Lessons Out of Appleton.

Guest post by my Dad. To see all of his previous guest posts, click here.

I was angry.  But then, I had a right to be! As I arrived at the airport and turned in my rental car, I received a text message that my 10:15 flight was delayed until 2:30. Why couldn’t they have sent the text 15 minutes earlier? At least then I could have kept the car and seen the sights that were to be seen in beautiful Appleton, Wisconsin.

As I approached the ticket counter, there were several other travelers in line in front of me. All seemed to have the weariness on their face that I was feeling. When I finally got to an agent, she was quite helpful, seemingly not affected by the other travelers that were as angry as I. She informed me that there was a mechanical issue on my original flight and that they were bringing in another airplane for us, causing the delay. She dutifully checked other possible flights and connections, through different airports that would get me home at some hour more palatable than the 9:48pm now scheduled (instead of the 3:15 I was originally scheduled to be home.) No dice. I was to sit in Appleton for the next four hours, then sit in Detroit for FIVE hours, because the delay would cause me to miss my connection.  I could feel my anger rising.

About an hour in to my wait, I got another text from the airline. My delayed flight had been rescheduled now to 12:30. Good news. I could now make my connection in Detroit and all would be well. I gathered my possessions and trudged toward the gate.  Boarding seemed to take an extra long time and I wondered for the thousandth time why they load airplanes front seats first. Although we were the only plane leaving Appleton, we sat interminably at the end of the runway. The pilot finally came on the intercom and explained that Detroit Central was trying to work us in to the landing queue, so we would have to wait.

COME ON!

Finally airborne, the flight attendant barely had enough time to get down the aisle with the drink cart before we were on final into Detroit. The weather was bad and it was a bumpy ride. Our gate must have been at the other end of the airport because we taxied for at least 20 minutes. As we got off the plane, I realized that unloading is only slightly more efficient that loading. I checked with the gate agent for my next gate – B-15. We had arrived in A terminal. Good thing I had carried on my bags and not checked anything – if I hurried, I could still make the flight. Rushing from the end of the A terminal to the center, down the escalator and through the quarter mile long tunnel to the B terminal, turn left and hustle down to gate 15.

Something wasn’t right.

No one was around.

No airplane was at the gate.

I went across the concourse to gate 14. After waiting for two other passengers to ask their questions, I finally got to the agent. No, the Birmingham flight at B-15 had left four hours ago. The 3:10 flight is at A-43. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!

Back through the B concourse, through the now half mile long tunnel, up the escalators turn right and run to the gate. Just in time to see the gate agent close the door to the jet way. “I’m sorry sir, you weren’t here, we allowed a standby passenger in your place.”

HOW COULD YOU DO THAT? YOU KNEW I WAS ON MY WAY HERE! I WANT TO SEE A SUPERVISOR!

I tried to calm down, and succeeded, but only a little. When the supervisor arrived I calmly explained the events of my morning, although through clenched teeth. He listened carefully, repeated back the story to me in order to let me know he understood then apologized for inconvenience.

INCONVENIENCE! This was going to go down in memory as one of the worst travel days in memory!  And I’ve had quite a number of bad travel days – MOSTLY ON HIS AIRLINE!

He did offer a food voucher so that I could at least have a decent meal while I waited the FIVE HOURS for my flight. I went to my new gate (in Concourse C no less) and settled in to wait. And wait. All the time fuming about my “inconvenience.”

When we finally boarded I settled into an aisle seat, calmer now and beginning to realize that I was only an hour and a half from home. It’s going to be okay.

Then she came in.

She looked to be about 25. She had a baby strapped to her chest and a toddler in tow. They, of course sat in the seats directly across from me. She was struggling with her carry-on bag, a diaper bag, a booster seat, and the toddler. I helped her get settled, putting her carry on in the overhead as she dealt with the toddler. The baby was fussy and I was beginning to think that my bad day was about to continue. Sometimes babies don’t react well to cabin pressurization and scream the whole flight. Great.

