The Birthday Present

Story by Yehuda Carmel

It was late in the afternoon when my wife and I were driving on the crowded highway north. Our eldest grandson David was having his 6th birthday party, and we were trying to get there on time. We brought a few presents with us, and we were looking forward to a nice family reunion that would include our youngest daughter and her family, as well as our eldest son and his wife who came especially from Sacramento.

We turned into a country road and into the new residential area, where David lives with his parents and his 4 year old sister Sally. We parked by the house and when we reached the main door, our grandchildren jumped on us to greet us with one eye looking in our hands to figure out what kind of presents we brought this time. I kissed my son and my daughter in law and greeted them with “Mazal Tov”, (a Jewish greeting tradition on happy occasions). The children tried to pull the bags with the presents out of our hands; finally they succeeded. Sally loved her new black and white teddy bear and David was thrilled with his new airplane puzzle, with a big airplane picture on its box.

The extended dining room table was loaded with food and drinks. David sat at the head of the table dressed like a prince. He wore a white shirt, white trousers, and a golden cardboard crown. David's mother proudly brought in the birthday cake decorated with six candles. Everybody sang “happy birthday to you”, “happy birthday to you”. David stood on his chair and bent over to blow out the candles. Everybody applauded and cheered when the task was accomplished.

When the party was over and the other guests had left, the lady of the house and my wife washed the dishes. David and I started to assemble the puzzle on the living room coffee table. It was an exciting challenge for a six year old boy, and he enjoyed every minute of it.

Each time we completed a key portion such as the wheels or the propeller, he cheered with excitement and amazement. It was an exciting moment when the pieces formed a bright full picture of a silver colored plane flying in the blue sky. David and I shared a great feeling of achievement.

The puzzle held 99 pieces, so it took us more than an hour to finish it. When we went home it was very late and after we said; “goodbye” to everybody, David promised me to do it again on his own when time allows.

Four years have passed and David's room became an airplanes exhibition of all kinds. He saved the finished aircrafts and framed them on the wall above his bed. Whenever I went on a long trip he always asked me to bring him a new kind of an aircraft. Last time, when I returned from abroad, I brought him a new jet plane kit, with a pilot in the cockpit. It comprised many plastic pieces to be assembled and glued together. There were hundreds of pieces to put together. I thought this work will keep him busy for the whole summer vacation and so it was. His mother told me that he was very busy during the summer, and most of the time was spent on gluing the plastic pieces of the aircraft. On the next summer vacation he went to a summer resort, owned by a retired pilot and there was a special program about how to build a glider from pieces of wood and cloth material. At the end of this summer camp, there was a gliders exhibition made by the kids and David received first prize for excellent craftsmanship and performance of his glider. By this time David was very interested in aviation in general and he said that someday he'll be a pilot, or an aviation engineer.

During that summer I went with David’s family to the beach and saw how he watched the flying kites up high in the sky. All the kids were gathered around the kid that was flying a kite. It was wonderful looking at the victorious expression they had on their faces, each time they succeeded to fly their kite high in the air, together with all the other kites. David stood there watching and craving to have a kite of his own. He asked me to buy him a kite. This was an understandable request. So I promised him that before the next summer I would not buy him a kite, but I would buy the materials and we’d build a kite together.

I remember, that once upon a time, when I was 16 – 17 years old, I was a master kite builder and after finishing building a new kite, all my friends came with me to the beach to “help” me fly my kite. I remember how they begged to hold the string “just for a little while….”

David waited the whole winter and when the summer started he reminded me my promise. Well, if grandpa promised, he must keep the promise! We made an appointment to meet at his home the following Saturday morning, and build together the promised kite. And so it was. I brought all the necessary materials to build our own kite. We sat in the living room and discussed the work plan, and I showed him the various options. I drew them on paper and showed him the way it would look, with colors, when it will be finished. We set about an hour figuring out the color and the shape of the kite and after the plan was agreed upon, we started to work.

I cut 3 pieces of bamboo cane, about two feet long each and about a quarter of an inch wide, rasped each of them on both sides, so no one would cut his hands, and tightened them in the middle with the string. I measured an equal distance from the center out to the edges, and then tied the six edges, an equal distance from one another, this way we framed the kite’s head. After that was done, we cut the cellophane paper – with sufficient margins for gluing - to fit the plan. It took us hours until we had the kite’s head ready. It was beautiful. Then David started to cut, with the scissors, the thin white wrapping paper, like shredded papers, not to the end, but leaving a gluing margin, to glue on the three lower sides of the head of the kite. Then we used three pieces of shredded paper and turned them between the fingers to form separate binds to tie to the string that will form eventually the tail of the kite. We were so concentrated on the process, that we did not realize how fast the time had passed away. It was getting dark outside. We stretched backwards, exhausted. Everything was ready for the kite’s maiden voyage on the beach. We planned to try out the kite. David prepared everything for the next Saturday morning. The days went by very slowly for David and when I came seven days later, David was very anxious to start rolling. We packed everything and put it, very carefully in the trunk. At last we drove to the beach.

