Plane crashes are always tragic events. The loss of life and property is devastating. Sometimes, however, a pilot and his crew are able to pull off a landing in unbelievable circumstances. Something like that leaves everyone from the passengers, families, the NTSB, and the world scratching their heads in disbelief. Years ago I watched a movie about just such a flight. The flight was Air Canada Flight 143. A couple of days ago, I saw that it was the 33rd anniversary of that flight which occurred on July 23, 1983, and I thought about what a miracle that whole situation was. Canada Air had just made the conversion from pounds of fuel to kilograms of fuel. Unfortunately, as is often the case in these types of conversions, things were not converting as smoothly as the airline had hoped. On 22 July 1983, Air Canada’s Boeing 767, registered as C-GAUN, c/n 22520/47, from Toronto to Edmonton where it underwent routine checks. The next day, it was flown to Montreal. Following a crew change, it departed Montreal as Flight 143 for the return trip to Edmonton via Ottawa, with Captain Robert (Bob) Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal at the controls. The crew had been somewhat leery of taking off with the fuel indicator taped off as inoperable. It would seem logical to most of us that Air Canada should have waited until all systems were operable before using the plane, but that was not the case.
The flight seemed to be going smoothly, but about half way between Montreal and Edmonton, at an altitude on 41,000 feet, the aircraft’s cockpit warning system sounded, indicating a fuel pressure problem on the aircraft’s left side. Assuming a fuel pump had failed, the pilots turned it off, since gravity should feed fuel to the aircraft’s two engines. In most situations, that would have worked, but when the plane was fueled, the technician failed to accurately convert the fuel from pounds to kilograms, and the plane had run out of fuel. Running out of fuel in a small plane, flying at much lower altitudes has been known to get people killed, but this was a Boeing 767, and it was at an altitude of 41,000 feet. This had all the makings of a disaster…but somehow, that was not what happened. In this case, the event would prove to be the finest hour for the pilot and crew.
The passengers on this plane had the unusual advantage of having at the controls, a pilot who was an experienced glider pilot. Now, as you know gliders have no fuel in them. You are pulled into the air by another plane and then released to glide in for a landing. That’s an easy enough task for a trained glider pilot in a glider plane, but this was a modern day, wide body jet. The idea of gliding this plane in for a safe landing was…well, unheard of. Robert “Bob” Pearson was that pilot, and with the help of his crew and an air traffic controller, he safely glided the plane into an abandoned Royal Canadian Air Force airstrip that was being used as a drag strip…at the very moment of the landing of the plane. The men could not see that, however, until they were almost on top of the people. Thankfully, the people on the runway saw the plane and got out of the way.
The crew had hoped to make Winnipeg, but with the best glide speed and the rate of descent, there was no way. Then, Quintal remembered Gimli, and the abandoned strip became their last hope. They were too high for it, so Pearson performed a slip, which is a glide maneuver to increase drag, causing the plane to lose altitude quickly. To add to the problem, the nose gear came down, but did not lock as the rest of the gear had. Could things have been more dire? In the end, Captain Pearson executed the landing perfectly, in spite of all of the problems, and the fact that the Winnipeg Sports Car Club was on the field with everything needed to assist in this emergency, the plane landed without a single death in the plane or on the ground, and the fuel starvation scenario became part of the pilots training in their simulators. The first pilots to try the program in the simulator all crashed, and believed that it was an impossible scenario, until they were told that it had happened, and that the pilot landed safely. The flight has since been dubbed the Gimli Glider. And, that’s a miracle for the books.
For quite a while now, my husband, Bob Schulenberg has been thinking of retiring. Then, with the economic downturn, he was offered an early retirement package, and it was such a sweet deal that he took it. By coincidence, his retirement came the day before a planned vacation to the Black Hills, so I don’t really think it sunk in that he was retired. It was just a vacation. Following the vacation and the retirement party that we threw for him, Bob set out on another trip. This one was to move our granddaughter, Shai Royce out to Washington to live nearer to her parents and her brother, Caalab. This trip was different in several ways. For one thing, I was not with him, so it did not feel like a normal vacation. For another, I was back at work, so it was odd that he wasn’t. I think it was during this trip that the realization began to come to him, that he was retired. Still, it was a little bit like a vacation, because he wasn’t at home either…he was still traveling.
