avon

Gladys Pattan Byer CooperAs a little girl, I remember when Aunt Gladys would come over to the house and show my mom her Avon products. Of course, with 5 girls in the house, Avon products were very important little items…whether we were allowed to wear make-up yet or not, which by the way, we weren’t yet. Nevertheless, Aunt Gladys didn’t seem to care that our curiosity would probably not bring a big purchase. She treated my sisters and me just like we were her biggest clients. Aunt Gladys knew that little girls and make-up simply go together.

Aunt Gladys always looked so pretty, and she always dressed up. When she came over, it was like having a movie star show up at your door. Mom told me that she wore silk stockings, and they were very soft. She never minded when little hands wanted to see just how soft and silky they were. All she ever said, was, “Be careful not to snag them.” So many people would have wanted Mom to send the kids outside, so the adults could talk, but not Aunt Gladys, and I don’t think it was just because she was our great aunt either. I just think she understood how little girls felt about make-up and such…so much so, in fact, that she would always give us United Airlines Flight 232 crashthose little sample tubes of lipstick…every time she came over. I don’t know what they cost her, but we always felt special because we got those.

My Aunt Gladys died in the crash of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa on July 19, 1989. She comes to my mind often, and sometimes I think I see her here in town. There is a woman here in Casper, who looks a little like my Aunt Gladys, and seeing her keeps Aunt Gladys on my mind periodically. It’s odd how that can happen sometimes…you are going through your day, and suddenly you see someone who takes you decades back in time…and you don’t even know them. They just remind you of someone else.

My Great Aunt Gladys, passed away on July 19, 1989. She was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 232, which crashed at Sioux Gateway Airport in Sioux City, Iowa. It was a crash I’m sure many of you will remember. According to the pilot on that flight, Captain Al Haynes a veteran pilot with 30,000 hours of flying time, “When the #2 hydraulics on the DC-10 blew, or when the #2 engine blew, it took out the #2 accessory drive section, which took out the hydraulics for the #2 system. And some 70 pieces of shrapnel penetrated the horizontal stabilizer and severed the #1 line and the #3 line, and as a result we ended up with no hydraulics.”

It was a situation that had a 1 in 1 billion chance of happening, but on July 19, 1989, on United Airlines Fight 232 which had taken off from Stapleton International Airport in Denver, Colorado, bound for Chicago, Illinois with 296 souls on board, one of which was my Great Aunt Gladys, it did happen. Of the 285 passengers and 11 crew members, 184 people would survive the subsequent crash of  United Airlines Flight 232…sadly, my Great Aunt Gladys was not one of them. The airline was having a special that day, in which children flying with a parent flew for half price. That special put an unusually large number of children on the flight…52 to be exact. A number of those kids were traveling alone. Four children were “lap” children…children without a seat of their own. Eleven children, including 1 “lap” child died in the disaster.

The passengers on board the flight knew they were in trouble for 45 minutes before the crash. I have often thought about what my Aunt Gladys was thinking about during those 45 minutes. Her family, of course…hoping she would be able to return home to see them again. Worry and fear must have entered in, and it makes me so sad to think that her last minutes were spent in such a manner. My mom said something to me after we found out that she had not survived, that makes me think that she was thinking of one other thing…the children. Mom said that Aunt Gladys would have wanted the children to survive, because they had not had a chance at life yet. I think that is true, because Aunt Gladys was always so sweet to the children. She never said one harsh word to me or my sisters…even when we wanted to play with her Avon products or touch her silk nylons, because they were so soft.

During the crash, the plane cartwheeled, and possessions where thrown all over the place. So came about the misinformation that made us believe that Aunt Gladys had survived. Her purse went to the hospital with another woman. Upon further investigation, they would find that it was not my aunt, but not before the news media had listed her as a survivor. It was not their fault, but nevertheless heartbreaking to our family. Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the crash of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, and the subsequent loss of my dear Great Aunt Gladys. Sometimes, when I see a woman who resembles her, my heart still jumps, because it’s almost like she is still here. I suppose that happens because we could not view her body, and maybe that isn’t the worst thing. At least we can still imagine her among the living. We love and still miss you Aunt Gladys.

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