This is the story of a man, call him “Charlie,” his wife, “Irma,” and an airplane. All his life, Charlie had wanted to fly. When he retired, he took flying lessons, rented a plane, soloed, and then decided he wanted to buy his own plane.
Irma was all right on commercial flights, but sitting in the co-pilot’s seat in the cockpit of a small plane, feeling the vibration as it rolled down the runway, then watching the horizon drop away as they were airborne, feeling the sudden lightness in the pit of her stomach, she would be very frightened. But she loved her husband and she wanted him to be happy; so they bought a plane.
Charlie insisted that Irma learn to fly the plane. She took the lessons, but she never soloed, never got her own license. The only instrument she learned how to operate was the radio.
One day, Charlie and Irma took the plane on a long flight to another city. They were flying along, when Charlie suddenly gasped and slumped over the controls. He had suffered a heart attack. Irma radioed for help. When a control tower answered, she told them what had happened. “Tower” asked if she could fly the plane.
“No,” she said. “I can’t. I took some lessons, but I’m too afraid.”
Tower talked her down, reminding her how to work the controls, having her describe the positions of the different indicators.
The landing was terrifying for her. The only thing that nerved her to do it was knowing that an ambulance would be waiting to take her husband to the hospital, if she could just get the plane onto the ground. She landed hard, but safely. As soon as the plane was down, the ambulance came out to it. The attendants let Irma ride with Charlie to the hospital.
Hours later, assured that her husband was stable in the hospital, Irma thought of their little plane, sitting out there on the runway, where she had left it. She took a taxi back to the airfield, and went to see the friendly people in the control tower.
“What should I do?”
She should park the plane, they told her. She did not want to climb into that cockpit alone and take her husband’s place in the pilot’s seat, even to taxi it off the runway. Another small plane was coming in, and the controller asked that pilot to come to the control tower to meet Irma after he parked his own plane.
This pilot, “Peter,” agreed to taxi Charlie’s plane to a proper parking place and tie it down. She asked him if he would be willing to fly it home for her. He laughed, and reminded her that he had a plane of his own to take care of. But he might know a young man who had a pilot’s license, but no plane of his own.
Charlie recovered sufficiently to fly home as a passenger in a commercial jet. But it would be months before he was able to fly as a pilot again. In the meantime, “Tom” called them.
When Irma answered the telephone, Tom told her that he had heard from Peter that Irma had a plane with no pilot. Tom had a pilot’s license, but no plane. He wanted to know if Irma wanted to sell the plane.
“Sell the plane?” Irma looked at Charlie. He looked stricken. She knew he wasn’t ready to let go of his dream of flying again.
“No,” she said, “we don’t want to sell.”
They agreed that Tom would fly the little plane back to its home airport, and then he would come to Irma and Charlie’s home for dinner.
The two men became friends as they talked about airplanes and flying. After that, every so often, Tom would come to town and take the little plane for a short flight. He would always have dinner with Irma and Charlie.
One morning, Charlie announced happily that he would be going that day for his physical examination, so he could fly again. He put his clothes on, and sat on the edge of the bed to tie his shoes. Then he stood up and simply toppled over like a felled tree. Irma knew that this time he was dead. His mouth was open; his skin was grey. But she called 911 all the same. The ambulance came, and a nice police woman stayed with Irma while they took the body away.
After the funeral, she called Tom. “I want to sell you that plane,” she said. “I’ll sell it to you for a dollar. I hate it. I never want to see it again.”
Did Tom buy the plane for a dollar? Or did Irma come to realize that it was a valuable asset, and work out a more reasonable arrangement? Where would Tom get the money to pay Irma for the plane? Did Charlie and Irma talk about these things while Charlie was alive? You decide. Because, if you own a small business, this story may be your story.
Your spouse may be your co-pilot, but she (or he) may not want to “fly your plane” without you. You are the pilot. And, even if your spouse is legally part-owner of it, if you are the “pilot,” then it’s your “plane.” Who will “fly” your business if you have to “bail out” one day?
Think about it, will you? Please? Your “passengers” will be grateful that you did.