Planes, Ghosts, and a Daughter’s Love

Originally appeared at More.com.


A visit to an air show helped her connect with the planes that fascinate her and with the pilot father she lost.

It started before I was born. My “plane thing,” as I call it. My dad worked for a large oil company as an aviation fuels marketing manager, and the job gave him liberal use of a 1959 Beech Twin Engine Bonanza for business and personal trips. He was based in Boston in the early ‘60s, and transferred to Illinois when I was 2.

IMG_1358Planes had entered his life long before I had. When he joined the Navy in 1942, he first flew a Stearman he dubbed “the Yellow Peril.” It was his first Navy trainer as he learned to become a flight instructor. Then he flew an SNJ trainer, and finally, an SBD Dauntless. He left the Navy in 1945 when he got married and later told me he wished he had stayed in.

plane2
I am the smallest one here. 

So the Twin Bonanza wasn’t a leap when it “arrived.” He knew planes. While my mother was carrying me in 1962 and into the summer of 1963, I was in that Bonanza going to Wisconsin to visit relatives. This didn’t abate when I arrived. I have a photo of my family in front of it. My dad stands tall and thin, aviator glasses over his blue eyes and his hands on his hips, looking very much like a pilot (all seriousness). The family stood to his left: my auburn haired mother, a kerchief on her head; my sister, tall and blond also in a kerchief; my oldest brother John, in the same glasses and displaying the same pose as my dad; my 5-year-old, dark haired second brother, in overalls; and then a tiny blond girl in overalls that (horrors!) matched her brother’s (2-year-old me).

My fascination for planes — their noise, their lines, the very concept of being that high in the sky — continued unabated into adulthood. But I kept my distance in a way. I wasn’t remotely interested in learning to fly. I have an overdeveloped sense of balance, and my ears and stomach would not allow it. I settled into finding out which ones flew when, the difference between a turbo prop and a jet, how a jet worked. I recognized their sounds when they flew overhead, wanting to be able to identify them in the sky.

When my dad passed away in 2005, I knew I was missing some pieces of his history. I didn’t have regrets, really, just one more day with him, knowing in advance that it was the last one. That is when I would’ve have picked his brain more, and written things down. Instead, I’ve settled for learning more about his aircraft experiences through my older siblings and my mother. (And these conversations generally include large amounts of Wild Turkey and laughter).

So when the opportunity arose to see one of the only, still flying, SBD Dauntlesses at the Planes of Fame Chino Air Show in California, I knew I had to go. My  then fiancé, an aerospace engineer by training, a World War II buff by hobby, found my plane (and car, but I digress) fascination unusual. The fact that I had completely lost track of time in the Seattle Air Museum when he and I had gone there, and honestly, was not ready to leave when he was, bordered on the downright weird.

If asked to explain why airplanes were such a big deal to me, I could never do it. Perhaps, like my green eyes, it’s genetic. All I know is it has always been there. Always will be. A plane going overhead will stop me in my tracks, as my eyes seek it, wanting the catalog in my head to determine its type: 737, 747, 767, Beech, Airbus, Learjet, Citation, King Air, Cessna. I recognize engine types when I hear them.  I even liked the names: the simplicity of the numerical varieties made some sort of weird Soduku sense to my otherwise mathematically-challenged brain.

We got to the airshow and parked in the middle of a dark brown farm field scattered with nearly white pieces of hay. The earth had been mashed down and slightly watered to contain the dust as SUVs, cars, and trucks bounced over the uneven terrain to park. The hot sun was tempered a bit by a fairly stiff breeze. An introvert to a fault, I am overwhelmed by crowds at times. (When I go to the mall, I go directly to the store I need and leave, I never wander). But on that day, I simply didn’t notice all the other people. my fiance’s son and a good friend of his were with us.

Initially, we wandered around and looked at the planes parked so that we could get close to them. Then my fiance looked down at me, and asked me where I wanted to go. “I want to find it,” I said simply. He took my hand and led me down the wide aisles, winding through the accumulating crowd. I kept my head down, focused on pavement, suddenly wondering if this had been a bad idea. I seemed to be overcome with emotions I had forgotten. I missed my dad in a new way: I wanted him there to tell me about that plane. About places, times. I wanted to hear his sarcasm, his laugh, his repetitive stories. Just once more.

“There she is,” he said, coming to a halt. I took a deep breath, held it, and looked up. Sitting there, 20 feet behind a metal gate, among Helldivers and Spitfires, its nose to me, was the dark-blue, propellered, dive-bomber with the Navy insignia that I knew from photos on my parents’ walls. I let the air out of my lungs. “You’re awfully quiet,” he said, watching me, as I observed the show volunteers remove the chock blocks from behind the plane’s gear. I could only nod from behind my dark glasses. The pilot jumped up onto the wing and climbed inside the front cockpit as I watched. The engine started up noisily, blue smoke coming out from it in protest. The prop rotated slowly once, then twice, until the motor caught. The gear started to move, and as the plane turned to head for the runway, I let out a gasp when the side of it presented itself to me revealing the number 39.

