Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The New Paradigm Part II

We’ve just passed Presidents’ Day 2010 and as, these days, I’m marching to the school calendar drummer, I note that last year, right after I returned from THAT long weekend and the hugging of babies in San Antonio, Mike and I began our great adventure.

It was that Wednesday night that Mike nudged me and said that his chest hurt and that we should go to the hospital. And even though he has well-controlled blood pressure, his age and stress level would make him a candidate for a heart attack so we bundled up and I drove him several blocks to the emergency room.

A long night and then another long night as we began to hear troubling health news: Heart was fine. Blood chemistry was fine. But there was “something strange” going on with his gall bladder and, wow! Look at that kidney stone!

The next month brought tests, procedures, exploratory pokes and prods, each with promising news until a surgeon yanked out that gall bladder. “Strange” became a 4 cm cancerous tumor. The final, and brutal, surgery was to see if the tumor was contained, if this was that one that they had caught early.

We held hands, prayed and joined with friends as we stepped on this path. Early news from surgery was hopeful and then the doctor found what he hoped he would not…that the tumor had spread and was found…I will remember this forever….”significant distance from the primary site.” He gently said that there was no benefit from going further, that is would “do no good.”

So commenced a journey for us, one that we believed would be short.
Realizing that as pastors say, “God’s time is not our time,” we are celebrating every day, even today when the weather is so cold and snowy.

Early on, we asked God to answer the big question – Why? Why us? Why now? Why this? Is it any surprise that we have no answer? Does that shake out faith and our love for our Father? No. We have learned to lean hard into the arms of the one who created us and we walk this path every day, blessed with each sunrise.

Is it wrong, is it sin, to ask God that question?

No. He created us. He gave us our searching nature.

Then why, when we ask, when we prayerfully ask the Father to explain it to us, why does He not give us this request?

News Flash: We do not have the mind of God. When we ask Him to explain it to us, He may say gently, “You cannot understand the answer.”

What we know here, and truly, God gave us this assurance from the beginning, He has the Master Plan. Everything that happens, that doesn’t happen, all of it, is a part of that plan.

I mean, what answer would make sense:

Why the Nazis?
Why 9/11?
Why Haiti?
Why me?

What could God say or show us that would explain the plan? We cannot comprehend. We have to trust Him. And those of us who know Him, who have walked with Him, can rest in what we know of His nature and His love.

But here’s the cool part: as we have traveled this path this year, God has permitted us to peek at small parts of His plan. Tiny parts. Slivers, really. This has come about long after we stopped asking “Why.”

We no longer seek the answer. We are humbled to know, really know, that we have a part in the plan.

Personally, I’ve gone from being the wife of the dying man to being the wife of the living man. Most of the time, I can honestly say that whatever I’m doing, wherever I am, right then, I know I’m doing what God wants me to do. All good.

We can make our lists, set our agendas, record our plans, and we do. But the Father has us in His hands, within His plan. Sometimes OURS doesn’t match with His. And His is best. Period.

I had plans to travel back to San Antonio last weekend. Just as I was getting ready to check in, I got a call from the airlines. They had canceled my flight to address the clogged airports on the East Coast.

Really? But what about my plans?


So, Saturday morning, when I had planned to be strolling around south Texas in my shorts, I met up with lots of volunteers at the Kokomo Rescue Mission to ‘Walk a Mile’ to support their shelter for homeless women and children.

The Rescue Mission has a special place in our family’s heart and this annual event is the primary fund raiser for the shelter. I had turned in my pledge money. I told my buddies that I would not be at the walk.

But, plans change. I and my men took part. Mike ran the course. Zach, fresh from a warm bed, strolled with me. This was the plan for Saturday morning.

Them That Talk and Them That Do

Ernest Hemingway once wrote that there is nothing, not even a woman, horse or dog that is as lovely as a good airplane. I think he overstated his thinking a little bit, but not by much. I have had a love affair with one woman and two airplanes in my life. This piece is about one of the airplanes, a Mooney Mite, and how I learned to fly it.