Bob was gone ten days, and the trip was a lot of fun for him. He got to spend time with our daughter Amy Royce and her husband Travis, as well as their kids, Shai and Caalab, with whom he traveled to Washington. It was such a great time. They treated him to all the fun things they could think of. During the days, while Amy and Travis worked, Caalab, who mostly works at night, and Shai who doesn’t have a new job yet, showed him all the sights of Bellingham. They went on the trails, and to the parks, as well as the many food places around. Then, when Amy and Travis were off, they had a barbeque, went to the beach, a festival in Seattle, a baseball game, and of course, a jam session with our own guitar players, Travis and Caalab Royce. Bob got to see their new home, and was quite impressed with their…BIG garage and bonus room, also known as the “House Divided” room, where half is decorated with Chicago Bears memorabilia and half with Green Bay Packers memorabilia.
The trip was over all too soon, but somewhere between the day he left, and the day he came back, Bob became a whole new man. He is more relaxed, less pressured, and maybe even quicker to laugh. I could say that the trip to visit our daughter and her family was good for him, and I would be right, because he had such a wonderful time, but this was something more. I think that during this trip, it suddenly hit him…”I’m retired!! I don’t have to go back to work when I get home…in fact, I don’t have a job to go back too. I can go home and do what I want to…when I want to.” Yes, Bob came back to me, a whole new man. Retirement looks good on him. I think I’m going to like this new relaxed man of mine. He really is…a whole new man!!
You can think you are prepared for life’s changes, but until the exact moment they happen, you don’t really know. When my daughter, Amy Royce, her husband Travis, and son, Caalab moved to Washington state a year ago, I thought I would never get used to it, over it, or on with it, but time marches on, and I had no choice but to march along with it. Amy and Travis’ daughter, Shai stayed here in Casper, and I think it helped that I felt the need to try to lift her spirit and help her make the transition from being a kid living at home to an adult living in her own place. It was such a hard change for both of us. Memories of Amy, Travis, and Caalab were everywhere, but for me, especially Amy, since we worked together. I think that the hardest part with Amy’s move was the empty chairs at the office, church, and Saturday morning breakfast. It will be no different this time, since Shai worked with me too. Now I have that empty chair at the office, church, and Saturday morning breakfast…again.
I have always been close with all my children and grandchildren, so as each one spreads their wings and flies away, I find myself tearing up, as I look at their empty places and think about the length of time before I will see them again. For Shai, I know it is for the best. She has missed her family terribly, and while her grandparents might play a close second, we just aren’t her parents and brother. That isn’t a bad thing, because I know how much she loves us. It’s just impossible to replace your own family. Shai and Caalab have not always been good friends, but as the grew, they became very close, and I think this last year has been extremely hard on both of them. And she is very close to her parents, as well. My logical side is really very happy for her to be rejoining them, it’s just my emotional side that can’t seem to wrap itself around the logic, and every time I see a place where Shai used to be, I feel lonely all over again.
When I came home at lunch I thought about the last few days. Caalab flew in on July 8th, and with both of their things here at my house, we had quite a disaster area going. Now all their things are gone, and the house seems very empty and very quiet. Of course, Bob isn’t here either, since he went with the kids to help with the move. Still, I think it will feel a little empty even when he gets home. It’s not because Shai lived with us, because she didn’t, but she moved out of her apartment on June 30th, and so for eleven days, her things were here. Now, after a whirlwind visit for Caalab, and the date of their departure coming up far too fast, I find myself facing that empty chair…again. I know I’ll be ok, because I’ve been through this before, but that empty chair will be a stumbling block for a while yet, no matter how I feel about it, or how much I try to avoid looking at it. Shai…I know that your life will be wonderful, just don’t forget where your grandpa and grandma live, and remember that we love you more than words can ever say.