I slid my sunglasses up off my eyes to turn back and look up at him. “The number,” I said quietly, feeling disbelief, total belief, sadness, and delight. “That’s how old my dad was when I was born.”

He smiled. “He’s here again, isn’t he?” he said. I nodded and slid the glasses back down to watch the small, blue dive-bomber lumber down the runway and take off. Its gear went up, and I had to blink several times to fight the tears that welled at the edges of my eyes.

I didn’t want to breathe. Oh he was there.

As I watched the plane turn and climb toward the sun, the poem he loved, “High Flight” by John Magee, went through my head:

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 untresspassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

People wonder whether those who have died can see what is going on “down here.” I can only speak from my experience when I say: Not only do I know this is true, but I also know my dad has had his hands, wishes, and thoughts guiding my life since he passed on in ways he never did when he was alive. And the gap created by his death, while in no way overshadowed, is lessened at times, when he lets me know, in his own way, he’s still got my back.

 

 

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People who talk to the dead..

  

I have started watching a TV show called Monica the Medium.  The woman in it is 22, in college, and talks to the dead. (Or rather, the dead seek her out and talk to her.) She was raised in a religious family and struggled with this gift. It’s fascinating to watch her in it and how she knows things she couldn’t know and touches lives in a positive way: giving them closure, hope and love. (I know this is a TV show, FAKE! STAGED! You say, but stay with me and you’ll understand my perspective).

 I think I’d love to have such a gift. 

I confess that after my dad passed away in 2005 the thought of dying no longer frightened me. Is this what faith in something is, I wondered. I “just know” he will be waiting with a Cosmo and a “hey kid!” (He called me “kid” up to the day he died, when I was 41 and had two children, three if you count my ex, but I digress.)

I saw a medium one year after he died. A friend of mine had told me about her and she was supposedly the real deal — helped the police solve crimes, things like that. I had started reading a lot of books after he died about near death experiences in an effort to understand what I will probably never understand until I die. It wasn’t so much closure I was looking for. It was more of a “I want to know he’s OK” kind of thing. I ran into some pretty wonderful books which I will list in my next post. 

My medium was tiny and British, quietly confident, and gave off this glow. The minute I walked into the reading room she looked at me and said “your dad is laughing and says the four wakes were overkill. Who’s the brown and black dog with him?” My mouth dropped open. 

We’d had four wakes: FL, WI, ME and off the coast of Texas thanks to the Navy. None were public. 

The dog was Molly, his Yorkie, who died in 2002.

 I sat down at a table and she pulled out some tarot cards. 

She shuffled them in silence, had me pick six, and laid them in a spread on the table. She flipped over a card. 

“You have his watch.”  

I do. 

“He’s spending more time with your mom’s mom than his own.” 

(Eva was one of a kind. Love in its purest form.)

“He says he hears you.”

I talk to him every day.

She told me other things but the one thing I will never forget is “be aware.” 

Doing that has changed death for me . I’m sure my dad communicates. There are far too many coincidences for them to be that. I’m sure he was involved in my second husband and I finding each other. (He’s a bit like him and my dad would love him and say I finally found the man that deserves me.) Every year on his birthday and death anniversary he sends me a sign. It’s an obscure song on the radio, or a Stearman flying over the house (he flew them in the Navy), a passage in a book, a tv commercial, or a car (a 1992 Olds) in traffic…a light blinking, the fact that he appeared in my husband’s dream, before we married, giving his approval (and my husband never remembers his dreams.)

And weirdest of all: my cat Luna’s death this week. I asked my dad, that night, when I couldn’t sleep, in my fog of grief, to please give me a message that he had her and she was no longer in pain. 

And tonight the red Stearman flew over my house. 

She’s fine. She’s with my dad. He loved animals. And it makes sense to me that anything connected to me and that I love on earth goes directly to him. 

It’s my way of communicating with him. 

 And it’s working. 

Cats die everyday…

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Not her. Not yet.
Not StellaLuna.

Not my Luna
My LunaBug
My Poof

Why do we chose to love someone or something (is an animal a “thing” or a “one”?) when it hurts so much when their time on earth ends?

She was a…

  • Five-year-old polydactyl torbie cat
  • Who sat like a ballet dancer (toes in front) and crossed her front legs when she walked
  • “Meow”  No. Luna’s voice was a sweet Guinea pig squeak
  • She loved drinking very cold water (ice cube freak)
  • She only ate kitten chow. I called it Crack. “Want some crack?” Squeak!
  • A brush in your hand – she’d follow you around with her tail up.
  • Terrified of my stepson (too loud and too fast -she hid under the bed)
  • Picked on by Mocha (a year older, not related)

Do cats have souls? Is there an afterlife for them? Is it with humans? Did my dad greet her?