(my Mite)

When my dad was flying in the Navy on weekends, he owned a Mooney Mite. Sometimes when he needed to be in Chicago for his weekend training, he would fly the Mite up to the Navy base, fly his fighter, and fly back in the Mite. I did not know much about airplanes then, as I was only about 8 years old, but I remember that airplane.

One weekend, Dad flew the Mite back to Indiana and landed it in the farmer's field next to Grandpa's house. When it was time to leave, Dad paced off the length of the field to make sure he had enough impromptu runway to get airborne. This was especially critical, because there was a fence and a stream at the far end of the field. No one is certain what went wrong, but Dad got the Mite airborne, but just barely. Before he could retract the landing gear, it caught in the fence. The Mite flipped upside down and cart wheeled into the creek. The wing separated from the fuselage and there was Dad hanging upside down in the cockpit, getting an unplanned bath in the water. It was a wonder he wasn't hurt seriously or killed. As I have said before, Lady Luck made an unexpected and unwarranted appearance on Dad's behalf.

The airplane was hauled out of the creek and taken to our home in Greentown, where the fuselage was tied to a tree limp to support it. There it remained until it was eventually sold to a man who restored it. However, I got to play pilot in it until a truck hauled it away. I think that was when I fell in love with the Mite. I vowed I would get one someday.

And I did. Thirty-five years later.

I found one in Texas for sale. Dad and I bought it, sight unseen, on the condition that the seller would deliver it to Kokomo. I remember when I first saw it. The delivery pilot made a low pass the length of the runway, pulled up in a steep climbing turn to downwind and greased it unto the runway. I was hopelessly hooked. Just looking at it made my heart hammer. At last, I had my very own personal fighter. I could go anywhere I wanted. Any time I wanted. As high as I wanted. As fast as I wanted. And I didn't have to take anybody with me. What could be better?

Except for one problem. I had to learn to fly it. It had only one seat. There wasn't going to be an instructor sitting next to me, keeping a wary eye on what I was doing, trying to keep me from killing us both. I hadn't thought of that.

The Mooney Mite, as you can see, it is a single-place aircraft. In fact it is the only single-seat civilian aircraft ever built. It had a retractable landing gear and a sliding canopy, just like a WW2 fighter. It had flaps to control the airspeed upon landing, and best of all, it had a stick instead of a control wheel. As all real aviators know, fighters only have sticks. The bomber and transport pukes got control wheels. Fighter boys got sticks.

I remember that the Mite arrived on a Thursday evening. As I drove the delivery pilot back to Indianapolis to catch his commercial flight to Dallas, I pumped him for tips on the flying characteristics of the airplane. He was very short on specifics. Basically, he said it was just like any other airplane. "Just get in and fly it," he said. Easy for him to say. He was a retired Air Farce pilot who had a couple of thousand hours in the air. I had about 100 hours, total. I was a rank beginner, compared to him and to my dad. I seriously wondered whether I had the right stuff to fly this airplane.

Friday evening after work it was raining, so I could not fly the Mite. Instead I sat in it for about an hour trying to memorize where all the controls were. Since the airplane had very few instruments and no electrical system, there wasn't much to learn. It is about as basic as you can get.

The weather cleared up on Saturday morning and Dad and I went to the airport to check out in the Mite. Because Dad had flown one before and had much more flying experience than I had, he volunteered to fly first. Maybe he could give me some practical tips on flying this thing, if he got back from the test flight.

We got the engine started with little difficulty and checked all the engine gauges. Dad taxied out, lined up on the runway, and let it go. I heard the engine roar (it had a muffler, but not much of one) and it lifted off into the air like a thoroughbred. It showed it had an outstanding rate of climb as it pitched its nose up like the proverbial home-sick angel. And then it porpoised up and down, then rolled right, then left, then porpoised again. I thought it had a control system failure. It was all over the sky. I noticed that the landing gear was halfway up. Then the gear disappeared into the gear wells in the bottom of the wings and the airplane seemed to straighten out fly smoothly as it disappeared into the sun.

