Tag Archives: Pan Am

A Ten-Year Old’s Epiphany

30 Aug

If I had access to my Dad's pictures more easily, I could have a real picture of his helicopter, but this will have to do! At least you get the idea.

In all the years that my father flew either airplanes or helicopters, I only flew with him as pilot once. He was flying a medi-vac helicopter at the time, and I went with him when he had to re-fuel. It’s the only time I’ve been in a helicopter and it was amazing. I felt like I was in a Vietnam War movie as we took off from the hospital’s helipad. I began to hum the theme music to M.A.S.H. – even though it’s neither Vietnam, nor a movie – and gazed, transfixed, at the city dropping around me.

A Pan Am plane that I never flew on with my Dad! Circa 1985...so at least the era is correct, though he was in 727's at the time...

I don’t know why that’s the only time I flew with Dad. It seems kind of silly now, that in his Pan Am years I never did. Somehow it just never worked out. For 14 years of my growing-up life, his job was located 8 hours away from home, which made accompanying him rather difficult…not to mention the fact that the Air Force tends to frown on pilot’s taking their kids out on rescue missions. We would see him, occasionally though, flying over our house. He’d let Mom know if they were flying to Alaska for training exercises, and the approximate time of their passing overhead, and we’d hang around all day, just waiting for the magic hour when he’d fly over.

It's a Huey...my appologies if it's not exactly the correct one!

You could hear them coming before you saw them, the great-big Hueys with their green paint jobs, their flight-patterns taking them straight over our cliff on the north of Orcas Island. We’d run out to the deck and wave like mad, unable to talk over the noise, our hearts beating in time to the whump of the engines. And then, so quickly, they’d be gone – heading over Matia and Sucia islands, over tiny Puffin, over Vancouver, B.C. – and we were left with our ears ringing, our hearts slowing, the blessing of his wave from the window still reflected in our shining eyes.

I hear it...and I come running!

And that’s why, here in farmland, I love the crop-dusters. I’ll be washing dishes, or folding laundry, and I’ll hear them coming. At first – every time, without fail – I think it’s a maniacal driver on our dirt road, going about 100, and then, when it’s almost too late, I realize what it is and I yell for the kids to come, making a dash for the door as I do so.

Out on the deck we laugh and wave and delight in the noise, the proximity, the sheer overwhelming power. Inevitably, at some point, I run for the camera, though I’ve never been able to get a shot of it directly over my head. The good thing is, I usually have several tries, as the planes come back and forth, back and forth in their job of spraying the corn, the soybeans, the bugs that threaten the crops.

Not all of my friends understand the joy I find in the yellow crop duster, though a few of them understand a little. My husband, bless his heart, gets it, and he runs to the deck with us, shading his eyes against the sun as he admires the dangerous flying. Nevermind the possible philosophical issues with chemicals vs. organic farming, to me these planes are my youth – my wonderful childhood of tidepools and forts and parents who loved me – all rolled up in that airplane sound – fixed wing or not – flying over my house, over the years. The pilot has no idea, I’m sure, why this crazy family comes running to wave. Maybe he doesn’t even see us, focused as he is on the field before him. And then he’s gone, only to return, time and again, rising like the sun on the horizon, like a ship on a sea of grain.

Again, not the actual plane I flew in, but still a cool shot!

My dad had a friend who owned a bi-plane and he came up to Orcas Island one time and gave us rides. I remember putting on the goggles and climbing in behind my sister. I remember my hair flying behind me, the feel of the wind against my cheeks. I remember seeing the town I knew so well unrolling beneath me, the beaches and boulders I had conquered, now tiny and toy-like below. I’m the king of the mountain!

And then we were flying over our house, our trees, our garden. “This is what Dad sees!” I thought. “This is his view. This is his world.” And for a moment, for a brief instant in my ten-year old, self-centered heart, I understood.


50 Years Ago Today: An Overnight Atrocity

13 Aug

Our apartment building in Berlin! We were the top two floors, right-hand side.

Imagine waking up one day only to discover that an impenetrable wall had gone up in your city overnight and you lived, not in a vibrant, whole metropolis, but rather in a divided, frightened island of a land; your grandparents, perhaps, were unreachable, your girlfriend separated from you forever because of the arrogance of her nation’s Communist ideology. It was August 13th, 1961: 50 years ago today.

"My" U-Bahn station - Dahlem Dorf. The prettiest station in Berlin!

