Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Impact of One Small Appendix

In my last entry I wrote about the time for new traditions. And I thought about how small happenings can have an impact for many years ahead. In the summer of 2008 my grandson, Adam, told me that he had just finished his first solo flight and was working on getting his pilot's license. Shortly after that his dad, my oldest son, reminded me that he had started on his many years back and, now, he would be completing his work to get his 'ticket' as some flyers say. I smiled as thought back to this had all begun in 1942 in a most unexpected way. And here is that story.

When I was 11 years old I was famous in the family for crying wolf when it came to being just a bit ill. So the day that I came home from school and complained about a really bad pain in my stomach I was not taken very seriously. My mom wasn’t home and Golda (you will hear more about her later) just wouldn’t believe me. Finally I was in so much pain that Golda called Grandpa Irv at work and he said send her by cab to a particular address. That address was Dr. McNeil’s office and when I arrived he took a look and a poke and we were on our way to the hospital for my appendix to be quickly removed!! So what is the point of this medical history? It is to help you learn the real meaning of serendipity. Although I didn’t feel so well it was, indeed, a happy accident for my dad.
My dad, despite being involved in workman’s compensation and spending many hours involved with doctors, really, really didn’t like hospitals. So he spent much of his time talking to Dr. McNeil’s resident who just happened to be very excited about the flying lessons he was currently taking. Ahh, I can almost see the expressions on your faces. You just figured it out. Yep, that is how Grandpa Irv first started taking flying lessons and all the trips you have heard about that he and Grandma Sally took. But before he got to the Big Trip stage there were many small trips you never heard about.

Dad’s first plane was a Stinson, single propeller 4-seater plane. He really loved it. He would take anyone flying that was willing to go and even some that weren’t so willing. He got the Stinson in 1948 and I started college in the fall of 1949 at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Wow! Just the right length to go for a nice flight. My first flight to Champaign with him was to go back after a fall weekend at home. Picture this if you will. As you may have figured out already this was not a pressurized plane so we really didn’t fly at a very high attitude. As a matter of fact you could see the roads and railroad tracks very easily and that was a good thing. We used a regular road map to route our course. As navigator it was my job to make sure to follow the right roads to get us to our destination. We used the same map to go for Sunday morning breakfast flights to Vernotken’s Junction, a restaurant in Peoria, I think.

An unusual experience of note was another return trip to Champaign. This time my younger cousin Irene who was very excited about the flight and my closest friend then as now, Aunt Rosanne joined us. We were on our way on following the map carefully. As we got closer to Champaign it was clear the weather was beginning to change. Dad decided we had better not try it and go any further so we turned back to return to the home air field. The gas tanks held more than enough for us to get to school and even a bit more but, as it turned out, barely enough to get back to the field. During the landing process the plane is at different angles and very close to the field we began to hear a few sputters from that poor little over-worked single engine. Rosanne and I were in the back seat trying to keep each other calm and poor Irene had to deal with dad in the front. I remember still a few bits from the comments Rosanne and I were making to each other…. we still laugh about that day every once in awhile. ‘Oh, God,” one of us said, “ I don’t want to die without ever having a fur coat.” Another comment was about not wanting to die ‘without knowing what it is like’. I will leave it for you readers to figure out what the ‘it’ we were discussing referred to. There was a happy ending as dad set the plane down in a field not far from the airstrip, no one was hurt and the plane had no damage either. We were all a little shook up but what a wonderful story it was for a looooong time.
Eventually Mike, Rich and I all took flying lessons. The boys did get their licenses and enjoyed flying until other issues ended their flying careers. I never even soloed although I probably had enough hours of lessons for a commercial pilot’s license but I was either too scared or had peripheral vision problems (I like that excuse) but I used to get more landings per takeoff, bumping my way down the runway, then any other pilot ever did.
Over the years dad got an instrument rating, had several twin-engine planes, and the folks took many grand vacations. As dad got older mom did solo. She said she just wanted to know she had one landing in her. Their last plane previously belonged to a cartography company and dad just covered the window in the floor with a piece of carpet so we could look out. That was really fun with wonderful views. Their wonderful trips are a part of our family history. But for now, just remember, you never know the impact one little appendix can have on a family for a long, long time.

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