I was on almost frantic for the next 20 minutes while Dad was gone. I was worried that something bad had happened to both of them. I just stood there on the side of the runway listening for the sound of that Lycoming motor. And then I heard it. Down came the Mite lined up with the runway, motor singing as Dad flew it the length of the runway about 50 feet off the deck. At the end of the runway, he sharply pulled up into a climbing left turn and made a 180 degree turn to downwind. I heard him throttle back the engine at mid-field and watched him drop the gear and flaps. He then rolled it into another 180 degree turn to line up with the runway and greased it on. He taxied to where I was standing and told me to stand in front of the wing to keep the airplane from running away. He yelled to me that the brakes were worthless. He unfastened the shoulder harness, climbed out, and told me to strap in. We traded places in front of the wing to hold the airplane in place.

With the engine still running, I climbed up on the wing and shoe-horned myself into the Mite. If I kept my arms at my side sitting in the seat, I had about one inch of room. It was really tight. I liked it. I liked it a lot. You were not sitting in the plane, you were wearing it.

I tried to be cool, but I wasn't. I started to shake uncontrollably. My right hand was on the stick and my left hand had a death grip on the throttle. My right hand was shaking so hard I thought Dad would see the ailerons wiggling. If he saw it, he did not say anything.

I would not say that I was terrified, but I was definitely scared. At this point in my flying experiences, I could usually land safely, but it was always challenging, instead of being automatic, like Dad. Often I found the airplane flying me, instead of me flying it. If the airplane is in charge, instead of the pilot, both are going to end up hurt or dead. Apparently, I sat there longer than Dad expected, because he walked around the wing so he was standing just behind the spinning propeller and leaned in the cockpit, so he could shout at me.

"It's just an airplane, son. They are all alike. Just fly it. You'll be all right. Get it off the ground, fly around the field a couple of times, do not retract the gear and land it. Piece of cake." So said Dad. I wasn't nearly so confident as he seemed to be for me. So I sat there. Doing nothing but shaking.

"Aren't you going to give me any tips on flying this thing?" I pleaded.

"Alright. When you go downwind, slow down to 70 knots at midfield and hold it until you are over the runway. It will set down at about 60 knots. Have fun." He stepped away from the wing, freeing me to taxi.

And I just sat there. Still shaking.

After about 30 seconds, Dad came back to the Mite and shouted in the cockpit words that I have never forgotten. "Son, there's them that talk and them that do. Which are you?' That is all it took. I taxied out onto the runway and throttled it up, checking the gauges. I checked the controls and the trim. And I let it go.

At first it did not seem like it was rolling very fast, but it quickly picked up speed. My feet were dancing on the rudder pedals to keep the Mite tracking straight down the runway. I stole a glance at the airspeed indicator and saw the needle kissing 60 knots. The nose gear lifted off, quickly followed by the main gear and I was flying!

Before I go further, I should tell you about the landing gear mechanism. Located underneath the instrument panel, cleverly out of sight was a lever about the size of a bicycle tire pump. This round lever was locked into a hole that prevented the landing gear from collapsing when the airplane was landing and on the ground. To retract the gear, you pushed down on the lever, which freed it up to rotate 180 degrees back toward you to lock in a small hole just to the right of your backside. It was spring loaded, so releasing the lever would almost retract the gear by itself. Almost. But not quite.

You will recall that Dad told me not to retract the gear and to fly two circuits around the field, and land. Well, this flight was going pretty good, I thought. The Mite was acting like a proper airplane and even with my limited experience as a test pilot, it did not seem to have any bad habits. So I decided to retract the gear. However to do so, you need your right hand to grab the lever. Your right hand is normally on the stick, so you took your left hand off the throttle, put it on the stick and took the lever in your right hand and released it. Sounds simple, doesn't it. It is. But not the first time. As soon as I switched hands, the airplane started porpoising and rolling as I tried to rotate the lever back and into the retraction hole. Much to my surprise, the lever went into place and the airplane picked up 20 knots with the reduced drag. So I found myself alone in my fighter, gear safely retracted, my engine singing, and the Mite climbing to beat the band. I rolled it left, I rolled it right, I pitched the nose up as far as I dared, I pitched it down and I marveled at how sensitive and quick it was. I had the tiger by the tail.

