A Day Trip To Carmel-By-The-Sea

Every time that I make a trip to Fresno lately to visit with my two sons and my two grandkids, while staying with my eldest son Jason, we (Jason and I) strike off on one of his famous or infamous day trips!  This visit to Fresno was no exception to what has now become the rule.

Last Saturday we rose up early and got things together, packed up what we thought was necessary for our 2 1/2 hour drive over to Carmel-By-The-Sea for an afternoon of sightseeing.  This particular trip, Jason explained to me, would be specifically pointed towards visiting many of the art galleries that are there.

Now it is at this point that I must do some “splainin”!

First and foremost, for those that know me well know that there is not one single artistic bone located anywhere in, on, nor around the physical composition that makes up my being!  I may appreciate some art, but I am not anywhere close to being an art critique nor, an art connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination!

I may have the art or gift of gab, or as one of my dearly departed college friends, Jerry Noblett, so aptly put it back during one of our shared college classes, and I will paraphrase it for you. When he saw the A that I received for one of our essay tests in Business Law and his B, his response was something that I have never forgotten.

Jerry’s explanation was something like “Leon you are so full of BS that you just BS’ed your way into that A!  I can’t believe that we said the same thing in our essay answers, but you really greased him up with your BS!” Eureka, I think that we have a winner!

I have digressed, but I think that you get my point about my art knowledge!

Anyway, we arrived at Carmel around 10:30 am on Saturday.  By the time we found a place to park his car it was about 11 am.

As we began our stroll around Carmel-By-The-Sea our first stop was to try to find a place to eat, since breakfast was wearing very thin with both of us.  After all, it was going take a lot of calorie intact to fuel our walk around Carmel!  After a few Google searches and reading of a few menus, Jason mentioned that he knew a good little Italian restaurant, Pepe’s Little Napoli Bistro Italiano on the corner of Delores and 7th.  So we headed over to check it out and decided this was the place for lunch.

Lunch was outstanding and very affordable for Carmel!  We each ordered up differing pizzas with an appetizer of their “World Famous” garlic bread. It all was very tasty, and I would suggest this place if you are ever in town.

When lunch  was finished we sat out on our mission of visiting as many art galleries as we could Saturday.  There was a lot of people out and about walking up and down the sidewalks of Carmel.  It couldn’t have been a more perfect afternoon, clear, sunny, and temps in the mid 60’s, HELLO!

So my tour guide, read Jason The Latent Tie Dye Hippie and All Around Edgy Dude, takes out his phone and directs us to our first art gallery.  As we walked in and began to look around at the collection hanging on the walls of the gallery the owner/manager/curator greeted us and welcomed us into the establishment.  Within the first few sentences the question was asked, “are you an artist?”  Now this person surely must have been kidding when she asked that question!

When looking at this duo one could see an elderly gentleman, a child of the 60’s, yours truly, dressed in a pair of cargo pants, long sleeved Daytona Speedway T-Shirt and a jacket from Gold Beach, Oregon.  I must say that I was looking very nondescript, but very cool I might add, that day. I kind of blended into the nondescript, but cool, crowd!  However, standing next to me was a much younger, bearded 40-something man, who had just swapped out his Birkenstocks for a pair of hiking boots before we left his car, wearing a pair of cargo pants and a self designed and styled Tie Dye hoodie sweatshirt.

Isn’t it quite obvious who may be the artistic person and who isn’t?

So when that question was asked I would just stick my finger out and point to the bearded 40-something person with the Tie Dye hoodie accompanying me and let them know that it wasn’t me that was an artist! But to a tee, everyone of the people that we talked to in these art galleries was very friendly, courteous, and very engaging.  Many of the galleries were very interesting and entertaining for this old non-artist dude.  But there were about four or five galleries out of the thirteen that we visited Saturday that really captured my attention.

The Dr. Sues art gallery was really cool!  Charles Schultz granted a license to a gentleman that had worked with him over the years to continue with Schultz’ work.  The only stipulation was that this gentleman could not duplicate his work.  He could use all of the characters but had to use the characters differently than Shultz had done.  That gallery was cool and really brought me back to some of my youth with The Cat In The Hat, Linus, Lucy, Charley Brown and many, many more Shultz characters! Again, the gallery owner gave us a little history lesson on this gallery, the works that were being shown and he was very friendly, as well.

