I found myself totally fascinated by the following story, written by a wonderful lady who has made only one flight in a small airplane, but with a very special person. She has graciously given me permission to share it here. Read and enjoy. - Gene Seibel

Little Brother Tall Man
by Sue Steinberg
November 25, 2000


For A., who is taller than I am in more ways than one.

The pilot helps me fasten the belts. The front seat of a small plane is nowhere I ever imagined I'd be. Preflight check is complete. The pilot murmurs incomprehensible jargon into the radio. We taxi to the end of the runway, and wait for the tower to clear us for takeoff.

When Little Brother comes home from the hospital, he's just like any other baby. Before long, though, the family begins to wonder. He walks late. Talks late. A thousand little things. Finally the pediatrician discusses with Mother the idea that he may be "delayed."

The engine is loud. Is it as eager for flight as I am? Runway markings slide gently toward us. We gain speed, and my apprehension at this new adventure is eased by my confidence in the pilot.

There is a Purple Dinosaur book in the waiting room. Inside, yet another doctor announces his conclusions to Mother and Father. Isolated phrases hang in the air; they become part of Little Brother's reality. Like smudges on a window pane, they make it hard to see what is real. "Your son cannot draw a straight line." "Minimal brain damage." "Neurological problems." Many years later, Mother and I agree that most of this is doctor-ese for, "I have no idea what's wrong with him, lady."

The pilot's hands are strong and confident. The wheels are noisy until suddenly they are not, and there is only the roar of the engine. We are airborne.

In the morning, Little Brother climbs on a little bus. It's a long ride to a school that is qualified to handle his special needs. Even at this early stage, Mother and Father worry. Will he learn to read? Will he grow up to be independent? What will happen to Little Brother?

Takeoff is frightening. Takeoff is exciting. Flying in a small plane is easily the most terrifying thing I've ever done, completely different from an airliner. I am born aloft by the pilot's certainty as much as by the engine. I never knew how soft a blue the sky could be.

Little Brother stutters. His speech is blurry, and when he is distressed, he slips into complete incomprehensibility. It can take real effort to understand him. Sometimes, people can't be bothered to make the effort. It's not hard to tell that some people hear his difficult speech and dismiss him as "stupid." They don't take the time to discover the little boy behind the speech problem. It hurts to watch. Will people ever accept him?

As we reach our cruising altitude, the pilot points out local landmarks. To me, the sky is a trackless wilderness. To him, it is as familiar as his back yard.

The whole family works with Little Brother every day. The therapy is endless and repetitive. Left foot, right foot. Right hand, left hand. Crawl, creep, walk, skip. We would give up in despair, but suddenly Little Brother is reading. Not only is he reading, he is making great leaps forward. After a year, he leaves his special education class. He's struggling, but he's mainstreamed.

The plane bumps and bounces over thermals. I'm afraid of falling, and I'm airsick. Fear and nausea do battle for control of my stomach, but I don't want the flight to end. I wonder if the pilot knows how envious I am of him. The sky is a giant soap bubble of light, the ground a crisp of brown below. It's a wonderful place he's brought me to.

Little Brother knows what he wants, and he goes after it with determination. School is hell, but before long, the family stands, cheers, whoops, shouts. We yell ourselves hoarse as his hand closes over a high school diploma.

It's only a short flight. The pilot and the tower chatter back and forth to each other, and we drop towards the tarmac runway. Touchdown is so smooth that I scarcely notice that the sky-bubble has popped, and we are gently on the earth again.

Sometimes, we try to hold him back. We want to protect him from failure. It never works. Nothing stops Little Brother. Eventually, we start to see that we are the ones who are wrong. Little Brother knows what he can do, and he does it. It's no picnic, but he earns the certificate in electronics. The certificate in Airframe Maintenance Technology. The college diploma. The job that makes him independent. Most prized of all, a private pilot's license.

The pilot shuts down the engines, helps me unbuckle my belts. He gives me his arm as we walk away from the plane; I am unsteady from nausea and exhilaration. He's a tall man, and he grins down at me from his superior height. "So, Sis. How did you like your first flight?"

I liked it just fine, Little Brother. I liked it just fine.

Copyright 2000 by Sue Steinberg

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