Tales from the Bonfire
By Hunter Goldman
As children, Devin Philbrook and I were almost literally rugrats at Skydive Pepperell in Massachusetts—our pastimes included rolling around the packing mats in our diapers to get air out of our parents’ canopies, shooting rubber bands at each other and scaling the sides of the packing tents. We would jump off tables, holding blankets high above our heads as if they were parachutes, longing for the day we would join our parents in the sky. For years, we watched as our parents broke records, got their ratings and had the time of their lives! Devin’s parents, Fran Strimenos and Paula Philbrook, have operated and been associated with Skydive Pepperell for more than 25 years. My father, Russell Goldman, got licensed at Pepperell and has jumped and worked there flying video and instructing tandems for more than 25 years (between the times when my family owned drop zones in Wisconsin and Florida, where I got licensed). We spent nearly every weekend of my childhood at Skydive Pepperell. Paula, Devin, my father and I have grown as people and as skydivers together. Needless to say, we are family!
Over the past few years, we went our separate ways to pursue college or work, as most families do. Some of us learned to jump while others continued to jump, but we weren’t together or even in the same state … that is, until Memorial Day 2019, when Devin, Paula, my dad and I ended up at Pepperell at the same time.
This was our moment to jump together! We geared up and went over our dive flow a few times, all of us grinning ear to ear. Not only was it our first jump together, it was Devin’s first 4-way, which made the moment that much more special! Devin and I planned a linked exit with our parents diving out after us. We would form a round, then a diamond and repeat. The excitement building, we walked out to the loading area (after approximately four or five gear checks from our parents). The plane ride was full of anticipation as everyone high fived us and more gear checks ensued. My dad and I exchanged an “I can’t believe this is finally happening” look as the door opened. We climbed out, I did the shake-shake-shake exit count, and we were off.
Devin and I nailed our exit. We got stable on our bellies and our parents got to us in what felt like milliseconds. Once everyone was in the round, we rotated to the diamond and back to the round. We ditched the last couple of points to just hold onto each other and geek out. We mouthed “wows” and “I love yous” and some “hell yeahs” to each other. For the last couple thousand feet, we gazed at each other mesmerized at this surreal moment. Twenty years of watching our parents jump, manifesting them on loads, editing their videos and so on was well worth the wait.
At five grand we waved goodbye and tracked off. Under canopy in the holding area, my dad and I looked at each other, laughing and kicking our feet. We all cheered as we landed and ran up to each other for hugs and photos. As we trekked back to the hangar, the drop zone greeted us with claps, hugs and a computer so we could watch the video (taken by Rich Bailey). We all gathered around, beaming and commenting on the video, watching it repeatedly until our parents got on another load. We just couldn’t believe this moment was real. We had to hold onto it as long as we could!
Although we went our separate ways again that night, the high that the jump gave us lasted for weeks. We have become closer than ever. It reminded me why I love this sport so much. It’s not just a hobby; it’s a community. It’s a family you can always count on and go back to. Even though we don’t have much family left in New England, we still go to Pepperell on our breaks. It’s where it all began! It’s home.
Hunter Goldman | B-45905