We entered another gallery that was full of paintings that were focused on the pop culture of the last 50 years.  There were many great paintings that took me back in time in this gallery.  However, there was one painting that struck me in a most unusual way.  It was kind of freaky!

As I turned the corner and entered another room in the gallery I was struck by this piece that was full of images of The Beatles.  Some likenesses from the Magical Mystery Tour album, some from the Abbey Road album and some from Sgt. Peppers.  As I gazed upon this painting, all of the sudden inside my head there was the music of George Harrison playing.  The song playing was “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”!  It was just freaky crazy, my friend!

Down the street and around the corner there were two galleries that were full of bronze sculptures.  The first gallery, The Bennet Gallery, was all the works of the twin Bennet brothers and some of their children’s work.  It was very fascinating to look at all the various pieces on display.  Again, talking to the curator/manager/owner of this gallery, and answering the repeated question as to which one of us was an artist, led to a very pleasant surprise! After talking to this lady for quite sometime, she revealed that one of the twin brothers was her late husband and that her daughter was also one of the producers of these bronze images!

Later in the afternoon we entered another gallery featuring more bronze sculptures.  The lady in charge took us around and explained many of the show pieces on display.  She fired up a video showing the artist at work with his models, etc.  She seemed very knowledgable.  And  after answering “the question of the day” once again, she and Jason connected, as he did with every single person that we talked with on Saturday.  So as the conversation led itself to the question, Jason asked her how she knew so much about the artist and his works.  She confessed that the reason that she knew so much about the artist was that it was her father!


We actually visited 13 of the 70-plus art galleries in Carmel on Saturday.

As the sun was getting low on the horizon, our feet and legs were getting tired, this 66 year old body was starting to feel fatigued, as we were walking back to the car I peered though the glass at one last shop.  It sparked my interest and in turn I got Jason’s attention.  I said to him let’s go into just one more.  He looked at me sort of incredulously, like he couldn’t believe that I was really interested in going into another art gallery!  I repeated what I said and he concurred.

Once inside he figured out my interest.  I was busted!  It was a gallery of race cars and airplanes!  I was in my element, race cars and airplanes.  I really thought that I had died and gone to Heaven!

The quality of the paintings were unbelievable.  The attention to detail was second to none.  It was so meticulous that it appeared photographic like in detail!  I learned that this artist was an engineer by trade.  He had worked in the auto industry designing automotive stuff.  His education, training, and background definitely came through in his attention to automotive detail, as well as aviation detail!

There was a painting of Michael Schumaker in his Ferrari, Mario Andretti in Formula 5000 car, Jim Clark in the Lotus that he brought to the Indy 500 in 1963, Ayrton Senna in his McLaren, a two ship of F-14 Tomcats orbiting over the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor with the point of view from a third aircraft in the formation, as well as many more fantastic paintings too many to mention!

Once again the gallery person was eager to engage both of us in conversation.  She was eager to explain the art work, give us background about the artist and answer our questions.  Once I got my fill of this gallery it was time to find Jay’s car and head over to the beach for a few minutes before we pack up and return to the valley.

The navigator, aka My Latent Tie Dye Hippie and All Around Edgy Dude, got us over to the beach just south of Pebble Beach Gold Club to check out the Pacific Ocean, the dropping sun, and the sandy beach.  It was a beautiful ending to a really fun day in this magical Central California Coast town!

Now for the 2 1/2 hour drive back to Fresno.  Jason and I talked about many things and that made the time go by very fast.

However, once we got back to his apartment and I began to unwind, I knew it was time for this old man to hit the rack.  As I slipped into bed and was laying there waiting to fall asleep, there were many thoughts that ran through my brain.

I thought about some of the things that I did with my dad in his later years.  I thought about bringing my parents to NYC for their first time and giving them “the grand tour of NYC”, which included taking them to Broadway for a show.  I thought about the only time that my dad ever went flying with me.  There were many more thoughts and memories of my dad that flashed through my brain before I fell asleep.

Those memories are priceless and aren’t for sale!

I wonder someday, when Jason reaches my age, if he will look back on our “day trip to Carmel”, or our other day trips, or maybe his trip out to Honolulu with me flying the B-767 with the same fond memories?  I surely hope so.


Let Us Live My Friends, Because:

Daytona from my seat
I take no credit for the passage below.  I came across this recently and it impressed me and moved me enough that I thought that I would pass it along to my family and friends.