It took us about an hour drive. Traffic was heavy and seemed that everybody was heading to the beach. Although it was very early in the morning when we reached the beach, there were a few kites already in the sky. We found a good place to settle down with our belongings and the kite. I tied the string bundle to the kite and freed the long tail, then loosened the string to let the wind draw the kite up to the sky. It flew higher and higher in the sky. I let David to hold the string. We were happy as anyone could ever be. Our kite flew higher than any other kite that was in the sky that day. By this time, and without our noticing, we were surrounded by a huge crowd, and all of them were cheering and praising the beautiful kite. It was the most beautiful kite on the beach. It was a grand feeling, a grand day. We looked at each other with joy and happiness.

David and I had a wonderful day on the beach. By late afternoon we went back home happy and tired. It was a day to remember. David and I were now bound by a special new connection. It’s a great pleasure for a grandfather.

Later I’ve heard that David took the kite to the beach several times and had a wonderful time in the rest of this summer vacation, showing all his friends the beautiful kite flying up high in the sky. No doubt, it was a summer vacation to remember.

I've had a full year to figure out the present I was to give David on his thirteenth birthday. To be a thirteen year old boy in a Jewish family is a very special event. It really means coming of age, the day a boy changes into a man, with all the obligations and the privileges. To cross this threshold, the boy must complete the traditional rituals, including going to the Temple on Saturday and reading from the Torah, the first section of the Bible. The temple’s Rabbi would say a special sermon for the occasion and bless the boy on his first steps toward manhood. After the religious ceremony part, comes the birthday’s reception, where close family, relatives and other guests are invited to participate in the celebration that includes a feast, singing and dancing, lots of presents and cheers.

It took me a long time to find the special present that David would appreciate and be pleased with. All of the sudden the idea for the present struck me.

As I knew that David is very interested in planes and flights, I was determined to arrange for him a flight in an actual plane. I told him about my idea a few months prior to his thirteenth birthday.

David was very happy about the opportunity to fly in a real plane. Every time we met, he asked me about the flying project and when it would eventually take place. I told him not to worry about anything and I'll keep my promise close to his birthday celebration day.

The weeks passed by and I've arranged - with the help of a friend of mine, who is working in one of the small airfields, in the middle of the country as a flying instructor on small aircrafts – that the big event of flying will be scheduled for a week before the Bar-Mitzva. Everything was arranged to make the actual flight on this coming Saturday.

On Saturday at noon, I came to pick David from his home. He was very excited when we said good-bye to his parents and we drove to the small airport. It took us about an hour drive and David asked me all kinds of questions which I didn't know the answer to most of them, but we talked happily all the way to the airport.

Dany, the instructor, greeted us and showed us the aircraft that we were going to fly. It was a single-engine, five-seat Piper plane with enough space for camping equipment. We sat close to each other and Dany started the engine. We tightened our seat belts and the aircraft accelerated down the runway and then up into the sky. It was a marvelous view as the sun was on the verge of setting down. The plan was, to cruise around in the sky for about half an hour. Dany took us up and down and circled over David's house. We flew toward the sea and back to the inland areas. It was wonderful, the half hour went by very fast and we started flying back. All of a sudden Dany had some trouble of controlling the aircraft. He could not make it turn around. He tried again and again and nothing happened. The situation looked grim, but Dany calmed us down while trying to gain control over the aircraft.

The night fell and darkness was all around us. The sky was black with no stars, probably because there were clouds above us. We were still flying in one direction with the ability to go up or down only. We were running out of fuel and time was running out………. We kept flying in one direction towards nowhere. Dany was sweating from the strain and from the knowledge of what was going to happen. He looked at me and back to the wind shield, his expression was in horrified and his eyes were wide open. The aircraft kept losing altitude and the engine started to stall. I've held David's hand close to me and I was very frightened too. But David really didn’t realized that we were in the middle of no where in a small aircraft and that any minute we may crash down………. I looked on Dany's face and he was on the verge of panic. I spoke to him and tried to calm him down. I was thinking very fast to find conceivable solution and to evaluate the options……… As the aircraft flew lower and lower, almost with no speed at all, we saw underneath us a long line of lights going in our direction. I pointed to Dany to look downward. There was a line of lights right below us. it was of course the lights of cars moving on a highway like a living glittering creature.

Dany lowered the aircraft, to a few feet, above the cars below us and when we were quite close to the ground, he switched on our powerful headlights and the cars below slowed down and left a gap between the moving cars a head. Dany lowered the aircraft until it hit the empty road ahead. It was a smooth landing. The aircraft stopped in the open field that was outstretched in front of us, because the road was curved there. We were safe! It wasn't long until we were surrounded by drivers from the highway. After the crowded drivers made sure that we are all right, with no injuries, they offered us a lift. The highway patrol came too and took us to their station.

We called home and David talked to his parents. They were very worried, of course, but the important thing was that we were safe, with no harm done, except for the aircraft.

The Bar-Mitzva celebration was on time, the next week. David was ready for his appearance in the temple. He read from the Torah and said his sermon. The crowd stood on their feet and cheered, "Mazal Tov".


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