In my many hikes to the Harney Peak lookout, I have noticed many times the marker there for Dr Valentine McGillycuddy. I suppose that the main reason it has stuck in my head is because of my grandfather, George Byer, who used to call our house and ask for Mrs McGillycuddy. We always knew it was Grandpa, but we went along with the joke anyway. Of course, Grandpa’s Mrs McGillycuddy was fictional, while Valentine McGillycuddy was a real person. I did some research a few years ago, and found out that Valentine McGillycuddy was the first white man to climb all the way to the top of Harney Peak. Many have followed in his footsteps, myself and my husband included. Harney Peak, so named in the late 1850s by Lieutenant Gouverneur K. Warren in honor of General William S. Harney, who was commander of the military in the Black Hills area. The Lakota Sioux Indians called it Hinhan Kaga, which means “Making of Owls” in English. I think I like that name.
Dr McGillycuddy first came to the Black Hills with the Jenny-Newton Party. His mission was to survey and map the Black Hills, and to confirm that gold had been discovered there. It was during this excursion that he climbed Harney Peak. There had been other white men to climb the mountain, including General George Custer, but they all stopped just short of the peak, because it was to difficult to make it…something I think I can relate to. McGillycuddy angled a felled tree into a crevice in the granite, and made his way to the very top. I can totally feel his elation and sense of accomplishment, since I have felt the same way myself. My guess is that it would not be the last trip he made to the top either. That mountain has a way of calling you back for a second and even third or more visits.
McGillycuddy became a friend to Crazy Horse, and in fact was with him when he died after being stabbed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska in 1877. After that time, the Lakota Sioux named McGillycuddy Tasunka Witko Kola, which means “Crazy Horse’s Friend” in English. Other Native Americans named McGillycuddy Wasicu Wakan, which means “Holy White Man” in English. Dr Valentine McGillycuddy did lead a very amazing life. His first wife died, and he moved to San Francisco to continue his medical practice. There he married Julia Blanchard. After he passed away in 1939, Julia wrote a book about his life called “McGillycuddy, Agent” which was how he signed his name during his favorite role in life. He was a friend to the Indians, and did his best to educate them by building a school for the children. He was a calming influence on the relationship between the Indians and the White Man. It is quite fitting then that his ashes be entombed on the mountain that he loved. It gives a totally different feeling to the little plaque that is there…if one researches it.
Two years ago, my husband, Bob and I intended to take our favorite hike…Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota. That hike didn’t go so well, or at least we did not succeed in completing the full hike. The Lookout Tower eluded us in that, we reached it’s base, but could not go on to the top. The reasons were varied, but I felt like the main reason was that I was not in good enough shape for this tough trail. Bob thought otherwise, and looking back, I have to think that, at least in part, he was right. Bob thought that the heat of the day, combined with the lack of trees near the top since the pine beetle infestation, sapped our energy making it almost impossible to finish the hike. We had plenty of water, and food too, just no more energy…and we still had the 3.4 mile hike back staring us in the face.
After that hike, I wondered if I would be able to get myself back in shape for the next attempt. It was a low point in my hiking career. Six months ago, I made the decision that it was time to get back in shape, and to go after the Giant that had been looming over me for a year and a half. I started walking again and eating right, and before long I was doggedly walking 30,000 steps every day. Then shin splints hit me like a bomb. I was determined to continue walking so my training wouldn’t suffer, but after three weeks, I knew that I was going to have to do something different. Nevertheless, I tried to keep going, until my granddaughter, Shai Royce made me promise to take the next week off. Thankfully a week was all it took, and I was back to walking 25000 steps a day in a couple of weeks.