Now that I have passed the golden age of 65 years old my mortality is more pressing and evident than it was it has been in years gone by.  I have been so consumed with life that I may not have done a great job of being the best person that I could be in life, that I may not have been the best parent, grandparent, brother, or spouse that I could have been, and that I may have robbed my family and friends of some valuable daylight.

I hope that this passage will speak to you the way that I spoke to me!

On The Day I Die

On the die I day a lot will happen.

A lot will change.

The world will be busy.

On the day I die, all the important appointments I made will be left unattended.

The many plans I had yet to complete will remain forever undone.

The calendar that ruled so many of my days will now be irrelevant to me.

All the material things I so chased and guarded and treasured will be left in the hands of others to care for or to discard.

The words of my critics which so burdened me will cease to sting or capture anymore. They will be unable to touch me.

The arguments I believed I’d won here will not serve me or bring me any satisfaction or solace.   

All my noisy incoming notifications and texts and calls will go unanswered. Their great urgency will be quieted.

My many nagging regrets will all be resigned to the past, where they should have always been anyway.

Every superficial worry about my body that I ever labored over; about my waistline or hairline or frown lines, will fade away.

My carefully crafted image, the one I worked so hard to shape for others here, will be left to them to complete anyway.

The sterling reputation I once struggled so greatly to maintain will be of little concern for me anymore.

All the small and large anxieties that stole sleep from me each night will be rendered powerless.

The deep and towering mysteries about life and death that so consumed my mind will finally be clarified in a way that they could never be before while I lived.

These things will certainly all be true on the day that I die.

Yet for as much as will happen on that day, one more thing that will happen.

On the day I die, the few people who really know and truly love me will grieve deeply.

They will feel a void.

They will feel cheated.

They will not feel ready.

They will feel as though a part of them has died as well.

And on that day, more than anything in the world they will want more time with me.

I know this from those I love and grieve over.

And so knowing this, while I am still alive I’ll try to remember that my time with them is finite and fleeting and so very precious—and I’ll do my best not to waste a second of it.

I’ll try not to squander a priceless moment worrying about all the other things that will happen on the day I die, because many of those things are either not my concern or beyond my control.

Friends, those other things have an insidious way of keeping you from living even as you live; vying for your attention, competing for your affections.

They rob you of the joy of this unrepeatable, uncontainable, ever-evaporating Now with those who love you and want only to share it with you.

Don’t miss the chance to dance with them while you can.

It’s easy to waste so much daylight in the days before you die.

Don’t let your life be stolen every day by all that you’ve been led to believe matters, because on the day you die, the fact is that much of it simply won’t.

Yes, you and I will die one day.

But before that day comes: let us live.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow


(Mom’s 93rd birthday, June 13, 2011)

As my alarm went off this morning, and I got dressed for my morning walk, I couldn’t understand why I felt so tired.  I also could not explain this tune that kept running through my head.

As I began my walk, the previous night’s restlessness began to unfold in my brain.

Even though I plug into my iPod during my walk, and I try to select some appropriate walking music, that tune was running around in my head from my night’s sleep, and it kept coming to the forefront of my thoughts.

You may recognize the song from the first line of the lyrics, and it goes like this.

“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high.

There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby”

As I continued on my walk that tune just was relentless inside my head. After a measurement of time that I could not quantify, I finally acquiesced to the music, found that song on my iPod, and selected it.  I have two different artists’ versions, but I knew which one of the artists I wanted to listen.

Years ago I bought the DVD/CD entitled “One More Car, One More Driver”, by Eric Clapton.  Clapton does an accoustical version of this song that is really so cool!  So I scrolled through the play lists, found this version, and selected it for my listening pleasure.

As the music played it became very clear to me that this song was placed into my head because I must have been dreaming about my Mom during the night.  After all, today is June 13th, and it would have been her 95th birthday.  Additionally, it is the first time I have had to celebrate her birthday without her!

Each time the song finished playing, I would push replay again, and again, and again.  I must have listened to this song a half dozen times this morning!  I was not sure how or why I was directed to play this particular song, but I was!

When I finished my walk I returned to my RV to get cleaned up for the day.  My first order of business was to make a trip to the cemetery to visit my Mother’s grave.  After arriving at my Mom’s grave, that song reappeared inside of my head.  I could not get it out of my head!

