For my brother.
She always thought the pea gravel came from the pea gravel mountain a mile down the dirt road near the back door entrance to the field where yellow gap tooth Mullein grows sky high in the summer at the side of the road and the mother plants congregate directly across from the church of the rusted out sorting and sizing machines she never actually saw running and so maybe that was a pea gravel graveyard of some sort because there was Mullein growing at the base of the pea gravel mountain too. She remembers the Mullein at the base of the mountain after the fact but is satisfied with the story anyway.
After the pea gravel mountain there is a runway to the left and corn to the right. One summer the farmer planted strawberries and inasmuch as she loved the corn fields (there were others) she seems to remember getting away with eating an awful lot of free strawberries one June and maybe that might have gotten old and maybe it might not have but there it was anyway; one strawberry summer indelibly smeared on her eight or nine year old face. It obviously wasn't a pick your own (even though she's got some offhand memories of old panel baskets) and it obviously wasn't as cost efficient as cow corn because that's what went right back in those acres crop rotation be damned. She wonders for a minute if strawberries might have been some odd attempt at crop rotation but that doesn't make any sense at all.
After the corn field there is the tree lined creek and the place where you park your car in the rutted grass in as much shade as you can find and as close to your neighbor as you can because if it's going to be a good day with low winds and a high ceiling everybody's going to need to share. You can cross the troll bridge which takes you near the port-a-potty and the old barns where wedonotgetcaughtplayingEVER, hang a left and find a place to call home for the day. If you've come late and you have to park a little further up and you can cross the new bridge by the manifest or if you are cool you like to park up there anyway. The A team likes to park up there. She likes the A team but she doesn't like the declarative parking statement and thinks it makes them pretty much uncool as it turns out. It's changed the flavor of things in a way she doesn't like but couldn't really tell you why.
There was absolutely nothing for a kid to do at the airport. Absolutely nothing at all. None of that was true but she could see how it might be true if you were used to things coming at you or being done for you all the time. There were hard and fast rules. Thou shalt NOT EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES cross the runway (as an adult her brother balked at crossing the runway with a group of adults when he was supposed to). That was the big one. Another one was Thou shat not play in the old barns which was instantly translated to thou shalt not get caught playing in the old barns. Then there was thou shalt not mess with anyone's gear or other personal belongings. That didn't need to be capitalized because they'd already been indoctrinated into the school of DO NOT TOUCH THAT WHICH IS NOT YOURS and also IF YOU MESS WITH SOMEONE'S GEAR THEY MIGHT DIE. Also, skydivers were scary. Nobody with any sense at all messes with a skydiver. It's a known fact and on the rare occasions when some kid actually did mess with a somebody's gear or other stuff they, she and her brother watched the fall out in fascinated horror and absolute disbelief. She believes maybe somebody's kid might have crossed the runway once or twice but she's pretty sure she would have instantly blocked that. Although if she had to guess she might give you a name. It would have ended in Junior.
From the time she was a young adult despite her often frenetic nature it was remarked on that she had a disconcerting (because everybody expected her to explode maybe?) ability to wait when it became obvious that circumstances weren't going to change. For example, if she was stuck on a boat dock because the mast wasn't going up as planned she could sit there staring at the clouds for a good six hours before she crept off in search of a slighly less than public place to pee.
That was between forty and twenty-five years ago. A lot has changed. To start with pea gravel is a thing of the past. It's been replaced by something called a tuffet. She's not sure what she thinks about this but is perfectly aware that what she thinks isn't the least bit relevant as she doesn't exactly jump out of airplanes anymore much less hang out at drop zones. The world moves on and it's only her archival memory noticing.
She was talking with her brother recently and he mentioned how different it was for kids today; this in the context of kids and extreme sports in general. You take a little kid close to the ground, put him on a snow board in a snow park and you drop that kid down that nearly 90 degree wall and off he goes; thinks nothing of it. At the drop zones today there are wind tunnels and the skydiver's kids hang out in them all day long and when it's their time to climb into that plane they'll have already mastered a good number of the things they might have been faced with for the first time at 3,000 feet on static line. They'll be facing them at 9,000 or even 12,000 in tandem. And it will be very, very different. And yet...
She remembers watching her brother climb three steps to the top of the PLF platform and jump off over and over again practicing his parachute landing fall until at about the age of eight he had it perfect. You could have dropped that kid off a ten foot building and he'd have landed graceful as a cat (if a cat was meant to do a PLF on impact). She remembers him hanging in the harness where students where hung and terrorized, twisted this way and that, shoved side to side like some kid caught in the baby swing, yelled at, dizzied all the while trying to remember what the hell he or she (there were shes AND YA SHOULD HAVE SEEN PATASKALA!) was supposed to do if his or her chute malfunctioned (she does not believe they do it quite that way anymore and frowns at herself when she hears the word pansy in the back of her mind). She can't remember if he climbed into the harness by himself or talked somebody into putting him in there but suspects a little of both.
She remembers The Shagging of The Chutes. Here's how this works. In the days before parachutes figured out how to shapeshift into more manageable shapes and were still round like jelly fish they weren't so manageable as they are today and neophytes were at the mercy of the winds and their jump masters who, unless they were cranky, hungover or just plain stupid did a pretty good job of putting students out right over the drop zone. Still, a chute will drift if not steered this way and that, back and forth with the wind until it comes to a nice and gentle (one does one's best with what one's got) landing hopefully in the vicinity of at least the pea gravel if not a little closer to the packing area. Sometimes this happened, really it did. And it's not as if the neophyte was on its own. During the first few jumps there was radio contact with the ground (except for when the radios went out and we don't really need to go into all that) and if the student was actually LISTENING as opposed to HYPERVENTILATING there was a good chance for an on site landing.
For those off site landings there was The Shagging of The Chutes. She remembers her brother standing stone still, hand at his brow shading the sun watching a student descend off toward the back forty. He got so good at it he'd take off at a dead run and sometimes be waiting before the student landed. For a buck a chute he'd gather up the goods and walk that student in. She doesn't think he did it for the money. She thinks he did it for the run. She thinks he did it for the dream.
One primary difference between she and her brother:
She was dreaming random dreams that trickled and tumbled. They crept along the dirt road boundaries and noticed the yellow gap tooth Mullein. They were on intimate terms with the pea gravel, the winds, the smell of the crab grass and the buzz of voices after a late afternoon nap. They were dreams that wound strand like into the rest of her life but left no real roots in the sport, just the place and the memories.
He was dreaming of the sky and the air and the sound of the canopy cracking open over his head and it showed in every move he made and every breath he took, she imagines, in his entire life.
And if he doesn't remember the yellow gap tooth Mullein at the side of the road by the pea gravel mountain, that's OK. What she really wants him to remember is how beautiful and perfect he was on that drop zone; the pea gravel just happens to be part of the context.