Still, the Giant loomed over me for the next month. Our trip was coming, and I wanted that mountain. The Harney Peak hike belonged to me. I have hiked it at least fifteen times over the last 21 years. I had paid my dues, and I did not want to let one bad experience take it away from me. We decided to head out to hike early…6:00am or so. In reality, we began our hike 6:37am, and with the light cloud cover and the earliness of our hiking time, we were very comfortable. The hike was hard…it always is, but in two and a half hours, we found ourselves at the top standing in front of the lookout tower. We made it!! We had conquered the beast. The Giant no longer loomed over me. I know that there is no reason that I can’t continue to hike Harney Peak for years to come, because with hard work…there is nothing I can’t do.
After breaking my shoulder on October 18, 2015, in a fall on the Bridle Trail on Casper Mountain, I think a lot of people wondered if I would ever hike again, and if I did, if the Bridle Trail was going to be on the list of trails I liked best…or was even willing to hike on at all. I always knew that I would go on it again, but I got pretty out of shape in the months following the accident. For one thing, I found out that pain medications, make you gain weight, probably because they make you very hungry and very sleepy. And I’m sure there was a degree of depression about the injury, but I’m not one to let something get me down for very long. By January I was ready to get back into shape for hiking. My husband, Bob Schulenberg and I have loved hiking since 1995, when we first hiked Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is a love of hiking that continues to grow. I wanted to get back into it, and I wanted to hike the Bridle Trail again.
Yesterday, I returned to the Bridle Trail to pick up where I left off in October. My granddaughter, Shai Royce has been hiking with her grandpa and me this summer, and she loves it. She never considered herself an outdoor girl, but she has since changed her mind. This past weekend, we hiked the Garden Creek Trail, and she loved it so much that she decided that she wanted to hike the Bridle Trail. Sunday was out of the question, so we decided that we would go Monday evening. Anyone who has ever hiked the Bridle Trail knows that the first half hour is the toughest. Nevertheless, while we had to stop to rest and catch our breath, we had a wonderful time. Shai thoroughly enjoyed it, and wants to go again, so we are making plans for several hikes before she moves to Washington in July.
For me, the hike was a victory in several ways. I can’t say that I didn’t get winded, but that is not unusual for me, and I hope to get my lungs in better shape for the hills in the future, but I did well with the hike, and there
was no fear about the trail. We even went the same way we had gone when I fell, because I guess I felt like I needed to just get back on the horse that bucked me off, so that I could fully conquer the giant that could have formed in my life. The sooner you get back on that horse, the less chance fear has to take hold. I can now honestly say that since my return to the Bridle Trail…any concern that I might be afraid is totally gone, and I very much look forward to our next hike, and each subsequent hike on the Bridle Trail or any other trail. t was a lovely evening, and I still love hiking!!
The length of women’s skirts have varied over the years, and I happen to know that when the mini-skirt came out while I was in junior high school, my mom hated it. She never wanted her girls to wear them, nor did the other parents…so, many of the girls wore skirts rather than dresses, because skirts could be rolled up to make them shorter. It was a selling point for the skirt. I’m sure that if our mothers had known, we would have been in trouble, but that didn’t seem to matter. Of course, as style trends changed, my mom got used to the trends, and my younger sisters were allowed to wear mini-dresses too. I had a tendency to think that was really unfair, but I suppose I was the trailblazer that won them the right to wear those shorter dresses. I think my little sisters should thank me for that, don’t you?
These trends have run their course over many generations, and the other day I was looking at some old pictures from my grandmother, Anna Schumacher Spencer’s album. There was a picture there that I can’t quite figure out, but one thing that jumps out at me is the older woman wearing a long dress, and the younger woman next to her in a dress that is just above her knees. The older woman in the picture doesn’t seem pleased with the younger woman. Of course, that could just be my perception of the situation, and not the reality of the situation. Still, I think that the women who started wearing those short skirts back then, were probably looked at as being loose…at least until they got used to the new trend.