Luckily, all three of them were sound asleep by the time we had taxied out and headed for Birmingham. It was a quiet flight and I had a little time to reflect on the day – trying to put my anger behind me and focus on the fact that I would soon be home and I could sleep in my own bed. I mused about the marvel of modern air travel in general and how you could wake up in Appleton, Wisconsin or San Francisco and sleep in your own bed that night 2500 miles away.

I also began to think about the times that things hadn’t gone the way I planned, but somehow God had worked things out in the end. Things I could never imagine. Things for His purposes, not mine. But in the end, looking back, His hand was undeniable. This seemed to be a lesson I had to learn over and over again.

My quiet reflection was interrupted by the pilot. He informed us that there were severe storms right over the Birmingham airport and we were going to circle for a while over Huntsville and see if they would clear out in time.  He said that we had about a thirty minute window, then we might have to land in Huntsville, refuel and wait out the storms.

Instead of anger or a feeling of inconvenience, I felt a reassurance. Reassurance in the fact that the airline was making judgments made on safety concerns, not flight schedules. Reassurance that God was in control, even of this. We circled for a while and every circle when the plane turned north, I was treated to a beautiful sunset in the west. And when the plane went west, I could see the thunderstorm over Birmingham lighting up the sky.  I reflected on the beauty and precision that is creation.

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(Meanwhile, Rachel was on a mountaintop photographing the same sunset and storm over Birmingham.)

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The fuel window closed and we began to descend into Huntsville. The flight attendant informed us that we would deplane into the terminal and would would be given further information there.

The young mother woke up and asked me what was going on. I explained. She didn’t seem too surprised. She began to rouse the toddler and try to position the sleeping infant back into his carrier. I asked if I could help in any way. She looked at me and asked if I could hold her baby. I was glad to. He snuggled up on my chest and continued to sleep soundly. Mom began to try to get everything organized and I made a casual remark about her bravery, traveling with two kids and all. Three actually, she corrected me. Her husband was in the back of the plane with their five year old. They were a military family, headed home to a small town outside of Birmingham for the first time in two years. From Germany. For her husband’s fathers funeral. They had been traveling for about 36 hours, she thought – she had lost track. Still she had a smile, a weary smile, but a smile.

I helped her with the toddler and her carry-on bag to get down the stairs (no jet way, we deplaned onto the tarmac) and her husband and other son came off the plane a few minutes later.  The Dad had his arm in a sling, having had shoulder surgery a few days before.

The gate agent informed us that the flight crew were at their max hours, and so there would be a bus arriving to drive us the rest of the way to Birmingham (two hours by road), and that we needed to gather all our belongings and wait at the curb. I went to baggage claim with the young family. They had four bags, three car seats and several other items.

“You need help,” I said to the Dad.

“No, no, we have it,” was his reply.

“That wasn’t a question,” I told him. “That was a statement.”

I gathered what I could and we made our way to the curb. I could see what appeared to be some moisture well up in his eyes. “You are the first person to offer us any help since this trip began. Thank you.”

I felt some moisture in my eyes, too.

The bus trip to Birmingham was thankfully uneventful. As we arrived at the Birmingham airport around midnight, I saw a woman on the sidewalk begin to run along beside the bus. When we came to a stop, she was waiting on the young family. When they got off the bus, she hugged everyone, but scooped up the toddler and infant. It was then I realized that she was a Grandmother meeting two of her grandkids for the first time.

I helped Dad unload their bags and car seats from the belly of the bus.  When all were piled on the curb, he stuck out his hand and thanked me profusely. Mom introduced me to the Grandmother, who was still clinging to her grandkids. She thanked me too.

They were thanking ME. I felt ashamed. Here they were, away from family, serving our country and returning home under these circumstances, and still were able to manage a smile.

And then I realized that possibly God had orchestrated my whole inconvenient day to be here to help this young family.

But as I sit here, writing these words, I realize I was not the blessing to them. They were a blessing to me.

