It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times! Isn’t that how The Tale of Two Cities begins? Well it is very apropos in my tale as well.
It was the Spring of 2006, I was 55 years old, when my life took a hard left turn, quite unexpectedly. I was taking my bi-annual FAA physical when the doctor was listening to my heart and suddenly looked up at me and asked me a question, that appeared quite out of the blue!
The doctor asked me “how long have you had this heart murmur?” I was completely stunned by his question. My eloquent retort to the doctor went something like this. “What murmur, I don’t have no stinkin’ murmur”!
The doctor then sat down beside me and explained what a heart murmur was and that, yes indeed, you do have a heart murmur. He then explained to me what to listen for through his stethoscope as he positioned that on my ears and over my heart.
I heard just exactly what he had heard! I did in fact have a murmur at 55 years old. How could that be? How could this just now show up? I have physicals yearly for twenty years, and for the last ten years a physical every six months.
In addition to the heart murmur, the doctor had detected that my blood pressure was creeping up. He suggested that I see my doctor regarding all this news. I was getting ready to move back to my hometown, Fresno, in just a few weeks so I thought that once I was all moved in I would contact a cardiologist. I decided I would make an appointment with the cardiologist that saved my older brother’s life a decade previous.
I was caught completely off guard. My first 55 years had been a cake walk.
Now, all of the sudden, “Houston we have a problem!”
After getting into to see Dr. John Nelson, he began to prescribe some medication that he thought would get my blood pressure down. Then he got down to brass tacks to try to find what the cause of my heart murmur to be. After an echocardiogram the doctor was beginning to get a feel for the culprit. Dr Nelson told me that the echo seems to point to a bicuspid aortic valve as the problem, but it wasn’t conclusive. He wanted for me to have and angiogram and that would help to flush out the answer. I had heard about that procedure and that you are awake when it is performed. My answer was “no Happy Valley, no angiogram!”
He didn’t like my response. So he sat back down and mulled over another plan. He asked me would I be interested in getting a 64-Slice? After he explained that it was non intrusive and that it was, in effect, a very strong xray, a Cat Scan type of procedure. At that time it was very leading edge. He would like to get me into this new test program in San Francisco that was cutting edge at the time and give him a better look at my aortic valve via that scan. He was pretty sure that my insurance would not cover the expense, but that he could get me enrolled for free,
I agreed that if it wasn’t going to cost me a thing, and that there was no adverse conditions or pain, I would do it.
It took several weeks to get my schedule and the facility’s schedule worked out. But, we made it work and soon I was off to downtown San Francisco for my 64-Slice.
It was a very simple, interesting, and basically a non-invasive procedure. It was like an enhanced x-ray with contrast. That was a very important piece of the puzzle to gather in order to make the proper diagnosis for me.
Having gathered the info from the 64-Slice, there was just one more test or piece of evidence required to nail down the reason for the murmur. Dr. Nelson suggested that I have a TEE (Transesophageal echocardiogram). I agreed to have that procedure at the hospital with Dr. Sandhu (you may hear more about this doctor later in this series, he was a trip)! I found out that the aortic valve lies right next to your esophagus, and this procedure allows a very up close and personal look at the aortic valve.
In a few days following the TEE Dr. Nelson concluded that I have a bicuspid aortic valve (two folds or flaps), normally the aortic valve is tricuspid or three fold or flaps. My bicuspid aortic valve is genetic. As Lady Gaga sang, “I was Born That Way”! It is genetic, in that, I received this from either my mom’s genes or my dad’s genes!
The results of the TEE gave Dr. Nelson the vital piece of knowledge to fully understand and diagnose what was to come down the road!
Now realize that this all happened in the time frame of late 2006 and the Spring of 2007.
What lies ahead for me will be eye opening and life changing!
This post will the first part of a several part series that I am in the process of writing to bring you up to date as to what is currently happening to me……… open heart surgery in the next six weeks.
It has been almost ten months since you answered that call from God that one day we all must answer. One would think that in that amount of time the pain of losing you would have healed somewhat. But that is not necessarily true. There is still a whole in my heart where your memory now lives. You have left a lasting impression on those that you touched, Sis.
You made your mark on our family and you made your mark with your friends and coworkers, as well! Little did you know that both the Fresno Fire Department and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department would send representatives from their respective agencies to honor you at your celebration of life!
Today would have been your 75th birthday, September 15, 1944, and all the good memories of you, my big sister, have flooded my brain and flooded my heart this weekend. All those memories have made me laugh uncontrollably and have made me cry sorrowfully today! Your loss has been very profound.
I miss you every single day.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SIS!
Below is the video that I made for my sister’s celebration of life. It is a good reflection of her 74 years on this Earth.
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 scope 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 handy dandy cell 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 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.
TIL NEXT TIME MY FRIEND, ROGER, WILCO, OVER AND OUT!
I take no responsibility 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 such a fantastic performance 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 finish 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 finish 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 sphere of influence.
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.
For the past six months I have been working on getting off the excess weight that I have accumulated in the last several years. In addition to changing my eating habits, I have been walking.