I think that while my mom didn’t maybe look at me as being loose for wanting to wear short skirts, she probably thought of me as misguided. Nevertheless, when the trend became the normal, my sisters, and yes, me too, were allowed to wear those shorter skirts. I have to say that I still think that the skirt that hits me above the knees is one of the best looks for me, but maybe that’s just my opinion. Women who are vertically challenged, as I am, can look dumpy in the longer skirts, unless the skirt is cut just right. There again, that could just be my own opinion…or maybe I’m still a trendsetter.
A couple of weeks ago, a baby bird fell out of it’s nest into our front yard. Our neighbor Mary Sanchez saw it first, and was careful not to disturb it when she mowed her lawn. The next day, when Bob and I came home and parked out front, we heard a commotion. I walked toward the hedge that separates our yard from Mary’s, and was surprised to see a squawking baby crow standing in the grass. It’s mom was nearby, warning me to stay away from her baby, so we backed away and left the situation alone. We weren’t sure if the mom was taking care of her baby, or what, so we watched closely. Very soon, there was no doubt that she was a good mom, and in fact there was also a good dad in this situation. A few days went by, and while we worried about cats, this little baby bird continued to thrive…miraculously.
The day did come when we were forced to intervene. Our little baby bird decided to go and stand in the middle of the street…and it was a hot day. We debated on what to do about this situation, and determined that if we didn’t move it, a car was going to hit it, or the hot asphalt would kill it. So my brave husband donned a pair of gloves, picked the bird up, and moved it back toward our back yard…dodging the dive bomb attempts of the mother. All we could do then was stay away and hope the parents continued their great care of their baby. The baby continued to get bigger, and the parents were always around, so we decided that our bird rescue had been successful.
Of course, like all children, the day came when our little bird again decided to go into the street, and so began bird rescue take 2. Once again dodging the dive bombs of the mom, Bob picked up the bird and put it back near our back fence. That turned out to be to best plan, because the bird decided to check out the back yard, and we began to worry less. The baby has stayed in the back yard, and out of trouble for the most part. We had to chase off a cat twice, and now the parents are a little bit more tolerant of us…at least when the cat shows up. In fact, I think she likes us then.
I have had the opportunity to get some great close up photos of the baby, and finally today, I was treated to the chance to observe lunchtime. Flying lessons have begun, but this is a big baby, and it’s wings aren’t long enough yet. Nevertheless, it’s parents know that it needs to build up its muscles so that when its wings catch up with its body, it will be able to fly. This has been a wonderful things to watch, and while we know that our little baby is still not out of danger, we have high hopes for it. One thing I can say for sure, this job of raising baby at 60+ years old is a lot to take on. I know now, why we all have kids when we are young.
I went to a funeral a couple of days ago, and as I took my seat, a woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me, “Are you Collene?” I was taken totally by surprise…for two reasons really. The first was that if this woman knew my mom, Collene Byer Spencer, wouldn’t she know that I was not old enough to be her, and secondly, I was surprised because I have never thought that I looked like my mom, but rather my dad, or more exactly, my dad’s sister, Ruth Spencer Wolfe. My first reaction was to get clarification. I turned to her in surprise and said, “Excuse me?” Again, she asked me if I was Collene. I said, “No, I am her daughter.” I was still trying to clarify, and so I asked if she meant Collene Spencer. She said yes, that was indeed who she meant. It was one of those “ton of bricks” moments, and I certainly felt like I had been hit with each brick in that ton. I did not recognize the woman, and since Mom has been in Heaven for over a year now, I knew that this woman couldn’t have seen Mom in a very long time either…and yet Mom was not forgotten.
