My grandfather contributes much of his success to luck. I personally feel that he is a bit modest. “Luck, really? I’m not so sure,” I think to myself as I prop against the wooden arm rest of my grandfather’s coach. I lean a little closer to him, pen and pad in hand. I am ready; ready for his story. This will be a first for me. Throughout my life, my grandfather and I have never been close. My love for him has never wavered, but my grandmother and I were kindred spirits from the start. Her love for writing and ability to speak publicly without the slightest fear captivated me as a young child, and left strong impressions. On the other hand, my grandfather took a more modest approach to life, often taking the back seat to my grandmother, which he never seemed to mind. But, now, at the age of 92, my grandfather is alone. After 68 years of marriage to my grandmother, he is alone, and it is his time. Since the months of my grandmother’s passing, I made a commitment to my grandfather; he doesn’t know it, but I have. My commitment is to know him and love him. Part of this commitment is telling his story.
My grandfather claims to have had three great passions during his lifetime: flying, farming, and his marriage. He is the only person that I know personally that knew his passions at a young age and held fast to them, never wavering for a moment. He is also one of the few that made his passions happen. My grandfather dreamed, but he also accomplished those dreams. He claims that his life went full circle having been raised on a farm, where he first learned to love animals, nature, and planting to following his next dream of becoming an airline pilot, and finally finishing his career as a farmer again.
The story that follows will begin with my Grandfather’s early life. His time living on his grandparents’ farm in Missouri, the first time he witnessed an airplane circling over his grandparents’ farm, and the “luck” he claims that made his passion of flying a reality.
My grandfather, Edwin Lee Wyrick, was born on a sunny day of October in the year 1920. His parents, Claude and Lillian Wyrick, newlyweds, lived on a small farm in a little town east of Kansas City, Missouri. Young and poor as most newly married couples during the 1920’s, Claude worked long days and nights as a store manager for a local A&P grocery store. Lillian minded the home as well as their new son, Edwin.
Those early years, although arduous for Claude and Lillian, passed quickly for young Edwin. His memory now glosses over to another time; a time that changed his life forever. At the age of four in 1924, Edwin’s father, Claude got a job in Elma, Missouri. Lillian, now pregnant again, felt it would be too difficult for Edwin to move with them. So, Edwin moved in with his grandparents, Ed and Georgia Corley, who also had a young teenage daughter, Helen that could look after him.
Edwin: “My grandfather was a kind man. I would say that he looked a lot like Abraham Lincoln; tall with a gaunt sort of appearance, but he was kind and never laid a hand on me. All he had to do was give me the eye and I knew. Yes, I remember that one day I busted through the screen door he was fixing. I was anxious to get outside I guess. Then I heard in a stern voice, “Ed.” I looked back and saw his firm fixed gaze upon me. I knew I was in trouble. I replied, “Yes, sir. I’m sorry.” I knew that I had done the wrong thing, but he never laid a hand on me.”
During those early years, Edwin worked hard on the farm helping his grandparents. Beginning at the age of four he milked cows every morning and night, watched over the chickens, and collected the eggs. His grandparents rented the property, so every bit of help mattered. Much of the money made was sent to the property owners.
Edwin: “My grandparents worked about 160 acres of land, which was part of a larger farm. I often thought that the owners of the farm were rich because they had a brick house that stood two stories high. My grandparents hired about ten to twelve workers who tilled and farmed the land. One of my favorite workers was a young black man named, Lev. As all the white laborers would sit at the table and eat their dinner, Lev would sit apart next to the stove. I would go and sit next to him with my first grade primer, and read. Like most young readers, I would read aloud to myself. Lev would watch over me, and whisper words into my ear that I didn’t know. Unlike most black people during that time, he could read. I always liked Lev.”
“As a young boy, it was my job to bring food out to the workers. The ladies, including my grandmother, would cook a great big breakfast in the morning. Then, later in the morning, around 10 or so, I would bring the workers a snack. I carried a tray of sandwiches and coffee. The ladies would continue cooking and at noon everyone would arrive for a big lunch, and then go back out into the fields. At 3 in the afternoon came another snack of sandwiches and coffee, and it would be my job to take it out to the workers. It was not a problem. It was just what was expected.”
So, the years passed, Edwin went to school during the fall and winter months, but was home again during harvest time. His parents, Claude and Lillian, came to see him as often as they could, and it was during one of those visits that a special event happened that sparked Edwin’s imagination and created a passion like no other.
It was the summer of 1927; Edwin was now 7 years old. His parents, grandparents, brother, and Aunt Helen were all home eating supper in his grandparents’ home when they heard strange noises above the farmhouse.
Edwin: “We all heard this loud noise outside. My Aunt Helen and I leaped to the nearest window. We could not believe our eyes. It looked like an airplane, but I had never seen one before. Suddenly the entire family raced out the front door to see it. Then we realized that it was landing on our property! At the age of 7, I stood in awe. My mother, strong willed and gutsy, decided to approach the plane. The pilot worn and weary from the landing exclaimed his apologies by stating, “I’m sorry. I was trying to head to Marshall, Missouri, but the lights on my airplane have not been installed. Since it’s getting dark, I had to find a spot to land.” My mother told him that it was no problem for him to stay the night, and he was welcomed to dinner. Well, the pilot took her up on the kind offer, and ate dinner with us. He told us all kinds of stories about flight and airplanes. I hung on his every word. The next morning, my mother gave the pilot permission to take me for a spin. The airplane was an open cockpit. We soared all around the town, and I remember how little everyone seemed down below, like they weren’t even real. The air felt so good. My Aunt Helen and I were the only ones to take flight that day, but it was something that I could not forget. It ignited a dream: I wanted to fly.”
Claude and Lillian Wyrick with Edwin Lee Wyrick (first son and my grandfather)
Ed Corley (Edwin’s grandfather and Abe Lincoln look alike)
Georgia Corley (Edwin’s grandmother and wife of Ed Corley)
Edwin’s baby picture circa 1921.
Airplane similar to the one my grandfather rode in as a 7 year old, which ignited his dream to be a pilot.