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Lessons Learned from Parachuting

Updated: May 10, 2023

Old Windmill
Old Winmill

Before you get impressed, thinking I dared to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, let me explain… I had to have been 8 or 9 years old and just finished watching a John Wayne movie where parachuting was a central aspect of the film. Now, I was an imaginative child, and I just had to find a way to emulate my hero, John Wayne. I lived on a farm and not far from the farmhouse was a very tall windmill. Now the one thing I knew was that, to parachute, one had to jump from some height. So, I determined that the windmill was going to be my platform. Now for the parachute... Well, in the movies, they are big and white and full, and what was on the farm that I could use for my chute? A sheet … that is a double sheet. A single sheet would never do. A double sheet would work quite nicely. Now, how do you attach a sheet to your body? I concluded that a robust, heavy-duty string should do the trick. I manufactured my parachute, complete with my heavy-duty string tied to each corner and the string then attached to me. I climbed the windmill. I thought the very top was a bit high to try an untested chute, so I climbed about halfway up and jumped. This is where I began to learn some life lessons… Life lesson number one: heavy-duty string tied to the corners of a sheet doesn’t work so well for a parachute!! The string came off my chute. Life lesson number two: survey the area below the platform before jumping. It seems I jumped on the side of the windmill that had a fence. I landed on the fence, gashing a pretty good hole in my arm (a scar I carry to this day). After getting patched and stitched and consoled, and, as I recall, yelled at after my folks determined I was going to live, I redesigned my chute. I allowed as how since the string didn’t work tied to the chute, I would use twine (much heavier) and put it through the sheet at the corners. I climbed a bit higher for the second jump. Having learned life lesson number two from the first jump (“look before you leap”), I went to the other side of the windmill. I jumped. I immediately began to learn some additional life lessons: twine didn’t work either, the design didn’t work (as the sheet ripped), and the little shed at the bottom of the windmill was wider than it appeared. I didn’t hit the fence but did manage to rip out all of my stitches when I hit the shed's roof. The big life lesson I learned: let John Wayne jump out of airplanes. I decided to play “soldier” on the ground. After my parachuting accident, it was several years before gravity, and I had another encounter with heights...and, well, that’s another story...

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