Sunday, February 16, 2014

Grandma Grace's Final Flight

We have a very important post today. I’m going to let Mike write it from his own viewpoint, so nothing gets lost in translation. Take it away, boss!

Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth
February 14, 2014


Today I finally got to have my “Ultimate Barnstormer” experience in History Flight’s North American AT-6, a World War II-vintage two-seat trainer. Originally I’d hoped to go on January 30th, to mark the 50th anniversary of my 1964 carrier qualification, but bad weather forced a postponement. Somewhere early in the planning process, the mission grew into something more noteworthy and much more poignant: the scattering of my mother’s ashes over the Atlantic, just off of Canaveral National Seashore.

For nearly three years Jeannie and I had debated about where Mom’s ashes should be scattered. Our initial preference was for a whitewater river somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina or Georgia. But the logistics of a long drive kept getting in the way. That delay turned out to have been a good thing! Soon after “warbird flight” showed up on my bucket list, Jeannie suggested that I take Mom along, since she’d been a licensed pilot, and that burial at sea would be perfect since she was also a sailor. Clever Jeannie!

I met the History Flight pilot, John Makinson, at the DeLand Airport at 2:00 P.M. We were in the air shortly before 3:00. Unbeknownst to me, John had arranged a wonderful surprise: a two-plane “honor escort” consisting of a second AT-6 and a Beech T-34. This meant that Mom would get to enjoy not only some aerobatics before her final sendoff, but a little formation flying as well!

We began the hop with the two AT-6’s doing a section takeoff, while the T-34 followed close behind and joined us soon after.


Departing the pattern, we flew over Brandywine twice so Jeannie could see us. Then we headed for the coast just south of New Smyrna Beach.


As we went “feet wet” the escort planes broke off to return home. John and I took up a north-south pattern near the National Seashore, where he demonstrated an aileron roll and a loop. Then he let me do three loops by myself (what an awesome but strangely familiar feeling after more than 50 years!) and captured the last one on video!

When time came to let Mom go, John handled both the plane and the ash bag so I could get some pictures. As I told him afterwards, they’d have been even better if I’d turned my camera on. Luckily the plane has three videocameras: one in the tail, one in the front cockpit, and one on the right wingtip. The latter captured some great views of the event.


I got to fly us back to DeLand, except of course for the landing. We were on the ground around 4:00. Our total flight time was 1.2 hours. John endorsed my logbook for the full 1.2 and Mom’s for .6 hours. In Mom’s book we showed her points of departure and arrival as DeLand and the Atlantic Ocean, respectively, and before signing John noted, “Left up in the sky @ 1300’ soaring with the angels.”

As we dropped Mom off to let the Gulf Stream carry her north toward the “auld sod,” and then headed back home, I thought of the words of one of her favorite poems, “High Flight,” by John Gillespie Magee Jr., a young American aviator killed in England in 1941 while flying Spitfires for the Royal Canadian Air Force. It goes like this:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . .
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

(To see Magee’s original handwritten draft, which he sent to his parents just months before his death, follow this link.)

I hope you’ll have time to watch the entire video of Mom’s final flight. But if you need to “cut to the chase,” you can find my loop at about the 18-minute mark, with the ash-scattering immediately following, at around 20 minutes. Unlike the 1.2-hour flight, the video is a little over 44 minutes. You can watch it here on the blog or see the slightly larger format at YouTube.

PS - Updated 02-18-2014

Because it happens rather quickly, here are ten screen shots of the ash drop, taken from the video. The first three are of the ashes trailing out behind the airplane:

Numbers 4 through 6 are of the ash cloud hovering above our nose and canopy on the first fly-by:

And numbers 7 through 10 are from the second orbit:

By that point the ashes were dissipating quickly and hard to see, except in the sun's reflection. Mom was well on her way.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Today is February 13th, and you know what that means.

It's my sister Jenny's birthday! Each year on this date, people all over the world, from every walk of life, flock into the streets to wish Jen the happiest birthday ever. In case you think I exaggerate, check this out:

Well, dadgum! No sooner had I posted the above and settled down for a nice nap when the phone rang. Two ladies wanted to let me know that my statement about "people all over the world, from every walk of life," was not quite accurate, since the flashmob video contains no Dominican nuns. They said they had wanted to join one of those delightful mobs, singing and jumping around, but were stuck at the convent because their motorcycle is in the shop. Then they directed me to this YouTube clip of them playing "Happy Birthday" on the piano. They said Jenny should consider their performance to be especially for her and asked if I would please include it in my post, in the interests of diversity. I am happy to comply.

Okay, now I rest my case! Froh Geburtstag, Jenny!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Today is February 3rd, and you know what that means.

It's my sister Bonnie's birthday! I like blogging family birthdays, because that usually involves getting Mike to pull out the old photo albums so we can meander down Memory Lane. This year M showed me some interesting pics I'd never seen before, and I learned a bunch from them.

First, I discovered that Bonnie's current love affair with phones actually goes back over four decades, when they looked like this, and people just talked to each other on them:

Bonnie was a precocious child, which means she did things that were quite advanced for her age. For example, she began experimenting with makeup when she wasn't yet two years old:

For the most part Bonnie's always been an attractive person, careful about her appearance, but for a short time around the age of eight she went through a downright ugly spell. M says that on October 31st of that year she'd have had to sneak up on a glass of water to get a drink!

Right after that she prettied up again, except for a brief relapse the following October:

When she was still very young Bonnie discovered horses and began taking Western-style riding lessons. A few years later she switched to English tack. Here she is riding a hunter-jumper named Springer:

Her riding ability came in handy later that year, when she and Mike visited Grandpa George in Honduras. Here they are going along a river on their way to Grandpa's coffee farm (L-R: Step-Grandma Teresa, Grandpa, & Bonnie. Mike is the one taking the picture while trying not to fall off his own horse.)

Grandpa and Teresa lived in a little Caribbean coastal village called Balfate (Bal-FAH-tay). One of Mike's favorite pictures from their trip is this one of Bonnie meeting a couple of residents on the town's unpaved main street. (You might need to enlarge the photo to see the chicken.)

While they were in Balfate, they got invited to a barbecue at a neighbor's cattle ranch. Here's a nice photo of M, B, & G'pa from that outing:

This picture's a bit blurry, but it's the only one M could find of Bonnie riding Jeannie's motorcycle. He says those were the days!

Another memory worth savoring was going out into Tampa Bay on Grandma's big sailboat, Night Train. This particular trip looks like it might have been in winter!

Soon after Mike, Jeannie, Bonnie, and Jenny moved to DeLand in 1980, Bonnie found another great pastime: community theater. She joined a group called the Shoestring Theatre, and her first role was as one of the king's wives in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical called The King and I.

By the way, M wants me to remind Bonnie that he was the one who did her hair before every performance! He says thank God for Kentucky Jelly--whatever that's supposed to mean.

In June of 1990 Bonnie married a really cool Army guy named Fred Taylor. I like this picture of them coming out of Stetson University's Elizabeth Hall after the ceremony. Mike also says that that's the same building where one of the R-rated scenes from the movie Ghost Story was filmed.

Bonnie's last big whoop-de-do at Stetson was the following spring, when she graduated from the College of Law, in Gulfport, Florida (a/k/a Baja St. Petersburg). Here she is being handed her J.D. diploma by then-President Doug Lee.

As you can probably tell, I think Bonnie is finer than frog hair and am just wowed by her many adventures and accomplishments. Mike and Jeannie and sister Jenny all join me in wishing her the happiest birthday ever!