School.” Sure enough, jagged, zigzag gashes pockmarked the once-pristine fuselage that weren’t the handiwork of any enemy flak guns, but, rather, the dangerous handiwork of another enemy: bored, mischievous, and apparently violent, kids.
“Kids can be so cruel,” Ray thought, nearly screaming it out with youthful verve. At times the twins sporadically forgot they were kids, instead, imagining themselves much older than their peers. (Probably because they were sort of adopting the enthusiasms of a middle-aged war-vet!)
“How much?,” Dad snapped with a non-sequitur. Ray’s and Rob’s eyes met in wide-eyed amazement.
“It doesn’t have an engine,” the junkman warned, wary he might lose an already rather improbable sale.
“That’s OK, I don’t think we’ll need it.”
“Well…,” Junkman hesitated, “what’re you gonna do with it?” Silence.
“Oh, I don’t know. Rebuild it, maybe.” Dad was fond of rebuilding old military carcasses, having already rebuilt two Army jeeps while Ray and Rob were relegated to holding the flashlights or handing tools to him as he barked out orders. “Not sure yet. Something… Just can’t see it sit sitting here like this.”
Their father didn’t exactly lack a sense of humor. But most of the time it was strictly of the most cornball, eye-rolling variety, to be sure; probably the product of his strictly Midwestern bearing. (Ray, on the other hand, fancied himself a native California-sophisticate, and was just recently caught red-handed watching the much more subversive Saturday Night Live after Dad forbade the boys in the wake of a particularly vicious Ronald Reagan-SNL sketch.) But Dad’s humor also manifested itself in more deliciously seditious ways when certain high-charged situations arose (like, say, maybe buying a huge broken-down fighter jet without a hangar or airport in which to store it?). He just had his eclectic passions, though the boys thought nothing of them at the time. They included cockeyed Republican protests (sending Mom and the kids off to greet President Nixon at El Toro Marine Base after his Watergate resignation), a phalanx of guns (he was a registered gun collector, he claimed proudly), frequent shooting range visits, a distinct fondness for all things military, more guns (hidden about the house in case of any home invasions, natch), army surplus stores (more junk!), and tinkering around in his cluttered, over-stuffed Mad Scientist’s Lab-of-a three-car garage, wherein much of that early part of that summer was spent.
So as the twins reverently stood before this unceremoniously-demoted jet in its hardscrabble graveyard, they knew full well what Dad was up to. He had to save it somehow – in the same way it had saved him so many years before – from a sad, bleak, humiliating demise. While they shared Dad’s idealistically redemptive vision, the boys’ testosterone-fueled excitement had more base childhood instincts at play: pure selfishness. Imagine playing in a real, honest fighter jet! In their own garage too! For the whole summer!
So without getting approval from Mom, Dad plunked down $2,000 in what amounted to ransom to spring his old-timer buddy from what seemed like a POW camp for wounded war birds. But that modest sum only covered the decrepit plane; that is, its scrap metal-meltdown value. It didn’t cover the myriad ancillary costs: the huge flatbed truck they’d need to transport it home; the various and sundry support staff; or the huge, neighborhood-rocking crane that would transfer it from the truck to the driveway; or all the tools, WD-40, grease, towels, solvents, oils, wrenches, sunscreens – and resolve – they’d need to properly dismantle, store and maintain the plane over the ensuing years. Those were going to be the additional costs – in lucre, determination and whimsy – and maybe Mom wasn’t going be too happy about Dad’s little scheme either.