The orders -- to fly around the patch twice, leave the gear down, and land -- went out the cockpit. I was having the time of my life and I wasn't about to land. So I went flying for an hour while my Dad waited at the airport inside the terminal probably praying I hadn't killed myself.

After an hour or so, I flew back to the airport, throttled it back to 80 knots at midfield and dropped the gear. I fumbled around getting it locked into place a little, but it locked down. I put the flaps down and the airspeed dropped to 70 knots, just like Dad said. I brought it around on final approach and held the 70 knots until it flared to land.

The gear kissed the runway gently and I thought to myself that landing this thing was easy. I relaxed. And the Mite hopped up into the air again. This had never happened before, so I pulled back on the stick and it settled onto the runway again. Again I relaxed. It went flying again. Once again, I set it down and this time it stuck. Elated, I taxied to the hanger, killed the engine and hopped out.

Dad walked up to me and said sternly, "Where have you been? It's been an hour."

"I've been flying, Dad. I love this airplane. I just got carried away, I guess."

"I understand, son. She is a great ship. Welcome to the single engine, single seat club! I'll help you put it in the hangar."

I do not recall ever being prouder than that brief moment. I had done something that some people would not do. I had been a test pilot in a sense. I had to use what little flying knowledge I had to learn on the job to fly another airplane. My confidence in the air soared.

But more than that, and better than that, was the fact that my Dad was proud of me. For a brief moment, I had the right stuff that made aviators-- from Wilbur and Orville to Lucky Lindy, to me and my Dad.

Money can't buy a memory like this one.

Mike out.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The New Paradigm

My alarm rings at 4:50 AM. I'm already awake and catch it on the first tone. Over there, my hub sleeps deeply as I hop up and start my day. The routine is back. After the basic ablutions and the plugging in of the hot rollers, I go out to the kitchen and put on the coffee first; then I heat up the pan for my eggs and put the English muffin in the toaster. 5 minutes for 8 cups of Joe, 2 minutes for the eggs and 3 for the muffin. Just enough time to retrieve the newspaper; then it's POUR, FLIP, and BUTTER, and I settle to eat and watch some FOX News.

It has come back easily; I wondered if that would be the case.

Last fall, I got really used to sleeping in, meandering through my morning, running random errands and answering mail as I got to it, and just being available for whatever adventure the hub would devise. Drive up to the Lake? Right now? Sure. When do we need to be back? Whenever we get back.

Hey, let's go out to lunch with (any number of friends.) When? Oh, around 1 or 1:30.
or 2:00. Well, sure. Breakfast was at 9 or 10 so there's no rush.

We even took a trip off season, which meant to me "When the kids are in school." Amazing. No kids on the plane. No kids in the restaurants. No kids anywhere we were.

But I'm back into my classroom, sharing my days with 140 or so 17-year-olds. And school means schedule. I live again by the bell, the 90 minute class period.

I begin at 7:15. I learned long ago that it serves me well (and them, also) if I'm not just awake but ON. And it takes some time for that ON switch to fire so long ago, I became an early riser. I'm also one of those cheerful early risers, but I try to keep my enthusiasm in check as so many teenagers are NOT morning people and the last thing they want greeting them is a big, big smile and a loud voice.

Most teachers will tell you that they become efficient with their free time when school is in session out of necessity. The only problem we have here is that the hub assumes that his wife is off contract at 2:20 and so should be able to be home by 2:30....and perhaps a late lunch?

As I've instructed him, he used to be at the office until 6 or 7 and had no idea what I did from 2:30 to when he arrived home. Many times, I stayed at school, at my desk, catching up, working ahead, phoning parents, organizing lessons for the numerous other places my students may be. I'm working smarter these days but it's still 3:30 or 4 before I get home.

The hub must adjust. I often find him working away in the wood shop.