Both of parent’s graves were slightly covered in pine needles.  Not having a wisk broom in my possession, and having that song running rampant in my head, I was trying desperately to wipe off the debris from the headstones, when I heard a familiar voice.  It was my nephew, who too, was there to visit my Mom, his grandmother’s grave on her birthday.

It was at this time, with this song blaring inside my brain, and all the emotions that I was feeling deep inside, the grief, and the sadness that still lingers within, that I figured out that this song was a message from my Mom!

After concluding all my errands of the day, groceries, and a doctor’s appointment, I returned to my RV.  Once again I found this song and played it once again.  And again it reaffirmed, in my mind, that it was, indeed, a message from my Mom!

So, I have embedded the Eric Clapton video version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.  Maybe you will agree with me in my analysis of my Wednesday night  and Thursday!

Happy 95th Birthday Mom, I miss you very much!

Til we meet again “Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Way Up High”!


A Chip Off Of The Old Block?

Me and Cole

(Cole and Papa)

I have been in Fresno now for a little over a week this summer, and I have had the pleasure of getting to watch my grandson, Cole, play baseball twice for his school team.  One of those games was the final game in their really short regular season, and the other game Tuesday was a championship playoff game.  To say that ol Captain Blowdri was a proud grandfather would be a really gross understatement!

As I have written before, I get a great sense of pride watching Cole play baseball,  the game that I dearly love, the game that I played as a youngster, the game that was taught to me by both my Father, as well as my older brothers, the national past time.  I guess that you could say that baseball and the Hammack’s is kind of, like Hank Williams, Jr. sang about, you know, “a family tradition”!

I have had the opportunity to watch Cole play baseball about four or five times over the past year.  I have witnessed his progression, from an intimidated “newby”, to a young man who is developing skills and self confidence, where the game of baseball is involved.  Even though Cole is just about to finish the 5th grade, he is, in fact, ten years old and that is one year younger than most all of his contemporaries, which at this age can really make a world of difference in maturity, confidence, and performance.  I mention that because his teammates most always have had a little more experience playing Little League than Cole, at this point in their short lives.

Notwithstanding that fact, Cole has adapted very well to playing on a team of more experienced boys, and also on a team that is not coached by his dad, Jeremy.

When I am in the stands or on the sidelines watching Cole play baseball I get very nostalgic and, sometimes a little emotional.  I can’t help, nor control, the pride I feel deep inside, and the emotions that wash all over me while I am watching Cole play baseball.

While sitting in the stands watching Cole play ball, I find myself vicariously playing in the game.  It is like I am in Cole’s uniform, playing his position, and hitting for him when he steps into the batter’s box!  It is like I am experiencing all the highs and lows of the game, in real time, as he is playing it!  When Cole comes through with a base hit, I feel so boastfully proud and beam from ear to ear, and on the other hand, when he strikes out or grounds out, I can feel all of his disappointment!

Nevertheless, I will admit that I am a somewhat proud, prejudiced grandfather, when discussing my grandson’s athletic abilities!  Additionally, it gives me a great sense of satisfaction and family pride when I am able to attend any of Cole’s baseball games, and watch this young boy grow personally and athletically.  I could go on forever about this, however, I will just incorporate the following video to augment this article.

I will leave you with this video of one of my most favorite James Taylor tunes.  The message is the medium!

Peace be with you!


Revisiting Some Of My Past


(Williams AFB 82 FTW T-38)

Last week, while in Casa Grande, AZ, for some really good late model and modified races, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to revisit some of my past.  It just so happens that Casa Grande is just about 40 mile directly south of the place that launched my aviation career, Williams AFB, AZ.

It was almost 40 years ago, August 9, 1973, that this baby-faced, young Second Lieutenant first drove onto the base for processing and orientation for USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training.

On an off day from racing I decided to take that nostalgic drive North to see what is left of the former Williams AFB, or as we, in the Air Force called it with great affection, “Willy”.

As I left the Pinal County Fairgrounds, that is where the Central Arizona Raceway is located, I headed Northeast for my first stop on this tour down memory lane.  About 15 miles NE from the race track stands a seldom used airfield that is now Coolidge Municipal Airport.

Coolidge Municipal Airport, in its previous life, was built and utilized by the USAF as for various support roles from 1941-1993.  During WWII that facility was used as a support field for ferrying supplies and personnel to support the war effort.  Following WWII, the airfield was aligned with the USAF’s effort in training pilots at Williams AFB, AZ.