But first they had work to do. They had to build a multi-wheeled pallet strong enough to support the massive ballast upon which the plane’s bulk would be positioned. This consisted of a few summer days in the darkened garage, toiling away in anticipation of the Big Day it would arrive. There wasn’t anything much brighter in that garage than one small smoked-glass window (blocked by a freezer full of a thriftily-purchased side of beef, carved into its assorted cuts for Mom’s kitchen), other than maybe the omnipresent glow of a black and white TV broadcasting tacky daytime programming, like reruns of “Gomer Pyle” and incessant commercials for cheesy K-Tel products and “Wally Thore’s School of Trucking.” The willing twins, commanded by Dad, obviously, measured, cut, and bolted wood boards, 2×4 beams and 2×6 planks into precise lengths, shellacking them with numerous coats of a rich, clear syrup-like gloss to protect them from the harsh summer elements. They bored deep, exquisitely perfect holes with long drill bits and elaborate countersinks into the wood. They fastened industrial-strength, heavy plastic caster rollers to the pallet underbelly. And all of this was under the whole grand “god help ‘em” hope that the entire apparatus wouldn’t just collapse under the mass of tons of sheer dead airplane weight. After all, they’d need this pallet to push the plane around, like one of Dad’s recovering heart patients on a hospital gurney, since there would be no actual wheels on this patient by the time it landed home.
They also had to clean out the three-car mad-scientist garage in which the relic would eventually live (assuming it fit first, of course). And they had to prepare a huge swath of open space on the brand new, but already oil-stained, car-choked driveway for the arrival of this aerial celebrity. The newish driveway had already become a graveyard of its own for many of Dad’s stubborn car repair victims that sputtered along on jerry-rigging and crossed-fingers until their inevitable and merciful deaths; Dad too proud to relegate them to a junkyard.
Surely, they’d be the talk of Meadowview with this latest Dr. Morris escapade. The cheerily-monikered “Meadowview” was their massive, large land-platted subdivision in Rancho California, then the eastern side of Interstate 15 in Temecula that was developed by a huge, faceless corporation more known for its aluminum-processing facilities than real estate development acumen. It boasted acre-sized lots, open “common areas” and broad, leafy streets (well, once the trees were planted in the current savannah-like shallow rolling hills of the musky valley). Even though these were the frontier years for pre-“Wine Country” Temecula, the family had already had their fair share of run-ins with the nosey Meadowview Homeowner’s Association. Dad’s touchy Libertarian, “a man’s home is his castle” proclivities were always offended when the meddling governing body complained repeatedly about their home value-threatening antics outside the home. Whether it was their makeshift motorcycle track burned into what was left of the yard, their ghetto-like chain link fence dog run, or Dad’s out-of-garage auto maintenance performed in plain view of the neighbors, they were always a challenge to the HOA. As to the latter episode, Dad being Dad, naturally, purposely performed all his subsequent auto-tinkering outside – prominently in display – shirtless, sometimes only wearing blue trunks, black socks and black dress shoes, and boasting skin so unbearably white as to zap instant blindness in any neighbors making the mistake of looking on, their tongues, no doubt, clicking in disapproval. Even though the HOA had threatened law suits before, with this nutty plane exploit the family would only be the neighborhood pariah all over again. For sure.
On the Big Day of arrival, though, there was no seeming trepidation, at least not at first. Nope, they were as giddy as a phony sick day spent at Disneyland. They’d already been alerted that the jet had been loaded successfully by crane on the back of a huge flatbed truck to wend its way down the narrow two-lane Highway 79 from the ramshackle desert hamlet of Hemet to the (improbable) oasis that they always imagined Temecula to be. Dad drove the boys part of the way to meet it as it got nearby so they could be the plane’s honored escort home. Actually, though, the boys were somewhat disappointed that the plane wasn’t being moved intact, like the static display version they saw in the scrap yard, with majestic wings, landing gears and battle glory deployed gallantly intact. But that was not to be. For transportation, the plane had to be cruelly dismembered first. So by the time they met the truck, the fuselage sat on the flatbed with its disconnected wings folded neatly at its side, like a resting bird incubating its nest. This may have been necessary for the move itself, but it seemed that their unbroken dream for the plane was slowly shifting into the stark reality to come, especially for Dad.
The flatbed and its earthy manly entourage arrived on the homey little cul de sac in late June, just as the late spring gloom gave way to the blowtorch-hot summer that had already bleached and cracked the upholstery and plastic dashes of so many of Dad’s cars. The street name was also optimistically dubbed “Avenida Verde” or “green avenue” by the marketing-savvy corporation, a name Ray always found funny considering how brown and carpeted with foxtails and sagebrush the surrounding hills were in the tinder-dry heat. Following the truck as its able partner was a huge ‘mutha’ of a crane, its main boom seemingly tall enough to move the World Trade Center.