The hub's day is certainly different than mine. His alarm clock is set for 7 AM. It clicks on (I've been here on the weekend) and plays a CD. Last week, it was Leo Kotke. This week it's Handel's Messiah. There's no jarring alarm and the music will play until someone turns it off.

Mike pours himself some cereal and reads the paper. Then he's on with his day. He always has his list of tasks but before he starts, he fires up the computer and checks his e-mail. He's also learned to window shop on line, sometimes forgetting to close windows.

His most recent project is an over-sized table that will run behind our couch at the lake. It's walnut so it's mostly dark but the wood has a unique streak of white throughout. Mike had asked me if he should cut around it but I asked him to keep it in. It's unique and will be on display shortly.

Some of his activities engage his attention: He is engrossed in his Business Law Class at our local community college. He decided that he'd assign writing each week and so wades through essays of various quality.

"How do you teach them to write paragraphs with single ideas?" he asks, just like a new English teacher. Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple and the areas of composition weakness are as many as the number of students. So, he makes suggestions and they continue to work. Just last week, he reported how pleased he was with their improvement.

He continues to dabble in the law. Old clients and friends of friends call and if the task is simple, he may take it. It seems like once a week or so, he gets out the suit and tie and drives downtown.

He also gets to the YMCA for his daily swim.

Our son and his dad continue to talk music and life. I asked Zach, when he was gently making fun of me, if his dad and I supply an infinite source of amusement for him. He smiled.

And then we come to the household chores. Mike will go to the grocery store, in fact he LOVES going to the grocery store, but I must leave a list, something I don't need when I do the shopping. Also, he has taken a few swipes at cleaning. He's become quite obsessive with keeping the stainless steel sink in the kitchen cleaned and dry, like it's brand new. Should someone dribble some water and he comes along, watch out.

Last week, he tackled the cleaning of our bathroom. I will wager that in the last 36 years, he's cleaned the bathroom exactly zero times. He told me he would clean it the next day so I should get out the cleaning things and I did. I prefer the foamy pungent so I lined them up.

When I arrived home, I could tell he had unleashed the chemicals. He greeted me and then escorted me to the bathroom so I could see what good job he had done. And he had done a good job. However, you might have thought he had delivered a matter, the bathroom sparkled.

So this is the new paradigm at the Bolinger household. All good.

February 14, 2010

I have a friend in Austin, Texas; he’s one of what my son calls ‘Mom’s little internet friends.’ No matter. Peyton has offered me really good information when I travel to San Antonio. Allyson has lived in San Antonio now for going on two years, but Peyton is a native so his knowledge runs deep.

He’s heard of Rudy’s barbecue and admits that their product is pretty good. However, he tells me that the best BBQ in the state can be found about 50 miles north, nearer to his stomping grounds. Personally, I’m no fan of barbecue anything so it’s not so tempting to make the drive.

However, when he heard that I was going to be in Texas for Christmas, he urged me to sample the absolute best tamales in the state, at a place right in San Antonio. I learned that the natives prepare and give tamales for holiday gifts, like my kin noshes on lefsa and somewhere, someone actually likes fruit cake. So I got Allyson to drive me to the place; she informed me that we had entered a rough neighborhood and that after I got the tamales, we really needed to drive elsewhere to sample them.

All good. We drove there one day at about 3, only to see a sign: All sold out. Come back tomorrow. I think we detoured to a pizza place. The next day, they were sold out by 2. Wow. It became a challenge. So on day 3, we arrived at 11 AM to see a line snaked around the bright green cinder block building, a combination convenience store, gas station and news stand.

I walked to the back of the line which quickly filled in behind me. The lady right behind was dressed as from the office, nice shoes and a skirt, and her hair was anchored into one of those no-nonsense buns. We chatted. She was from Egypt originally and was sent from her office (correct!) to get a supply of tamales for their party.

I said, “You know, I’ve never eaten a tamale in my life.”

She looked at me like I had foreign flora growing out of my ears, sizing up my age, and said, “I guess that’s possible.”

