Monday, March 28, 2011

My manhood lost

This story is NOT about the first thing that popped into your mind when you read that title (however that does remind me of another perhaps blog worthy Air Force story)

In this case the manhood in question is metaphorical rather than physical.

When I was 11 my grandfather (Papa? Pawpaw?) went legally blind. His vision dropped to 20/400 corrected. He had a farm to run though and his financial future was at stake. I became his eyes and hands. He would sit next to me and tell me what to do but I was the guy! I drove him where ever he needed to go, I plowed the fields, planted the crops, fertilized and cultivated mid season then finally harvested in the fall and took the grain to be sold.

Small town  Nebraska ( population < 500) was a special place, there are no secrets. Everyone knew  I was driving cars and grain trucks, even on the interstate highways, but everyone also knew that I was all that was keeping Papa from bankruptcy. I worked hard and I received something I had never really received from adults before, respect.

I remember the one night we went to town for supper at the bar and grill and I was allowed to drink a beer, in a bar. I was 12. The local motto was "Work like a man get treated like a man." Little things like that made up for not being able to do the things my tween age friends were doing.

I did that for three years while I was 11, 12 and 13 years old. I thought I was going to do it for the rest of my life but property values got very high and papa sold all his land for 3 million(!) bucks.

I moved back to the city. After 3 years of being treated like a man suddenly, I was a child again.

Oh how that chaffed my soul. I oh so desperately wanted to be a man again. It was hard to ever be satisfied again. For example, getting a drivers licence? Pfffft. I was driving huge dump trucks loaded with grain 5 years "ago"!

So all that frustration combined with several other reasons saw me joining the Air Force when I was 16.

After basic training I was a man again! Yay! For a while at least.

After advanced training I reported to my first duty station. I was getting a tour of Hanger 1. The end if the runway was 500 feet from the hanger. An F-4 phantom started its take off run with full afterburners.

The F-4 is a fighter but it's take off weight was a full 30 tons. It is a BIG airplane with BIG engines.
F-4 Phantom Engine Exhaust. Big huh?
 Then lets mention afterburners; Afterburners are simply pumping raw fuel into the exhaust stream of jet engine where it combusts, expands and adds considerable thrust. A.k.a. heat and noise. That fuel is injected from a fuel line ring around the inside of exhaust tube. Each ring is considered a stage. Working from memory here the F-4 had 32 stage afterburners (times 2 engines). If the pilot moved the throttles forward slowly you could hear (and feel) each stage kick in individually. If he moved the throttles fast it was a single sound

It was not unheard of for formation take offs with full afterburners to actually break windows on base.

F-4 with full afterburners. Can you feel the power?

So here I am first day on my new base, walking through the phase docks in hanger one when the pilot a mere 500 feet away pushed the throttles all the way forward pretty fast. I heard and felt a tremendous rippling ba-ba-ba-ba-BOOM as the stages kicked in. I thought the all the tanks on the fuel farm were going  up in a chain reaction!

Damn my cat like reflexes! I ducked!

I was immediately a laughing stock. The fighter mechanic that was afraid of fighters. All respect and therefore all manhood was lost within hours of stepping on base. {sigh}

Then, just to pile it on, later that day someone coined my new nickname that would stick with me for years to come. No, not "killer", "tiger", "Ace" or any kind of even remotely cool nickname, nope, "baby face" was my new moniker. For one who ached more than anything to be a man to be called baby (face) every day was nightmarish.

My degradation was complete. {sigh}

However, here is a picture taken of me four years after I "earned" that nickname. So I guess maybe they were on to something.


Chandan said...

Reminds me of my Dad's stories, how he had already taken up the responsibility of the home by 11 or 12 years..... There wasn't anything called childhood.... I am lucky that I had quality schooling, childhood, friends, time to play..... But man it took a while before I was a man !

Erika said...

I STILL don't feel like a man! (oh wait... that's because I'm not!)

Anonymous said...

Neat. I also worked on F-4s on a load crew.

So I know the feeling. When I first got to Cam Rahn bay, I thought I knew about everything there was to loading a bomb. Duh Greeny!!!!!! You have to learn all over again.

tammy said...

This was fun to learn about you.

And I promise never to call you 'Baby-Face'.

NerdyRedneck Rob said...

@chandan - I hate to break it to you amigo but real men don't wear gloves to work on their car. We need to work on that! :)

@Erika - the day you go "man" will be a huge loss to women everywhere.

@Anon - Ain't that the truth! All that schooling and the real education only begins when you graduate. That is one of the things I love about flying. When you get your pilots licence they tell "Here is your license to learn"

@Tammy - Yeah, a little self degradation now and then is important to keep yourself grounded. Man I was miserable back then. I am happy now. Would I be happy now if I had been happy then? I mean I am the result of my experiences so who would I be now with out THOSE experiences. love philosophising. :)