The Morris family being fairly self-contained didn’t know many neighbors well, at least as friends. In fact, Dad always looked on them – like the whole town en masse – as too snooping for their own good, especially when they complained (via the HOA) about all the jalopies, old wrecks and trailers that Dad seemed to store around the house. As kids, the twins loved living in a mini-junkyard of sorts. But the neighborhood didn’t exactly share their exuberant innocent joy. In fact, once when their very rural town instituted mailbox delivery for the first time, the mailman complained that their freshly-installed mailbox (its base entombed in concrete, no less!) wasn’t regulation enough. An angry Dad daydreamed of revenge, conspiring plots of nighttime commando raids, snipping heads off precariously-placed nails in the neighborhood streets so that a particularly-intrusive US Mail truck couldn’t help but get its tires popped in the left-behind spikes. (Said commando raids were never executed.)
Surprisingly, though, no prying neighbors visited the house on that move day, either out of angry disapproval or keen curiosity. Maybe it was because of the decidedly frosty disconnect between the family and the community, even those in their immediate environs. But the flatbed, crane, attendant movers and all the assorted support vehicles congregated on their winding rural street, as if about to launch D-Day. When the crane’s burly stanchions were firmly emplaced into the asphalt to support the plane’s girth, it took up nearly the whole street in front of the house. Surprisingly, Ray thought nothing of it pretty much shutting off the neighbors’ escape route to the connecting byways.
Werner Herzog directed his cinematic masterpiece “Fitzcarraldo” – about a singular-minded visionary who drives himself to the breaking point to carry a steam ship across the Amazon jungle. To Ray looking back now, this was probably Dad’s own private “Fitzcarraldo” moment. It was one of the first times he saw a chink in Dad’s usually tough armor, that’s for sure. After all, the jet, even while perched on the flat bed, was dwarfing their household driveway. And there was no way in Temecula’s brown earth that a Sabre Jet belonged anywhere but at an airport, preferably a military one, let alone in front of tranquil residential neighborhood. Seeing this up-close and personal, rather than in Dad’s optimistic dreams of saving this plane, the twins could almost see in real time the doubt and misgivings creep into Dad’s head. No matter. Too late now.
So the action commenced unabated. The hydraulic crane, with its long booms, counterweight, and hoists stretching out like a praying mantis, whirred and swayed as it first carefully deposited the disconnected wings onto the grass-challenged, brown-patched backyard. The struts and landing gears were still embedded on each wing erect, as if dutifully ready to cushion a landing on an Inchon, Korea airstrip, circa 1952. Considering each wing itself was nearly 20 feet in length, the backyard now contained not one, but TWO of them, clocking in at some 40 feet of once-prized backyard area. The wings now sat there flightless, however; upside down in the ground, with each landing gear and its concomitant flat tire popping into the air like STOP signs ominously warning of danger ahead.
Next came the big moment. The fuselage in all its silvery, conical glory – signature “open mouth” air intake scoop, and high, proud tail – was slowly lifted ever so carefully off the truck bed. Cautiously, slowly, the turret rotated 90 degrees, paralleling the driveway, aiming the plane for its target – the custom-built pallet they had diagrammed, planned, and built for this special day. Throwing levers and knobs, the crane operator slowly lowered the body to the pallet below, its wood beams and caster wheels creaking and almost wheezing as it worked overtime to support the weight that now nearly crushed it. But the pallet held – just as Dad envisioned.
About a sweaty hour or so later, the crane retracted its cables, folded its boom and hoist, and hauled itself away. And just like that; it was over. The assorted support workers filed away, leaving nothing but silence in its wake.
And there they stood, the three of them: Dad, Ray and Rob – jaws agape at what remained: a huge, tailed, metallic beast, resembling a gargantuan steel-and-iron cigar, looming over an upper middle-class home. And with the all that aviation debris strewn about the property, neighbors could be forgiven if they thought they had stumbled on the aftermath of a horrible aviation catastrophe. Almost as if the wings were ripped off mid-collision, falling like heavy leaves into the backyard, as the disembodied fuselage continued skidding across the driveway to its eventual resting place.