I eventually purchased some tamales and tried them out and all I can say is, pass the lefsa. Not a fan. Do not understand the big deal except they take a lot of time to make. I tasted what are apparently the best tamales in the state…..chicken, cheese….thought they might be improved with a filling of cream cheese, cinnamon and sugar.

I had a similar reaction, like the lady behind me at Tamale Town, to the hub a few weeks ago when he asked me if I’d ever heard of Ron Popeil. You know, don’t you, of Pocket Fisherman, Veg-o-Matic, Chop-o-Matic, and The Amazing Knife Offer.fame. Hasn’t everybody see Ron hawking his amazing products during his 30 minute infomercials?

Mike said he had never heard of Ron Popeil. “I guess that’s possible,” said his spouse. Although what was Mike doing all those years when I watched Ron try to sell me stuff? I have no idea.

When we were in Fort Lauderdale, Mike read What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. There’s an entire chapter about Ron Popeil, who rose from a teenager demonstrating his dad’s invention at Marshall Fields in Chicago, to the master pitchmen and inventor he is today.

Mike has always enjoyed stories of people who hustled and worked for success. Gladwell’s take was full of examples and quotes by both fans and detractors of Popeil. Over most meals, Mike would summarize or actually read from the book.

According to Gladwell, Ron invented the pitch technique of the countdown. You remember:

“Now you might think this would cost you $200. Of course, you’re not going to pay $200. You’re not even going to pay $150. Or $140. Or $120. You’re not even going to pay $100. This amazing (insert name of miracle product that will solve all of your problems) can be yours by making only 4 easy payments of $19.99.”

Just as I was amazed that he had never heard of Ron Popeil, he was equally amazed that I had. We just keep learning about each other, even after all these years. It’s this kind of discovery that keeps a marriage fresh, I guess.

But speaking of freshness, I had planned to be back in San Antonio this weekend, hugging grandbabies and all. After telling me that this was a great idea, the hub then hit me with, “But you’ll be away for Valentine’s Day.”

And a Frowny face.

Fake Frowny face. We NEVER do Valentine’s Day. That’s not to say that we don’t celebrate our marriage, our love, our lives. We just don’t cowtow to Hallmark, Whitmans’ and

I happen to have a spouse who surprises me with gifts on a semi regular basis, for nothing in particular, just because, or just for nothing other than he wants to. Certain local sales clerks in select departments see him coming and pounce upon him.

Go ahead, ladies. ENVY me.

And gentlemen: take a page from Mike’s book.

And as for my gifts: he tells me I am a continual source of joy for him. I challenge his premises; I listen and respond. I make him think (sometimes) and laugh (often.)

So my being gone on a certain day would not be such a big deal. I knew this and so made my reservations.

Then, there was all that snow that buried the East Coast. We in the Midwest, if we noticed at all, were chuckling that it was THEM not us.

One should never enjoy someone else’s inconveniences; I know this and it got reinforced when the airline called to tell me that my flight was canceled as were many other flights as the airlines tried to clean out the East Coast clog.

SO, I was going to be home for V Day after all.

I HAD purchased a gift and had planned to drag it out when I got back. Change in plans. I crept off to the guest bedroom where it was hidden. I opened the packaging. I took it out and brought it down to the kitchen.

And there it is: Ron Popeil’s Amazing Showtime Rotisserie, Platinum Edition. All sparkly and shiny in its not-really-platinum beauty. I watched the video and assembled the loose pieces.

After church today, I had Mike sit and watch the video (there are a lot of warnings….somebody probably got sued) and right now, we have a whole chicken, property cleaned, rubbed, seasoned and loaded, turning around and around in our new appliance.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to you. I’m having chicken for dinner.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"I'm going to pass on this one, Bo."

My dad was the executive officer of the Sky Giants, a Navy Reserve fighter squadron based at Glenview Navy Base, which is about ten miles up the shoreline from the Chicago Loop on Lake Michigan. The base was leftover from when naval aviators were being trained to land on an aircraft carrier that had been sailed down the St. Lawrence Seaway into the lake during World War II.