Where I was walking this winter is within the confines of the facility where I winter. It is much safer, no cars trying to run over you, no traffic, no distractions, etc., however it is pavement, like a road racing course. For the month of June I was visiting my kids and grandkids in Fresno, and walking on a one mile horse race track.
One would not think there is no difference walking on asphalt, versus walking on dirt. I, too, was one of those that thought that there was little to no differences in the surfaces. However, after a few days of walking on the dirt track I found that I was having handling problems!
On the pavement, where I was walking this winter, it was a relatively flat surface, requiring both left and right turns. I had no built in camber, or bump stops in my suspension setup. Just an old pair of Nike cross trainers on my feet! However here on the horse racing track, it is dirt, slightly banked, and just left turns, kinda like oval racing in NASCAR. Quickly I realized that there was a big difference on how this old man performed on the dirt!
Anyway, for the first week of walking on this dirt track, I found that as I would get to the end of either straight-away, and try to set up for the turns, I was unable to hold the low line through the turns. As soon as I would “gas it up”, I would push up towards the fence! I just could not figure it out! Why was I unable to hold the low line, and pushing so much through the turns?
I tried “getting out of the gas” early, rolling through the center, then “gassing it up” again as I progressed through two-thirds of the turn. That didn’t fix the problem. I still was “pushing” through the turns! I tried different tennis shoes, thinking that a change in the “footprint” would be the key. No help whatsoever! I was was absolutely puzzled! What can I do?
After a long self evaluation, I decided to confer with one of my good friends, David Prickett, the 2013 USAC Western States Dirt Track midget champion. If anyone could help me with my dirt set up, it would be David! So I loaded up in my car, drove over to his race shop, with the idea of picking his brain.
Once I got over to his shop, I began to query him on how to get through the turns on my walk. I asked David what are the main principles, tires, suspension, etc., of how he gets his midget to handle in the turns. I was thinking that all those principles would apply to me and my walk on the dirt horse track! David relayed to me that the right rear tire was for sliding through the turns, while the left rear powered the car through the turn!
Why did I think of that! That concept seemed all too simple. I thought a bit, hmmm, surely this will work for me as well.
Now all I have to do is to adjust my body posture, and body weight, to all a little softer right leg as I go into the turn, allowing for a little slide. All the while, concentrating on getting the left leg to power me through the turns, and up off of the turns, onto the straight-away! What a concept!
On my walk the following morning, I was very diligent with the knowledge that I had received from David. On lap one, at the end of the straight-away, I allowed my right side to roll over just a little as I got into the turn. I found that I was able to hold the lower line. As I “got back into the gas”, I found that my left leg was, indeed, able to power me through the turn without pushing up to the fence!
Eureka! Problem solved!
Needless to say that my lap times came down, and my speed went up!
So the next time you see someone walking on a dirt surface, if you notice a cloud of dust, and a person walking by in a blur, it just might be me!
As my alarm went off this morning, and I got dressed for my morning walk, I couldn’t understand why I felt so exhausted. 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 acoustical 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 go along with me in my analysis of my Wednesday night and Thursday morning!
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!
That year, 1996, was the first year that Tony George, the former president of the the speedway and grandson of legendary owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tony Hulman, split from the sanctioning body, CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams). Tony George organized the Indy Racing League (IRL), and initiated the rift that has nearly killed open wheel racing! But I digress!
Anyway Wednesday morning I will be driving to the speedway for American Family Insurance 500 Festival Community Day. There will be several autograph sessions for the current Indy Car Series drivers that are in the field for the 2013 Indy 500.
On Thursday the track activities include Indy Lights practice for the Firestone Freedom 100, and qualifying for the race that will be on Friday. Additionally, there will be some of the vintage Indy 500 race cars, from the golden era of racing, brought out to the track. Those classics are normally housed within the museum!
The Friday track activities includes vintage Indy 500 cars, Indy 500 practice (Carb Day), even though these race cars have not had carburetors in about forty years, the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race, and the Indy 500 pit stop competition.
Saturday will find the vintage Indy 500 roadsters, vintage sprint cars, and vintage midgets out along pit road, as well as honoring, and celebrating Parnelli Jones’ 50th anniversary of his 1963 Indy 500 victory!
Lastly, I really don’t have to tell you what happens on Sunday, it is “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing”, the 97th running of the Indy 500.
Notwithstanding all that is going on at the track prior to the Sunday race, there is an excellent chance that history might be made this Sunday when the checkered flag waves. Both Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves have a shot at joining a very exclusive Indy 500 club, if either of them wins the race. Both drivers have won this prestige race a total of three times.
There has been only three race car drivers, in the entire history of the Indy 500, to win the 500 four times. Those drivers in this fraternity are “Super Tex”, A.J. Foyt, Jr., Al Unser, Sr., and Rick Mears! If either Dario, or Helio can win this race, they will forever be in a very good company, and a rather large feather will be stuck in their caps!
Standby for further updates from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway!
This is the first Mother’s Day without my Mom. I have been trying to come to grips with what would be an appropriate tribute. The following poem expresses, simply and concisely, my thoughts at this time!
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!