It was at this auxiliary airport that I would fly visual approaches, both straight-in approaches, and single engine approaches, in the T-37 back in 1973.

Notwithstanding the fact that I had flown more than 50 approaches to this facility in 1973, I had never driven to this airport, stood on the taxiways and runways.  Now some 40 years later, I was able to stand at this facility and reminisce the significance it has played in my aviation career.

There were many emotional thoughts that ran through this old man’s mind during my revisitation to Coolidge Municipal Airport.  As I was standing out on the tarmac, I could hear the voice of my T-37 instructor in my head, talking me through the traffic pattern and onto the runway successfully.

As I gazed out over this, personally important historic old airport, I couldn’t help thinking……

Forty years, man where’d they go?

After more than an hour of reminiscing at Coolidge Municipal Airport, I worked really hard at gathering up all those emotions that had run rampant through my brain, walked back to my car, and decided to drive another 30 miles North to some more of my old stomping grounds, Williams AFB, now called Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport for some more soul-searching.

On the drive from Coolidge to “Willy” there were many thoughts that began to float around in my head.  I wasn’t sure just how this old man would handle what would surely be more emotional thoughts that would gush into my brain, after all, it was where my future was shaped in many ways.

As I drove through a back way from Coolidge to Willy, I noticed that this route used to be a deserted country road.  However, now there are subdivisions abounding everywhere! As I drove North on Power Road, I came to Williams Field Road, the entrance to Williams AFB in the old days.  I made a right turn on Williams Field Road, the old guard-house was still there, marking the entrance to Willy.

I was on a mission to find certain buildings that were key to my days on base.  I first drove to where my old T-37 squadron building was located.  That building has now been updated, and is now incorporated into part of the Arizona State University extension facilities now located here.

The memories of the morning standup briefing before we went flying the ol “Tweet” bounced around in my brain.

Forty years, man where’d they go?

Next stop was across the street.  That is where my T-38 squadron building was once headquartered.  Likewise, that building has been updated and incorporated into ASU extension.

Forty years, man where’d they go?

As I stood between these two buildings, I gazed out to the ramp area where all those T-37’s and T-38’s used to be parked.  The nostalgia rushed into my brain like a herd of stampeding buffalo!

Those thoughts resurrected my early days of flying the T-37, trying to learn how to be an Air Force officer and pilot, and to all the struggles of trying to manhandle the supersonic fighter/trainer known as the T-38.  The thought of 57 Second Lieutenants, “young studs” in our flight suits, strutting our stuff, flying jets, and living large, was absolutely overwhelming!

Forty years, man where’d they go?

My next stop was to find the Officer’s Club.  My most prized memory of this building was when I brought my Dad down to Willy for my “Dining Out”.  The Dining Out was a formal function, for men only, just prior to my graduation.  The Dining Out is a USAF tradition, a right of passage of sorts for the young USAF Officer and pilot.  It was a night with me in my mess dress uniform and my Dad in a tux.  What a memory!

That night still is one of the highlights of my life!  It marked, in my mind, when my Dad really realized that his son had passed into manhood!

Forty years, man where’d they go?

After the Officer’s Club, I headed back near the guard-house entrance.  Just to the South of the entrance stands the old base chapel.  The base chapel is where my graduation ceremonies were held.  It is where I got my USAF pilot wings pinned on my uniform at the end of USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training, September 7, 1974.

As I stood near the front door, I vividly relived that warm September afternoon with my family in tow helping me to celebrate a monumental event in my young life.  Once again, the emotions rushed and gushed all over me!

Forty years, man where’d they go?

My last point of interest to find was the base house that I lived in.  This was also the first house that my oldest son, Jason, came home from the hospital to!  The street names have all been changed since the Air Force gave the facility back to Arizona.  But with a little effort I found the house!

Once again, there were memories that overwhelmed me!  There were too many memories to even lightly touch upon!  But nevertheless, this movie lasted quite a long time as I sat down on the sidewalk in front of the house!

Forty years, man where’d they go?

As I left my old base housing house, I found myself pulling back into the base chapel on my way out of the base for one last stop.  I got out of my car one last time and walked up to the front door at the base chapel.  I just touched the front door one last time!

When I was able to gather myself up, I slowly walked back to my car.  As I pulled out of the old base chapel parking lot, I peered one last time over my left shoulder for a final glimpse of Willy and my past.

