The Old Paths: The Wright way

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News

My youngest son Malachi has told me for years that he’s going to be rich one day. He has long insisted that he will build a 10-story house (he does, however, waver on location—mountains or beach?) with a purple room just for my visits. Of course there will be a swimming pool and other such perks.

“How will you get money to do all of this?” I fondly ask.

“Oh, I’m going to be a scientist who invents flying cars and a machine for time travel,” he confidently replies.

Don’t you love the faith of a child?

When his older siblings have tried to discourage him by contending that time travel is impossible, I generally wave them off. Let the kid dream, I say. No, I don’t lie to him or try to jumble his perceptions of reality versus fantasy, but who’s to say he won’t invent some incredible contraption?

There was a time that most people on earth would have said mankind would never fly. But in Ohio, two young boys were already dreaming of such a thing. No doubt, many thought those Wright brothers were pert near crazy or at least “curious” (as in, “peculiar”—not investigative).

Yet on December 17, 1903, in our very own state of North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright made history when they flew a contraption heavier than air for a sustained time. Wilbur died less than nine years later at age 45, but Orville lived long enough to fly on a plane that could go over 300 miles per hour cross-country in 1944.

And “they” said it couldn’t be done.

I am convinced that one reason the Wright brothers did what they did, instead of routinely settling into the life expected of them by society, was that their parents brought them up to expect a nonconformist life. Their mother Susan was bold enough to go to college for a degree—in the 1800’s when women didn’t commonly do that. The daughter of a skilled carriage-maker, she was very mechanically-oriented and often gave her sons creative ideas for their inventions. It was Susan who helped Orville and Wilbur doctor up their sled to be the fastest in the neighborhood.

Their father, although a Christian minister who believed in stern discipline, was nonetheless very affectionate to his children and encouraged them to think outside the box, explore nature, be creative. Sometimes he would allow his four sons and one daughter to skip school (heaven forbid, some modern educators might exclaim) to simply pursue their individual interests—whether it be inventing, reading, nature hikes, writing. (Notice

that does not say “skip school to play video games, watch TV, scroll social media.” Minister Wright had nobler intentions in mind for his children, no doubt.)

Orville once said of his childhood: “We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests, to investigate whatever aroused curiosity. In a different kind of environment, our curiosity might have been nipped long before it could have borne fruit.”

The result? My NC license plate says “First in Flight” because the Wright brothers dared to believe that man could fly and then proved it “rye-cheer” (an alternative spelling for how we Dry Hollow folks say “right here”).

Parenting styles make a difference. Are we as parents/guardians encouraging our children to follow their dreams and perhaps make them reality? I realize that practicality has to play a role, but think about it, would tinkering on flying machines have seemed practical on the old paths of the Wright Brothers’ world?

Not every child is destined to be a great inventor or artist or innovator, but maybe yours is. Your child’s interests, predilections and persistence are generally good indicators of what he/she is destined to do, but we as mentors must be watching and listening to know this.

(That brings to mind the current TV commercial called “Distracted Parents” by Common Sense Media—the little boy trying to tell his parents about his day at school while they scroll on their smartphones and absentmindedly answer him.)

Before we know it, these little treasures God has given us are grown up and perhaps not as interested in telling us about their day anymore. Despite my many failures as a parent, my adult children call me nearly daily to tell me how their day has gone. Why?

Because when they were little, I listened to them talk about wanting to write great books, draw amazing pictures, change the world—yea, even invent machines that would give us superpowers. And I didn’t tell them they couldn’t do it.

One of my favorite writers, Henry David Thoreau, once said: “The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.”

Oh, to have the faith of a child again that nearly anything is possible! You’ve heard of the famous newspaperman who wrote the editorial, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”? Well, here’s the not-so-famous newspaperwoman who writes the editorial, “Yes, Malachi, you can pursue

the seemingly-impossible!” And if that results in a machine to give us superpowers, then I want mine to be the ability to fly without the aid of engines!

In 1910 when aviation was still very young and dangerous, Orville Wright took his 82-year-old father on the only flight of the dad’s lifetime—a flight that lasted for almost seven minutes and soared to about 350 feet. As they reached the highest point of their ascension, Minister Wright cried out to his son, “Higher, Orville, higher!”

May that be the rallying cry of effective parenthood—“Higher, children, higher!”

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News