Nothing could be more out of place.
Up until this point, Mom wasn’t exactly a willing participant in their little adventure. In fact, she had avoided the noisy melee altogether that day. So, when she finally deigned to step outside in the silence to finally gaze on the scene she had heretofore so carefully side-stepped, the twins watched as she quietly drank in the whole preposterous panorama with some mild amusement: the fractal wings, the fragmented body, her momentarily dumbfounded brood.
Mom, at this point in her life a throwback to the homemaker of another era, was already well-versed in Dad’s peculiar enthusiasms in their marriage. Over the years, she’d seen Dad at work on many of his grand schemes. For instance, his split-second, unilateral purchase of a huge gas guzzling (8 miles per gallon!) motor home that absolutely nobody needed at the height of the early ‘70s gas crisis, but presented to her majestically as a convenient “Mother’s Day” gift that he wanted. Or how he rebuilt an entire airplane in their small Orange County house once, basically draping the dining room, living room and kitchen – and any other available surface areas – in aviation fabric, even drafting his own aging mother’s arthritic, knotted hands and limbs, to help cut, sew, fashion and stretch cloth over the skeletal frames that would soon become its wings.
This latest circus was nothing new to Mom. Even so, the boys studied her for any hint of a reaction to what was going-down. Slowly, they saw her mouth part, like sun-breaking clouds after a hard rain, as if poised to say Something Meaningful. But nothing came out. Instead, she delivered a broad, knowing, warm smile, as if to say, almost proudly to Dad: “That’s my boy!” Wordlessly, she turned back around on her heels to step inside, shaking her head knowingly; a “been there, done that” realization.
Dad’s sentiment seemed a little different, though. His face was drawn and haggard as he gazed on this odd sight, the silence only exaggerating the importance of the moment. Every small muscle in his jaw, every cell in his pursed lips, every movement in his somewhat weak chin, all seemed to silently scream out the same thing, “What have I done?!” If those were his hidden thoughts, though, his voice admittedly didn’t reveal it to his devoted sons. He was hushed, to be sure, almost muted. He wasn’t a loud man. He was more stoic and reserved. But, somehow, he summoned the motivation to keep any possible façade of determination alive for his kids.
“Well, let’s take ‘er apart….”
Seriously?, Ray thought to himself. We’re really going to keep this thing?; this enormously huge, honkin’, out-of-place…museum…conversation piece? Obviously, if the kids had a couple doubts, you’d think Dad would too; after all this was his mess and he had to own it as the ranking adult! But that’s why the boys loved him. Deliberate. Decisive. Determined. Even if he had self-doubts, unrecognized by Ray and Rob, he’d still do his best to make them feel as if this was all part of his plan. Of course, they’d take it apart. What else could they do? Those were the orders.
The next few passing days and weeks were pregnant with purpose, at least in the short term. An official-looking cease and desist order on Meadowview HOA letterhead, threatening legal action if they didn’t remedy the eyesore, was met with characteristic derision from Dad.
“Why should they have a say in what I do with my house?!,” he argued to nobody in particular, making significant effort to punch the “my” for emphasis.
They had to deal with the plane somehow. Hell, even the eighth graders knew that. Little did they know, though, but Dad had apparently already made calls to the Planes of Fame Museum up in Chino to take the plane as a donation. Ray and Rob just didn’t know it yet. That’d probably be too much to bear at that point, after so much work was done. But it was quickly deduced when, not many days after delivery, the museum sent their own truck to pluck the wings from our backyard, leaving only the hollow fuselage behind, its continued presence at home that summer yet another example of more ruminations and mind-changing for an obviously conflicted Dad wondering, “What do I do?”
To be brutally honest, the rest of the summer was probably less eventful for the boys than one might imagine. What was once a rousing quixotic quest to recapture wartime heroism and muster mighty military memorabilia became sheer anticlimactic drudgery for Ray and Rob. They were the soldiers in Dad’s army. The imposing officer didn’t deal with the drudgery. Only the draftees did while Dad was off at work at the hospital. They were the front-line grunts.