We spoke for a few minutes, during which time she told me that she was Joyce Heid, the daughter of a long time friend of the family. We talked about our parents…all of them in Heaven now. She knew that my dad had passed away, but not about my mom’s passing, which she was surprised to hear about. We talked about how the families were doing, and about the closeness of our parents, and then the funeral was about to start so we couldn’t visit any longer. My mind kept drifting back to our conversation, and wondering what she saw in my face that reminded her of my mom. It isn’t the first time that someone has connected me to my family due to the strong family resemblance, but apparently it is something that I will never get used to. It’s just so strange to me, because what they see in me is not something I can see. I have been told that I look like my aunt, my dad, my daughter, my granddaughter, my sister, just recently another sister…and now, my mom. Looking like my daughter, Amy Royce and my granddaughter, Shai Royce weren’t as surprising as some of the others, but I think my mom was the most surprising. I simply don’t see it.
The incident has been on my mind since it first happened…as has my mom. I keep looking back in my memory files to pull up pictures and moments in life when I might have looked my mom, but try as I might, I just don’t see it. Life takes many twists and turns, and yet somehow it seems that it always tends to come back to where it began. Our parents may be in Heaven now, but their echo still remains in the hearts of their loved ones, in pictures, in their house, in moments and holidays, and even in the memories of their friends. While every “ton of bricks” moment is hard at the time, it leaves behind a sweet memory of the loved one that our hears miss so much. Mom, whether I look like you are not, and I must in some way, it was such a sweet moment to have someone from your past keeping you in their memory files too. You are always remembered. I love you and miss you more than words can ever say.
When I was a girl growing up, Mother’s Day always had a special meaning. We didn’t plan other activities for that day, because it belonged to Mom alone. It was a day that we spent honoring that special woman who gave us life, nurtured us from birth to adulthood, and guided us through all the crazy emotions that went along with being girls, especially in those horrible teenaged years. She made life fun, taught us to do chores and to be responsible people, and she filled our lives with singing and sunshine. With all that she did for us, it seemed only fitting that there should be a day dedicated to her alone, and we tried very hard to make it awesome for her. It was her day to be the Queen of the castle.
Time changes all things, and in time, my sisters and I grew up, married, and had children of our own. Mother’s day had to change along with the changing times. The way we felt about our mom, Collene Byer Spencer, had not changed, but now we had a mother-in-law too, mine was Joann Knox Schulenberg, and we, ourselves were mothers. Now, Mother’s Day had to be divided between the, now two moms that we had, and our own family. Mother’s Day had taken on a completely new look. It was almost like having three versions of the day.
In the early years of my daughters’ lives, the girls simply went with us to the two celebrations, and our own celebration happened usually in the early morning before church. Time, however, stepped in again, and before I knew it, my girls were married with children of their own. Mother’s Day morphed again. As a family, we went to breakfast before church, and the rest of the day was again divided between the two moms. We had to turn our girls loose to have their day with their families too, and for me, that was probably the hardest part of those Mother’s Day years, but the hardest was yet to come, and I just didn’t know it yet.
These days, my Morphing Mother’s Day had taken its biggest change to date. My mom lives in Heaven now, so I can only have Mother’s Day with her in my heart. That is very hard for me, because I really miss her so much. Mother’s Day for my mom this year will be a matter of keeping on the sunny side, because that is what she always told us to do. It is the only gift I can give her now. Our family will go to breakfast, which is our tradition, but we will be missing my daughter, Amy, her husband, Travis, and their son, Caalab, who live in Ferndale, Washington now. We will also be missing Chris, our daughter, Corrie and her husband, Kevin’s son, who lives in Sheridan. We will only have two grandchildren, Shai and Josh, one daughter, Corrie, and one son-in-law, Kevin. It will be a bit harder for all of us, because we will each be missing someone. Later in the day, Bob and I will go visit his mother in the nursing home. There isn’t anything that we can give her, except our visit. On Sunday nights, the nursing home holds an ice cream social, and we always take her, so that will be her Mother’s Day treat. We are thankful that we still have her with us, because having no mom on Mother’s Day would be the final morph stage, and would bring with it the next wave of sadness…when all of our parents live in Heaven, but I’ll think about that another day. To all the moms out there, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day, in whatever tradition you have for the day.