Good bye Willy!  Forty years, man where’d they go?

As I pulled out of Willy, on the radio quite coincidentally, was one of my all time favorite songs by Bob Seger.

It really sums up just how I felt last week as I was reliving the life of Captain Blowdri, forty years later!

Forty years, man where’d they go? Now I  recall!

I will leave you with the video.  Listen to the lyrics, they have left an indelible imprint in my mind for many years!


If I Could Have A Beer With Jesus

Fatherly advise

(Jeremy and Cole)

Growing up the way that I did, with a good old farm boy as my Dad, and a very naive girl as my Mom, and going to church every Sunday morning, I have always prayed in my time of need.  However, I must admit that I do not go to church every Sunday morning, now that I am an old man myself! Nevertheless, not all my prayers get answered, or at least I think that they do not all get answered.

But after my Dad passed away back in 1995, and periodically throughout all those years, but more specifically since my Mom passed away on June 30, 2012, I have thought that I would really like have a one-on-one talk with Jesus, to get a few of my most burning questions answered.  You know, just go have a beer with Jesus!

These are some of the things that I would ask him!

If I could have a beer with Jesus
Heaven knows I’d sip it nice and slow
I’d try to pick a place that ain’t too crowded
Or gladly go wherever he wants to go

You can bet I’d order up a couple tall ones
Tell the waitress put ‘em on my tab
I’d be sure to let him do the talkin’
Careful when I got the chance to ask

How’d you turn the other cheek
To save a sorry soul like me
Do you hear the prayers I send
What happens when life ends
And when you think you’re comin’ back again
I’d tell everyone, but no one would believe it
If I could have a beer with Jesus

If I could have a beer with Jesus
I’d put my whole paycheck in that jukebox
Fill it up with nothing but the good stuff
Sit somewhere we couldn’t see a clock

Ask him how’d you turn the other cheek
To save a sorry soul like me
Have you been there from the start
How’d you change a sinner’s heart
And is heaven really just beyond the stars
I’d tell everyone, but no one would believe it
If I could have a beer with Jesus

He can probably only stay, for just a couple rounds
But I hope and pray he’s stayin’ till we shut the whole place down

Ask him how’d you turn the other cheek
To save a sorry soul like me
What’s on the other side?
Is mom and daddy alright?
And if it ain’t no trouble tell them I said hi
I’d tell everyone but no one would believe it
If I could have a beer with Jesus
I’d tell everyone but no one would believe it
If I could have a beer with Jesus

[Thanks to Kendra Singleton for lyrics]

Check out the video, and listen to those lyrics.  Would you like to go have a beer with Jesus sometime?

Those Flyover States


(WOMR file photo)

Earlier this month I was driving back from Fresno after my cardiologist visit.  I have driven that long 500 miles many times recently. On this particular day I was near the Mojave airport, close to Edwards AFB, when I looked up to the sky to see an airliner heading to the East Coast.  That old jet airliner got me reminiscing about my 37 years of flying, and all that I have witnessed in the air and on the ground.

About that same time a tune came up on the radio by Jason Aldean that really intensified the thought patterns.  Listening to the lyrics, as I now do at my advanced age of almost 62, it really made me think about a lot of things.

When we think of this country, we tend to think only about the cool parts, New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc.  However, we fail to realize that there is another part of this country, the part of the country that feeds, not only this country, but much of the rest of the world!

The forgotten parts of this country are called “the flyover states”!

There is one “flyover state” that is near and dear to my heart, “those plains of Oklahoma”. That is where my roots emanate from.  That is where my parents were born.

Nevertheless, if you watch the video and listen to the lyrics, you might feel some of the same emotions I was feeling while the song played on that long lonesome road back home!

While watching this video, with its broken down B-727’s, of which I have flown for over 5,000 hours in my aviation career, brought back many memories from my Eastern/United Airlines days.

Check this video out!

It’s A Time Of Thanksgiving

50th anniversary

(50th Wedding Anniversary, 1984)

Archie Wilson Hammack

July 21, 1912-December 30, 1995

Ola Mae Hammack

June 13, 1918-June 30, 2012

I will be brief this Thanksgiving.  I am most thankful for the best parents that I could ever ask for!

For those of you that know me, know that I relate music and life, whenever possible.

Listen to this song written by Blake Shelton, and his wife Miranda Lambert, who also sings this song.  The song is about the loss of Blake’s brother when they were teenagers.  The lyrics are poignant, current, and very moving!  This song says what’s in my heart this Thanksgiving.