The twins spent one hot summer day after another tediously twisting, popping and busting-out every conceivable screw, nut, rivet and bolt they could possibly find on the massive hulk, wherever and whenever they appeared to their bare, un-sunglassed eyes. Ray baked his flimsy adolescent frame in his favorite brown JC Penny Toughskin jeans, which were far too hot for the superheated blast furnace days, wrestling tools, wrenches and screwdrivers in a valiant effort to find the key to breaking the plane apart into more manageable halves. It was like a huge, metallic Gordian Knot. The boys had no choice, really. The entire plane wouldn’t fit into the garage, they discovered, so they had to take it apart somehow – and preferably before the next Meadowview HOW legal threat arrived. Neighbors who drove by caught visions of the boys’ bodies splayed like spiders across the shimmering fuselage, exposed skin either pinked by the sun or seared on the plane’s frying pan-hot exterior, removing hundreds of screws, in vain, it seemed, and moving on to the next set of them, all in the hope that they could chunk the plane into bite-sized pieces. It was Sisyphean; the more they toiled, the more they twisted their sore, muscle-shredded forearms and thought they were making progress, the more they seemed to go backwards.
Finally, Dad found the Holy Grail of super-secret Sabre Jet security failures. It was sort of like that surprisingly prosaic exhaust port that spelled the demise of the Death Star in “Star Wars.” There were two huge bolts flanking either side of the plane, the size of bowling balls, actually, and hidden under pesky flaps of exterior steel skin, that launched their successful assault on the warbird’s fuselage integrity. For this special occasion Dad procured one of the myriad tools he had in his mad scientist garage – a huge brown monkey wrench of sorts, as long as Ray’s eighth grade body was tall, it seemed. Looking like something out of Soviet-era social realism propaganda artwork, the three males grabbed hold of the wrench and heaved-and-ho’d, up and down, throwing all their might in one direction until the massive fastener twisted ever-so-slowly. After each miraculous twist, they readjusted the mammoth wrench for another bite and twisted again. And again, repeating this arduous task over and over, on each of the two bolts for what seemed like hours. They finally had the plane separated in two, cracking it open like a huge ostrich egg. With little fanfare, they heaved with all their might to push the tattered cockpit half of the jet into the garage, all the easier to play “fighter pilot” with, of course. They lashed the back half to a discarded motorcycle trailer and wheeled it off behind one of the awnings in the backyard so that it couldn’t be spotted by prying neighbors driving by.
For some weeks, the twins did indeed play “Jet Fighter” in the plane. They recorded some distinctly unpleasant airplane droning sounds from a record they oddly owned that was called, “Sights and Sounds of the Military,” to play on a tinny cassette tape in the cockpit. But to even call it a cockpit was a stretch. With all its instruments, dials, switches, toggles, and even the joystick cannibalized to scrap and sell at the junkyard, it took considerable flights of fantasy for the boys to imagine themselves in war movies of their own direction. But they did their level best. The sight of either brother marching toward the garage, already wearing their bulbous fighter jet pilot helmets (Ray painted his yellow), with the smelly, olive drab oxygen mask dangling from its side (like one sees in clichéd jet fighter movies) was commonplace for a spell. But for many reasons it got old after awhile, not the least of which was simple childhood boredom.
By September, as the browns and golds of a Temecula summer inferno turned to the crisp, dry Santa Ana winds of fall, the boys love affair with the F-86 was all but over. As is common among youngsters, the novelty of something new waned and they moved onto another new shiny object. This was true even of an F-86 fighter in one’s own home. Playing war wasn’t as fun – or as cool – anymore. Freshman year beckoned, which meant the discovery of college application-padding extracurricular activities, like varsity sports, student government, and geeky band, chorus, and yearbook elective classes, overtaking everything else, along with newfound lifelong friends and a developing interest in girls.