The Sky Giant's aviators had been assigned to fly their beloved F8F Bearcat. It was a fighter built around its enormously powerful radial engine. The engine cranked out 3000 horsepower. The aircraft looked kind of stubby sitting on the ground. The wingspan wasn't all that wide and the fuselage sat on an incredibly stout-looking landing gear. The canopy was a glass bubble, providing perfect 360 degree visibility. It had a roomy cockpit and was as reliable as a stone. Its roll rate was instantaneous. It could out-turn anything in the air. You couldn't break it, and it never broke. The airplane wasn't pretty, but it excelled at what it was designed to do --- dogfight with enemy fighters. In short, it wasn't much to look at, but it was an animal in the air. It was the fastest single-engine fighter in the world.

Takeoff was tricky in a Bearcat. The radial engine was swinging the largest four-bladed propeller ever put on a fighter. If you gave the engine full throttle on the takeoff roll, the torque from the motor would snap-roll the aircraft 360 degrees as soon as the weight came off the landing gear. That could ruin your day. Even with this treacherous tendency, the naval aviators that got to fly it loved it without limit.

Now I know that some persons reading this piece will say that the P-51 Mustang of WW2fame was the better fighter. They are wrong. I have it on good authority that my dad met up with a Mustang driver based out of Evansville one Reserve weekend and they proceeded to do a little off-the-record air combat maneuvering. Dad said he could out-turn, out climb, out dive, and out run the Mustang. He even said it was easy. But then again, he said the outcome might have been different, if a naval aviator had been flying the Mustang, as opposed to an Air Farce pilot. But I digress.

Unfortunately, the powers that be decided that the Sky Giants had to trade in their treasured Bearcats for the Navy's first generation jet fighter, the Banshee --- an aircraft with an unreliable engine, a hopeless electrical system and a hydraulic system that sometimes just didn't show up for work, or, as Dad used to say "went home early." The squadron aviators were not happy about the change.

The weekend for the transition from the Bearcat to the Banshee came to pass and three Banshees were flown in by the instructor pilots. The three aircraft were sitting on the ramp outside the control tower, so that the fliers could look them over. As is always the case, the instructors immediately began taunting the new guys about how difficult flying the new airplane was and that it was not likely that any of the new guys had the right stuff to survive the check ride. Hair-raising tales of in-flight emergencies, engines flaming out, controls going to mush, and, worst of all, mysterious, undetermined mechanical noises coming from the plane during flight, were the order of the day, along with entire over production of testosterone.

All of the aviators gathered in the ready room at 0700 on Saturday morning to hear the orientation lecture by the instructors. The lecture lasted less than one hour. There was no textbook, no manual, no performance charts, and no emergency procedures outlined for the new guys. In fact, the only useful information given were the airspeeds at liftoff, downwind, gear down, flaps down, and short final over the fence. After the useless lecture, all the pilots went out to the ramp to sit in the plane.

One by one, the aviators each slid into the cockpit. The instructors pointed out the various controls, engine gauges, electrical switches, and warning lights. Each potential victim was allowed to sit in the plane as long as he wanted, because as soon as he was familiar with the layout, he was blindfolded and given a test: the instructor would call out a control, switch or button and the pilot had to immediately identify it by hand. Surprisingly, every pilot passed the test.

Since most Navy flights were by flights of two aircraft, each lead pilot and his wingman were grouped together. The lead pilot would strap in with the engine start procedure written on his hand ( if this technique is good enough for a naval aviator, it is fine for Sarah Palin, I think) and the wingman, who was standing on the wing to the right of the canopy, would double check the startup procedure and set the various controls, buttons and switches for takeoff. Once all was set, the engine was started and the pilot would taxi out to the runway for takeoff with the wingman still on the wing. Once in takeoff position, the flier would throttle up the engine to make sure it was making maximum power, quickly check the engine gauges and flight instruments, and then signal his wingman to get down from the wing. The pilot would close and lock the canopy and launch the plane. At least, that is how it was supposed to go.