“…..I miss you.  They say I’ll be ok, but I’m not going to ever get over you!”

I Am Just Lucky That Way!

Cole pondering the universe

(WOMR file photo)

Every since May 16, 2010, when my world was turned upside down with the events that played out at 36,000 feet, I have had many opportunities to reflect back on my 61 years.  The real kicker to this whole thing occurred on June 30, 2012, that was the end of era for me.  That day I was thrust into the role of joining my siblings as the new patriarchs of our branch of the Hammack family.  That was the day that my Mom, Ola Mae Hammack, answered the call from God to return home to be with my Dad, my older brother, and the rest of her family!

I have now had a couple of months since then to reflect, to actually ponder, and to evaluate what I have done with my life.

If I am going to be forthright, I must evaluate my heritage.  I come from a very hard-working, but extremely dirt poor, early days, 1930’s and 40’s, migrant farm working parents.  Both Mom and Dad were not afraid of hard work, in fact, that is all that they knew.

About the time that WWII broke out, Mom and Dad settled in San Pablo, CA, an east SF Bay community that housed the Kaiser shipyards.  Those shipyards built US Liberty ships that transported soldiers and sailors to fight the War.  However, that was a few years before I made my entrance into this world!

As I progressed throughout school, there was never any doubt that I would go to college.  That realization came to me at an early age.  I saw how hard, and what long hours that my Dad put in on a daily basis, that I figured out that I wanted to find a skill that would allow me to “work smart”, not necessarily hard!  That skill would require a college education, not doubt!

However, I was initially not accepted into Fresno State.  I had missed the mathematical formula by just 2 points!  I made an appointment to talk to the Dean of Admissions, to discuss my application.  A few days after the interview I was notified that Fresno State would make an exception, and therefore, allow me to enroll for the fall semester of 1969.  What a stroke of good luck!

In the beginning of my sophomore year at Fresno State, my college deferment was revoke because I lacked the required amount of units.  Remember that was 1970, the height of the Viet Nam War.  Knowing that my draft lottery number was extremely low, I looked into USAF ROTC, which was on campus.  After taking all the aptitude tests and the physical, it was determined that I was qualified to enroll in USAF Pilot Training after graduation, if would commit to the program.  So in the fall fo 1971 I signed the necessary paperwork to enroll into USAF ROTC as a pilot candidate.  Luck smiled down on me once again!

Air Force pilot training was the single most difficult thing that I have ever attempted. There was a time that I was ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat, however, I just couldn’t succumb!  I remembered all the trials and tribulations that my parents had overcome in their life, and I just refused to let myself fail.  I just dug deep for some strength to get through this program.  I guess that I just got lucky again!

My USAF career was mostly uneventful, except for the April 1975 Saigon Evacuation. That was the first time that I witnessed what 37mm artillery looked like exploding around my aircraft in the air!  I didn’t take any direct hits, I guess that I was just lucky that way!

During my nine-year tenure at Eastern Air Lines I had one close call.  We had a landing gear, the nose gear, that refused to extend and had to land the plane with the two mains down and the nose gear still firmly in the nose gear wheel well.  It was a somewhat harrowing experience for me, a fairly new B-727 copilot!  Nobody was injured.  Once again luck prevailed!

In my 21 year flying career with United, it too was mostly uneventful.  I say mostly uneventful until May 16, 2010.  If you didn’t read the link at the beginning of the article, here is the link to my career ending Sunday night flight.  You might take a few minutes to read the first hand experience of what a cockpit fire is really like from the Captain’s point of view!  I now, more than ever, really understand just how lucky that I was that night!

But I have to say that, in reflection, the real force behind my drive to succeed was my Mom and Dad.  They were always there when I needed them.  They were there to catch me when I fell, and gave my support that things would always get better.  They never judged me for my failures and shortcomings.  I could have picked a wealthier set of parents, but I could never have picked a more supportive and loving Mom and Dad.  I guess that I am just lucky that way!

Now I have two great grandchildren, Cole and Hannah, that are the light of my life.  I guess that I am just lucky that way!

I’m not saying that I’m something special!  I am just luck that way!

Watch and listen to the lyrics of Joe Walsh’s explanation.  I couldn’t have put it any more succinct than he did in this song!


