One Foot on the Ground


1. Uncle Teddy said he would fly on a plane if he “could keep one foot on the ground.”
2. I wonder how he got to Europe to fight in World War II. By ship, of course. But how did he keep one leg on shore and sail to France?
3. While Uncle Teddy fought Nazis, a woman he was to marry died in a car accident. He never got over it and never married. Maybe this was why he didn’t trust travelling inside machines. I don’t remember him owning a car. Maybe he would have if he could drag one foot on the ground.
4. He didn’t often talk about the war. When he did, it was always about planes falling. Men died all around him, their young faces contorted in agony, but my uncle mostly remembered smoke streaks as aircraft circled into hollowed out buildings. He said it was like God was being shot down.
5. As a boy, I flew on a plane only once. I was with my grandmother, Uncle Teddy’s sister. Something went wrong with our plane. We lost an engine. We were told to put our heads between our legs. Instead of Orlando and Disney World, where we were headed, we landed in Atlanta. Uncle Teddy wasn’t with us. After World War II ended, he never left New Jersey again. He once said a man ought to know where his place is. And stay there.
6. He wasn’t alive for 9/11, but if he was I know he would have said he never trusted planes. A man isn’t supposed to go so high. Or fast. Or far from home. Then he would have cried, as he cried in his sleep, dreaming of his long dead love.
7. Uncle Teddy was a brave man who became afraid. War did this to him, my grandmother said. But it’s as likely the woman did it to him. Death makes a man afraid, watching it drop from the sky, hearing about it in a telegram.
8. Uncle Teddy died in an ambulance driving to a hospital. He had intestinal cancer, but cancer didn’t end his life. He hyperventilated to death. They never should have put him inside that emergency vehicle. He might have lived another ten years.
9. Whenever I walk on a plane, I ask Uncle Teddy’s spirit to look out for me. But it’s stupid. I loved him, but at the terminal we part company. Even dead, he’s not going up with me. He’s buried in New Jersey dirt. He has both feet planted in the ground.