What animals have souls? My sons (14 and 17) both gave this answer. “Maybe it has to do with love.”

Cats die everyday. This one mattered. This one hurts. I feel her absence after only 5 years.

I will miss you, Luna bug. I am glad you are no longer suffering. 

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Confession: I have too many recipes. So, here’s another one. Chicken Nugget Recipes | Epicurious.com

epicurious

I like to cook most of the time. I experiment. My husband marvels at how I know how to “doctor” an existing recipe to make it better. I taste and know what it needs and cannot explain why.

Despite already having so many recipes that I’ll need to live to 400 to try them all, I am always attracted to more. And I get magazines with easily 25 more each every month. I have boxes of magazines in my garage. This is serious. I need help. (Must. Resist. Cooking Light.)

Yes. I am a recipe hoarder.

I have standbys that are getting boring because my youngest (13) is the pickiest eater ever. (I know, I know, don’t be a short order cook.)

These were a HIT!  Talk about scarfing them down.

They might not come with soda and a toy, but these three recipes are all you need to conquer crispy-chicken cravings.

Source: Chicken Nugget Recipes | Epicurious.com

There are three, and he picked the last one:

 

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/buttermilk-fried-chicken-fingers-51258410

 

Sons: Deja Vu

Capture

I have two boys.  When I moved them from the East Coast to the West Coast, J was 11 and K was 8.  They are now nearly 17 and 13.

They have struggled. I have struggled. Any parent who thinks they are great and know what they are doing is a liar. Most of the time I am lost. I am convinced I am screwing them up irreparably. I am convinced they have HUGE issues, that I haven’t done things right, and it’s my fault.

My youngest (K), now 13 year old, is insecure, negative, slightly overweight, has no fore site, is socially awkward, has few friends, hates school, (has endured THREE math teachers in the last six months due to his teacher going on maternity leave and not coming back), hates sports, and is a computer game freak. He is disorganized, forgets to hand things in, doesn’t care about school, loses things, his room is trashed, and he loves sweets (too much).

I am worried about him. I am sure he will never find his calling.

Then I read this.  I wrote it four years ago about my older son, (J) who is now:

  • Nearly 17
  • A 4.0 junior in high school
  • Motivated, bright, secure, and empathetic.
  • He has a path to college and peers who look to him for help.

But, that is now.  This was then.

Here comes “The Story Of J”  At 13. 

Middle school
Sixth Grade was terrible. He was picked on horribly. And the school isn’t so great about anti bullying. They SAY they are, but I didn’t see that much support. If Jack defended himself, in the school’s eyes he was making it worse. What is that? He had to adjust to two teachers (one for math and science and one for language arts and social studies) instead of one teacher like in 5th grade. He’s very disorganized: Shoves things into his backpack, all crumpled up, and loses things. Does not hand in homework on time, and gets an F but gets A’s on tests. He also walked like a duck, and has size 12.5 feet (really). That didn’t help. He had no peer group he belongs in: he’s not athletic, not brainy (bright), etc. And completely new (no one he knows). He went from being the older son of two to a middle son also. And he went from trying to fill his dad’s shoes with me, (wrongly) to no longer having to do that because he has a stepdad now to adjust to. J’s dad’s a YELLER and very immature. His stepdad is the opposite. J also had to start sharing a room with his brother, and in FL had his own room in a much larger house.

Seventh Grade: Better in some ways. His two leg surgeries for toeing out are over. He has a slight limp and is very flat footed, so still awkward and does not run correctly. Size 12.5 shoe. We’re working on physical exercises for this. And he can start looking for a Jujitsu school which he really wants to try.

He has kids he talks to at school but has never brought one to the house, and never gone to their house. He met some of them at the movies last Friday, I dropped him off. But I’ve never met any of them.

Schoolwork: He’s very disorganized: Shoves things into his backpack, all crumpled up, and loses things. Does not hand in homework on time, and gets an F but gets A’s on tests. We tried various organizational techniques this year and none of them work: he doesn’t care. He’s pretty much a C student and really struggles in Math. Science is best subject but even that has late or missed work.

Back when his dad and I were married: J heard, “you are stupid” “you are dumb” “dummy” “you’re a bad kid” come out of his dad’s mouth and his paternal grandfather’s mouth. So the foundation of this self image is pretty bad.

He is 5-5 and about 150# so needs to lose weight (Doc says around 130 would be fine). So he sees him self as fat, stupid and socially awkward. He relates to older kids and adults far better than his peers.