The Last Goodbye


(WOMR file photo)

This is without a doubt going to be one of the most difficult, and challenging articles to complete that I have yet written.  It has now taken me nineteen days to try to compose my thoughts, emotions, and arrange what you are bout to read.  Having said that, I feel compelled to share my loss with you.

Ola Mae Hammack

June 13 1918-June 30 2012

Those two lines appear to be self-explanatory, right?  Oh contraire, my friend!  How can a date, a dash, and another date define, adequately describe the person?  That dash between the birthdate and the date of death is a lifetime, in Mom’s case, 94 marvelous and glorious years.

Those 94 years encompassed a multitude of highs and lows.

Her life started out, in 1918, as the daughter of John Addison and Annie Myrtle Smith (nee Fletcher) in the little farm town of Sayre, Oklahoma.  Being number four out of a total of eight children, only seven lived to adulthood, having an extremely poor childhood, part of which was growing up during the depression, helped to formulate Mom’s naive conservative pentecostal point of view.

Mom’s family migrated from Western Oklahoma to South Texas while she was still in elementary school, they were chasing the agriculture work in the early 1920’s.  It was there in South Texas, at the age of 12, that my Mom was introduced to, accepted, and made religion an integral part of her life for the next 82 years!

At the age of 14 or 15 her family, once again, chased the farm work to Buckeye, Arizona.  It was shortly thereafter that Mom met another Oklahoma native, my Dad, Archie Wilson Hammack.

The courtship was very short and they were married in Buckeye, AZ on February 20, 1934.

Just eleven months after marrying, Mom and Dad welcomed into their family on January 19, 1935, with much joy, a new son named Donald.  However, just ten days before Christmas, December 15, 1935, and ten months after his birth, Donald passed away while battling pneumonia.

From 1934 through 1942 Mom and Dad worked as migrant farm workers, following the crops from the Imperial Valley, throughout the Central Valley of California, and occasionally up though Idaho, and back to the Imperial Valley of California.  All the while adding two more sons, Ted and Jim, to their family.  It was the lifestyle that was illustrated by John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”, in a nutshell!

During WWII, Mom and Dad settled into San Pablo, CA, an East Bay town of the SF Bay area metropolis.  During those years, the family was increased by two more mouths.  It was there that, both Zeeva and Jerry, were added to the family role.  The surviving children now totaled four at this point.

After the war ended, Mom and Dad decided to move to the Alaskan Island of Craig to try commercial fishing.  That venture only lasted about 2-3 years.  My Dad came down with Tuberculosis in 1948, and the decision to return to California.  After entering a TB sanitarium in Monrovia for treatment, it was decided that the whole family would relocate to Visalia where my maternal grandmother was residing at the time.  Later the family would move to Monrovia to be closer to Dad during his recovery.

In 1950 my Dad exited the hospital, and moved the family to Tulare, CA.  It was there the following year, 1951, that the last of the children, yours truly, Leon, arrived.

For the 61 years that my Mom and Dad was married, Mom was the backbone of the family, instilling her beliefs, guiding, and teaching her children, as mothers always do.  It was through those 61 years that she tried to be the best Mom that she possibly could be.  It was through those 61 years that she did her best to try to show her children, through example, as well as words, how to be a responsible adult.  Her efforts will forever be felt, and greatly appreciated!

However, for the last 16 1/2 years, Dad passed away on December 30, 1995, Mom has lived a more lonesome lifestyle.  Notwithstanding the fact that her five children were able to provide her a very comfortable living, growing old by one’s self makes for a lonely existence!

This past March Mom’s life started to unravel.  Her health began to decline, as well as her will to live, began to decline.  Fortunately, however, Mom’s mental and physical were soaring high for her 94th birthday, June 13th, as we gathered around her to celebrate that huge milestone!

But that was short-lived, on the morning of Tuesday, June 26th, however, Mom’s health took a huge U-turn!  She slipped into a coma, it was obvious that her time on this Earth was rapidly coming to an end!  It was at that point that our family gathered together around Mom, offering her love and support, knowing full well that she was about to answer that long distant call from God that we know we all must answer one day.

That call from God was made to Mom at 2:45 pm on June 30, 2012.!

That afternoon, was for me, “THE LAST GOODBYE”!  

For those who have not visited the web site we created for Mom, check out the following link.  Your comments and stories are encouraged!


Til we meet again, this is YOUR Captain speaking, I love you and miss you, Mom!