My dad's squadron commander, who was a veteran of the carrier war in the Pacific during WW2, got in and strapped on the plane. Dad, the executive officer, stood on the wing and went through the startup procedure with him. With the engine now running, the squadron leader taxied out to the runway with Dad on the wing. All of the instruments and gauges were checked by both pilots. The engine was throttled up and seemed to be running fine with all the gauges in the green. On signal, Dad got down from the wing and ran to the side of the runway, as the squadron leader closed and locked the canopy. But, instead of launching the airplane down the runway, the leader throttled back the howling engine to idle. He motioned for Dad to get back up on the wing. He unlocked the canopy and slid it back, and taxied back to the ramp, where he braked the airplane to a stop. He then shut down the engine and climbed out.

Puzzled, Dad said, "Is something wrong with the plane?"

The commander turned and said, "No, there isn't anything wrong with the plane."

Dad said, "Did you forget something?"

The commander was silent for a moment as he looked at the sky and then said, "I fought my war. I'm going to pass on this one, Bo. I quit." The commander took off his wings and handed them to Dad, who was speechless. Dad just stood there.

As the commander walked away, he turned and said to Dad, "You are in command now. Tell the men it was an honor and privilege to have commanded them." And away he walked, never to be seen or heard from again by the pilots of the squadron.

I have often thought about this story Dad told me. Was the commander frightened of the new airplane? Probably. But all the fliers were. Dad said HE was. Was he lacking the "right stuff." Hardly. He had flown fighters off a carrier in WW2. He was a proven leader and a combat veteran. He had nothing to prove to any one.

So why did the commander walk away and resign his commission? Dad said he could only guess. I certainly don't know. Dad said he thought maybe the commander had a premonition that all of his luck had been used up.

Many years later, Dad and I were flying and this story came up as we droned on through the night. We talked about why the commander quit. As all pilots know, we would much rather be lucky than good. Sometimes things happen in the air that you just can't control or fix. It doesn't make any difference how good you are. Sometimes you have tried everything you can think of and you are at your wit's end, and Lady Luck shows up and you get to walk away. And sometimes, Lady Luck doesn't show and you are just dead. I like to think that the commander suspected or knew he had used up all of his nine lives. Maybe during the War. That would be understandable.

Life is a lot like that checkout flight. None of us knows what is going to happen to us next. The possibility of crashing and burning in some fashion is open to all of us each day. You just never know.

Would I have strapped into that Banshee and taken it up? I'd like to think so. I've always had a wild streak in me. But to be fair, my situation now is different than the commander's situation then. I know my luck has run out. I am pretty sure I've used up my allotted nine lives. I used up the last one last March.

Which is, if you think about it, even more reason to strap in and go flying.

Mike out.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


You may be wondering, "Where are the Bolingers?"

Or not.

We know that our friends continue to pray for us. We are grateful and blessed.

We are here, in north central Indiana, awaiting the arrival of a most interesting weather system. The guy on the radio said that the forecast was for 'somewhere between 1/2 inch of rain to 4 - 7 inches of snow. Something about the way she blows.

We are fine, navigating through the new paradigm, that being the wife at work and the hub at home.

Some of you may remember that I wrote a weekly, self-syndicated newspaper column for about 10 years. When I landed by dream teaching assignment, that being assigned to junior English which is American Literature, my job consumed so much of my creative juice, I had little left over for quality writing.

Well, here I am, again, wading into my group of 17 year olds, sharing with them my knowledge about, admittedly, a limited subject and taking them by the hand through The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, and Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Loving it. And them. And, yes, the hub was right; it was time to return to the classroom.

However, it leaves little juice for writing. I currently have 3 or 4 partial pieces and really must must must get back to them. And I will.

Over breakfast the other day, a close friend explained that her family is seeking new areas of service and that the adventure can be unsettling. I told her that for right now, Mike and I are sure, are absolutely sure, that we are at the place that the Lord wants us. Our church, our friends, our students, our family, and every other aspect of our lives is, right now, what God wants for us.

This is an amazing condition. We know that often believers step out blindly, in faith, and sometimes lack this assurance. And so, for my friend, I ask for the same thing.

And for all of you.

Bundle up.