It was Independence Day, maybe five years ago. Nick McKinney and I were passengers on an airplane- hunting expedition. It was somewhat of a spur- of- the - moment adventure, a trip up from Elmira to look at an old Aeronca Sedan float plane that had that had lived a long and happy life on the shores of Seneca. Three of us climbed in to a sleek amphibian airplane and roared off to see if a deal could be struck to purchase the Aeronca, which was in need of a full overhaul.
We were unannounced, and our sudden appearance in the middle of a lake surrounded by July 4th parties made quite splash. Our shiny aluminum flying boat taxied spritely to the shore and beached next to the tattered Aeronca. There was a picture of contrasts, old and new, dull and shiny, sleek and stodgy. A young princess and a scrubwoman.
We looked at the Aeronca, talked some, and got back into our plane. Our hosts helped us shove off of the beach and sent us on our way with cheerful waves. On the takeoff run though, the plane was upset by a boat wake, and came down hard and crooked. Several boats came to our assistance, and were towed to shore, taking water rapidly.
Only a few minutes after departure, the bent and crippled amphibian was back on the shore next to the Aeronca... which suddenly looked pretty good. Quietly, Nick turned to me as everybody surveyed the scene, and said " Dust to dust... Isn't it interesting to see how everything comes full- circle sooner or later?" He had a way of wresting the wry humor from the most difficult circumstances.
Nick was one of the first people I met when I moved here in the mid- seventies, to run the airport that used to be at the edge of Montour's "Bad Indian Swamp". He had just completed a full rebuild of a J-4 Cub and rented a hangar from me. Two years later I left flying for a while, but Nick worked himself deeper into it. We kept in touch through two decades of life and its changes.
In the late 90s, Nick sort of tricked me into full- time work as a mechanic at the Elmira Airport, and encouraged me to become their flight instructor when that chance arose. Once I was flying from Elmira, Nick encouraged me to regain my instrument rating. When I was presented with the chance to fly a regular freight run, Nick gave me many hours of instruction to prepare me for "real world" flying.
I don't know if Nick believed me when I told him that I would often think of him as I lifted into the dark off of Elmira's runway 24. His house in Big Flats was just a glance down and left shortly after takeoff. Sometimes I would say "Goodnight Nick"... and on some nights when the weather swallowed my plane as soon as the wheels stopped rolling, I would ask "McKinney, what did you get me into!"
Nick is gone now; there will be no more Nick stories, and no more tidbits of his wit and wisdom are to be had. I am forced to reflect upon the thought that our passing is not complete so long as there is someone alive who remembers us. Nick will be with us for quite a while yet, because there of many people who will remember him. I will miss the pleasant humor of his company.
Nick helped me get a job that he would have liked, were he younger, and I think he received some measure of satisfaction when he heard me leaving in the evening. I did indeed have a habit of looking off to my left and saying "goodnight Nick", but now I find myself offering him a "Hello" as I climb into the night.