I called that city home for my last two years of high school. West Berlin, Germany, was an amazing place to live. Since I had grown up on an island, with access only by ferry or private boat or plane, somehow living in the isolation of Berlin wasn’t a big deal to me. My father was a pilot for Pan American Airlines, so we had that life-line to the western world if we needed it, but there was so much to do in Berlin that really, we rarely left. I had never lived in a CITY before and, though I couldn’t speak the language beyond “Wo ist die toiletten?” when we moved there, it didn’t really matter. (Right before we moved to Berlin, the principal of my high school on Orcas Island asked me, “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” and I wondered why he was asking me if I spoke Dutch.)

A beloved East German "Ampelmann" pedestrian stop light...now to be found all over the reunited city.

I wish I had learned the language better, wish that I had the gift that certain people have of grasping the verb genders, the inflections of a foreign tongue. I learned a little, most of which I’ve now forgotten, though I was able, in an amazing trip last February, to converse with a store keeper in Berlin, both of us smiling, both of us laughing at our mutual struggles – his in English, mine in Deutsch. It was a pleasant experience, despite my terrible accent, and I returned to his shop 3 times because he made it fun.

The Ampelmann says "go"!

It was amazing being back in Berlin, after 21 years of being away. In a normal city, 21 years may or may not reveal much change. In Berlin, even the name was different…the “West” had disappeared…though in metaphorical terms, the “West” had actually taken over the “East”, and it was really the “East” which was gone. Now, the former West Berlin looks much the same: I found my house, my school, the military base where we shopped and hung out (though it is nothing but an abandoned field now). But the “East” part of Berlin…it’s like another war happened and everything had to be torn down and rebuilt to replace the ruined city. And, really, that is what happened. The Cold War was won…and the Communists backed off, leaving Deutschland united, returning Berlin to its glory days as capital of Germany.

Truman Plaza...no longer the bustling base that it was.

I guess you don't have to show your id card at the gate anymore.

"8 o'clock at Oskar"...a good place to meet! The subway station looks much as it did 20 years ago.

My parents were still living in Berlin when the wall came down on November 9, 1989, and I came home for Christmas that year and hammered out my obligatory bits of history from that hideous monstrosity of a wall: 96 miles of repression. They built it ostensibly to “Keep out Western Capitalism” though really it was built to keep IN the eastern people who were moving out in a steady stream of freedom-seekers. The freedom-seekers continued to seek ways out of East Berlin, sending more than 170 people to their deaths…and over 5,000 to freedom…in the 26 years of its existence. The Berlin Wall Museum, located at the former site of Checkpoint Charlie, is an amazing (albeit dusty) conglomeration of artifacts and stories and pictures of the history of the wall, complete with suitcases and empty car engines that were actually used to smuggle people over Die Mauer. My husband and I HAD to eat at a McDonalds which is located directly across from the museum…smack dab in the center of the former barricade against such brazen western ideals. How could we resist?

The former Berlin American High School...now a German oberschule.

Our football field...now, I suppose, a "football" field...ie, soccer!

Because my parents returned stateside less than a year after the wall opened, I had never seen the actual wall be gone. I had never seen Berlin whole…never been able to take an U-Bahn subway ride from the Kufurstendamm (West Berlin’s main shopping street) straight to Alexander Platz (a famous East Berlin square)…had never been able to shop in the amazing Gendarmenmarkt (because it wasn’t amazing then)…or been able, best of all, to walk through the Brandenburger Tor…because it was in no-man’s land, walk-here-and-be-killed-land. I love that now the Embassy to the United States is actually touching the Brandenburg Gate…love that the French Embassy is close by, the British Embassy…all right there, taking their rightful place in history as the protectors of Berlin back in the days when it needed protecting. The Russian Embassy is up the road a little…nearby, but not right there. It too, has a place in Berlin’s history…but a place that might rather be forgotten.

The Brandenburg Gate - now fully accessable!

“Ich bin ein Berliner,” JFK said in his famous speech declaring the stance of the United States in Berlin’s defense. Nevermind the joke that he accidentally called himself a jelly donut, he stood up for freedom…no less than President Regan did many years later when he stood before the Brandenburg Gate and declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” I was there when he made that speech. My mother and I stood there in the cheering crowd, thinking, “Yeah, right, like that will happen any time soon.” It happened two years later. Freedom has a way of coming to the fore.

I, too, am a Berliner. Even though I was not there for long. I think that we are part of everything that we have ever been. The naughty little children, the rebellious teenagers, the idealistic college students, the clueless new parents, the resigned adults. All of that is in me to this day. And so, on this anniversary of such a terrible oppression, I claim my place as a proud Berliner.

Even though I cannot speak the language.

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