God had used my whole day not (only) for me to be there to offer my meager help, but to teach me something. I too often get wrapped up in my own world, outraged at seeming inconveniences, angry when things don’t go as I plan or envision. My plans are so short sighted. My vision is so limited. God grant me wisdom.

“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.”
-Isaiah 55:2

A Journey Update

This is a guest post by my Dad. His prior guest posts can all be found here.


A year and a half ago, Rachel related the diagnosis of my cancer. I was stunned and deeply appreciative of all of the comments, concerns and prayers that her readers expressed. This week, when Rachel asked for a guest post (she didn’t ask me, by the way, she asked her mother to ask me!?!), I thought it might be time to update everyone on the progress of the journey.

First though, I think you should know the miraculous way in which the cancer was discovered. On a Thursday night, I woke up with bright flashes of light, almost stroboscopic, with my eyes closed. It continued even with my eyes open for several hours. I obviously didn’t know what was going on, and was concerned enough to go to the local paramedics Friday morning, thinking I might be having a stroke. They could find nothing wrong, but suggested I go to the emergency room. When I asked why, they responded that they suggest that to everyone who has symptoms they couldn’t explain.

Instead of going to the hospital, I decided to go directly to my family doctor. He was out of town, but I was examined by his partner who said that the flashes were an indication of migraine headaches. The flashes had stopped by this point, so I went on about my business and dismissed it altogether. Saturday, the area around my left eye began to swell and become irritated. By Monday, I was unable to open the eye, and when my wife pried it open, she said I had water blisters on my eyeball. OK, time to get serious and try to find out just what was going on.

We went to Sara’s ophthalmologist, a new experience for me since I have always been blessed with 20/20 vision. Her doctor said that I had a detached retina and sent me down the hall to a retina specialist.

That specialist was not in the office, so I was to see a new doctor that had just arrived the past week.

Great.

Not only was the doctor new to the practice, he was very young – disturbingly young.

After a long exam, and lots of lights shined into my eyes from every conceivable angle, he told me that I had a melanoma on one of the layers of my retina. It turned out that he had just finished a two year fellowship in Memphis with one of the four doctors in the country that specialize in this particular cancer. He had seen hundreds of these, but no one else in the office had ever seen a single one.

“How fast can you get to Memphis?”

Sonar, photos and more exams took place in Memphis and the diagnosis was confirmed. All of the swelling and water blisters disappeared, and were never explained or connected to the cancer.

The doctor in Memphis suggested a treatment, one that he performed on three patients a week. We set a time for the surgery, a time that allowed Sara and I to complete our planned 40 year anniversary “Lap of Alabama.”

EyepatchThe treatment consisted of stitching a nickel sized receptacle containing 13 radioactive seeds to the back surface of my eye. A lead patch was placed over the front of my eye and the whole assembly was left in place for a week.

During that week, we were required to stay in Memphis and certainly not allowed to cross state lines – because Homeland Security could track the radioactivity of my eyeball.

After a week, the “plaque” was removed and I was allowed to return home.

In the 15 months since the surgery, follow up exams have shown that the tumor is shrinking, and that there is no sign that it has spread anywhere else in my body. They tell me that if it intended to spread, it would already be in my blood and could spread to my liver or lungs. I have now had enough CAT scans and x-rays at the VA to give me cancer, but so far, all is good.

I even still have 20/20 vision.

Although some people might call this a “scare”, I don’t think I was ever scared. I have seen miracles. I continue to see miracles. Sight itself is a miracle. My blue eyed (as well as my brown eyed) grandchildren are miracles.

Pop

Although it may be a cliché, this experience has made me see more clearly what is important in my life. I have realized my own mortality, and that there are things I need to accomplish – to finish in the time I have left. I have been able to focus better on family relationships and friendships. I realize how blessed I am health wise, brought home more clearly whenever I see some of the less fortunate at the VA hospital. I also know (though I don’t fully understand) that God, the creator of the universe, cares for even me.

The journey continues.

Passing the Torch.