Mostly for Ray, however, his natural adolescent evolution/rebellion supplanted his devotion to, and worshipfulness of, Dad. Something from which he never fully recovered (a malady from which he still probably suffers). Ray began rebelling and pushing boundaries, though still held on to his hefty dose of shame. In short, the boys didn’t come home right after school anymore, as Mom and Dad had come to expect in earlier years. Their days were now being absorbed by the encroachment of average teenage life.
That’s when Dad started to retreat to long hours building his private medical practice. On the outside chance the boys did catch him at home in those days, they could see that his demeanor had changed. Where once he was talkative (at least for him), and even whistling or butchering Broadway show tunes (“The Impossible Dream”!) on rare occasions, now he was nearly silent, barely able to muster a shrugged hello from his perch in “Dad’s Chair,” chain-smoking and watching TV. Ray could tell from the way Dad rested his weary head on an arm propped on the armrest, his other arm draped behind him, nicotine-stained fingers clutching an ever-present cigarette for all its life, his mind was anywhere but on his family. He started to look conflicted. And Ray began to see Dad as all too human, perhaps as sensitive as him even, but he just kept it bottled up inside.
That’s when Mom, out of suburban housewife ennui presumably, stopped cooking meals for the family, instead giving the kids money for dinners away from home. She began falling asleep earlier each night too in her overstuffed living room loveseat, hours before the twins finally got home. The parents divorced a few years later. Mom then became a self-made hero to Ray. Where once she was “just” a housewife (“the most important job in the world,” Ray intones now), she resumed her long-delayed college studies, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and started teaching history to uncurious, undisciplined middle-schoolers in the only seeming school in California that would give a brand-spanking new, fiftysomething teacher a job (in the godforsaken Mojave Desert).
The twins father passed away in 2009. Even in death he remained an enigmatic, anachronistic mystery: a crusty, conservative cardiologist who warned patients not to smoke, but who himself smoked about three packs a day, even after massive chest-cracking heart sextuple bypass surgery that nearly killed him once, and eventually dying of heart disease in the fleshy middle of the statistical survival median, fifteen years later, another inscrutable irony for an enigmatic heart specialist.
And the plane? The Sabre Jet WAS finally hauled away to Planes of Fame Museum a few years after it landed in their lives. The boys don’t even remember when and sure weren’t there. Today, Rob tells Ray the fuselage sits dilapidated still; this time not in a scrap yard or junk heap – or in their garage – but in a museum’s chop shop warehouse, callously stripped of its remaining parts to keep more photogenic exhibits healthy. At least those wings are attached to another F-86 on static display at the museum, though. Or so they’ve been told.
Ray hasn’t been to Planes of Fame in probably 3 decades. So he wonders if there’s one of those little “thank you” donation signs next to that plane that says something like the usual “Courtesy of so-and-so” that one commonly sees at museums, usually reserved for wealthier and more charitable families than his. Ray can only imagine. However, if there is one, he hopes it might say something like this:
“Wings on this exhibit are from a different North American F-86 fighter jet. But Planes of Fame Museum thanks James W. Morris, M.D. and his heroic family for their gracious donation and for their dogged determination to preserve history.”
…Or something like that. Or not.
Whether there is a “thank you” sign or not is really of no import. Although Dad didn’t know what he was really getting into when he bought that ol’ hunk of junk, he accomplished what he wanted to, at least for a fleeting moment anyway. Ray could be super-serious and say they learned a lot about lofty ideals summer, like loyalty and devotion to an old war buddy, but he thinks that would be overstating it. Mostly that fanciful act taught the twins about vision, “letting your freak flag fly,” and maybe something about good old libertarian-cherished personal freedom. So for three months or so that season, Ray and Rob were partners-in-crime in Dad’s rather loopy whimsy. In fact, it’s become sort of an inside joke with their old friends. When somebody comes up with a silly idea these days, the inevitable friendly retort is, “Like having a Sabre Jet in your garage?”
Sure, Ray laughs along with them. It is funny. But he’ll always remember those memories as some of his most cherished of an exceedingly complex father too. Maybe he and his twin have already been duly rewarded for all the blood, sweat and sneers of that hot Sabre Jet Summer.
No thank you sign needed.
 The Aviation History Online Museum, found at http://www.aviation-history.com/north-american/f86.html.