He loves animals and gets long with them very well. He SAYS he wants to be a vet, but at nearly 13, (his birthday is April8th) he doesn’t make the connection between what he is learning now and being able to do what he wants later. Babies LOVE him. They babble and giggle at him. That’s pretty funny.

He needs to find something he likes/loves that lights a fire under him. And perhaps, the best way is to have him try things. Baseball was a disaster (He ran like a duck in FL when he tried little league). He ended up afraid of the ball. I think jujitsu or swimming? With those big feet! But he needs to choose. He’s not a fan of sports. And needs the exercise.

He’s OCD, Anxiety ridden and has a bit of ADD also (on meds for this). Seeing a shrink, but not making headway (my issue, and looking at that now).

Eighth Grade:
A friend came along.  Then two.  Then three.  By the last quarter of the school year, I told him I would buy him a gaming computer if he got all A’s (except math).  And. He. Did. It.  At eighth grade graduation, he was more than ready to get the hell out of middle school and start high school. 

________________

I could have written most of this RIGHT NOW about K!    I am taken aback, melancholy, and HOPEFUL.

It’s call perspective.  I need to get it.  Daily.

 

Cat History

I have had many cats and dogs in my life.  I am not proud of the fact that I had to re-home a few, but I am proud that I always found them GREAT homes with cat lovers.  In retrospect, I should not have gotten any pet when I had small kids and certainly not with an allergic and non – cooperative husband.

 

neferandKashkaNefer on left, Kashka on right. Taken in 1990 in Maine. 

1976 – My 13th birthday. Nefertiti entered my life. I had wanted a horse (what 13 year old girl doesn’t?). Not something my parents could do. So this kitty entered my life. She ended up an 18# bad ass who moved from Texas to Virginia, to Michigan to Maine. She was diagnosed as FLV positive, and was on steroids awhile. I NEVER had to have her teeth cleaned. I had to put her down in 1991 (I was 26 and she was 13) and cried the whole time. I have regrets that I didn’t have the financial/life support to try and keep her longer. She had litterbox issues and to this day I feel like I should have done more.

Continue reading “Cat History”

Flashback to 2006 – Italy

cropped-sovanashops.jpgMy mother has never been out of the United States.

Well, that is not exactly true. When I was about 11 years old, she went to Cancun, Mexico alone on vacation. I dimly remember her returning with a beautiful blue scarf with dolphins on it – for me. I put it up on my bedroom wall for a few months.

But this was truly the trip of a lifetime – just the two of us… alone for two weeks.

 

A trip.

Not a vacation to Italy. Does a person “vacation” in Italy? Parts of it felt like an education. That’s not a bad thing though.

What will I remember from my 14 days in Italy?

1. My mom snoring and being awakened every morning by 7:30AM to follow an itinerary that left no time for respite.

2. The mini bus that we boarded far too frequently to go to yet another beautiful place.

3. Beautiful places (see #2). So many they have now all blurred together into some sort of disjointed collage. I took 400+ photos and I can barely identify the towns.

4. Shouts of “CAR” while on a walking tour of a town with streets 10 feet wide that did not allow car traffic. (hunh?)

5. The group of 14 we traveled with (among them, a relentlessly talkative Puerto Rican lady named Alba that we dove down alleys to avoid walking with; a wonderful couple from Vermont who are full of substance and life love, and a friendly, educated, very patrician woman from New York City who dressed impeccably the entire time).

6. Constantly forgetting the location of every item we brought with us due to a lethal combination of new purses, re-packing every 3 days, and tiredness.

7. The wonderful Italian woman in a cheese shop in Orvieto, who did not speak a word of English, but was able, (through Pantomime) to understand I wanted some Pecorino, shrink wrapped for travel – insert sucking noise- ; that my mom was with me – insert hugs; and that she had a large family and shop had been written up in the Chicago Tribune in 2000.

8. The sense of humor our trip leader slid into when we all acted like petulant three year olds on the one day it rained.

9. Dirty, nasty, “for Godssake don’t touch anything” restrooms, that you have to pay 50 Euro for the privilege of using and sometimes were just a hole in the floor (and I have the pictures to prove it!).

10. Asian tourist ants pouring out of 36 foot long tour buses to invade the town we were exploring that day.

11. Barbarian Italian children doing the same as the Asian Ants.

12. Wishing the days would speed up and slow down at the same time.

13. Coming around a corner and being stunned into silence by absolutely breakthtakingly beautiful countryside (after we got out of the city) that went on forever, and was cut through by roads that the landscape had forced into curly-fries the bus had problems navigating.

14. Business class. Yes Business Class.

15. Frothy, dark-thick-but-not-bitter cappuccino. Hanging salamis, wheels of cheese, bottles of wine, bars of dark dark dark chocolate and unsalted bread with olive oil. Tirimisu until I was sick of it.

15. Deep intakes of breath.

16. Lots of laughter and love.