This is a guest post by my Dad. Besides being an expert mechanic on all things and especially those antique, he is a writer, an artist (one of his pen and ink drawings can be seen below), a Tech Inspector for the Le Mans racing series, a beekeeper, a Chicken Coop Designer, an adventurer (I’ve been begging him to write about his 45 day race from Beijing to Paris, including Tibet and Iran – y’all help me convince him,) a former Air Force sergeant and radio repair technician, and a former police officer.

(And I’m pretty sure I left off at least a dozen other occupations and talents.)

Noah and I went to visit a couple of days ago, and afterward, Dad immediately wrote this guest post.

His prior guest posts can be found here and here.


I grew up around motorcycles. Literally. Some of my earliest memories involve them. My Dad was a Harley man from his youth, owning his first before World War II, and was a motorcycle policeman at Fairfield when I was born.

Granddad Policeman

I remember going to T.D. Howton’s Harley dealership in Bessemer with him, where I had what I thought was my very own seat in the back room. It was a huge old Harley seat on rollers that was used by the mechanics to service the bikes. It was made out of leather and even today, if I smell leather, that is where my memory takes me.

Dad kept a Harley even after he left the police and used it to ride to and from work. I vividly remember waking up in the middle of the night when he arrived home.

(Harleys were not quiet bikes even then.)

Vic on HarleyI was in the first grade when my Dad first let me control the Harley by myself.

(Or at least let me think I was in full control – I was the only one touching the handlebars.)

To feel the acceleration of the bike when I twisted the throttle was a thrill that is as vivid today as it was when I was six years old.

Dad bought his last Harley when he was eighty. It was a 1951 EL that a friend had stored in a basement since the early 70’s. We brought it home and it didn’t take much to get it running. He would sit in the garage for hours polishing that bike and remembering happier times, times before cancer. He was unable to kick start the bike, so occasionally I would start it for him to hear, feel and smell. I actually had him on it one day and he would have ridden it, but my Mom pitched a fit.

Dad on Harley

I got my first two wheeler when I was 12. I had a paper route and saved up to buy an Allstate scooter. It was not running, and I bet my sisters and I pushed it more than we rode it. It was also the first engine I ever rebuilt. I had to replace the piston, rings and do a valve job. The sense of accomplishment when it fired up was, for a 12 year old, something special.

Sara 450It was about this time that the Japanese bikes came to America, giving people a choice. Harley’s dominance was challenged. Heck, even T.D. Howton started selling Hondas. There was also the beginning of a cultural shift away from the outlaw image of motorcycles and those of us that rode them. Honda had an ad campaign that stated “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”

When my wife and I got married, we had a Honda 450, the largest bike they made at the time. I was stationed with the Air Force in Biloxi, and we rode back and forth to Birmingham on the weekends. Some of the old image remained, even then. Sara remembers a Sunday School teacher while we were dating that, when she learned that I had a motorcycle, said: “I didn’t think you were that kind of girl.”

I, personally, am glad she was, and still is!

My kids grew up around motorcycles, too, but I’m not sure how ingrained it is in their lives. I, too was a police officer for a while, first at Fairfield, then Birmingham. I did not ride for the department, but had an extra job riding funeral escort. I also helped set up one of the first, if not the first Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses in the state. All of my kids were on a motorcycle while they were still in diapers.

Kids on Motorcycles

J.C., my oldest son, got his first bike at 17. Soon after,we decided to take a trip to Chattanooga. I loaded Nick, my youngest, on back of my bike and we struck out. However, the skies looked threatening, so we changed direction. We ended up that night in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Motorcycle Trip

Yesterday, I had occasion to relive some of those memories, and to see some of the excitement in the face of the next generation.

I don’t know if motorcycles will be as big a part of Noah’s life as they have in mine, but he decided that he wanted to ride Pop’s motorcycle – the motorcycle that I bought, incidentally, the month that his mother was born.

Rach Noah Me

And before anyone gets upset, we did not go on any public roads, and didn’t go even 10 mph, but the moment was special.

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And I am pretty sure that he has inherited the gene.

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