2004 Highlights: Family and Women Airforce Service Pilots

My 2004 year-end letter where I tell you why I think a chainsaw is a terrible gift idea for a 100-year-old aunt, and learning where to hide booze in a vintage plane from World War II Women Airforce Pilots.

Katie T Heidi 2004

Katie, T-, and Heidi 2004

December 2004

Dear Friends and Family,

Civilization as we’d known it in Lincoln County, Oregon has ended. Our first Starbucks opened in Newport, a town 30 minutes from Waldport. Shortly after brewing its first overpriced grande-latte there was a 4.9 earthquake off Waldport’s coast. Coincidence? I think not.

In January I drove down to California to celebrate my Aunty Dot’s 90th birthday. I thought about waiting until her 100th, but she is one of my favorite relatives. One of the nicest compliments someone ever gave me was to say I reminded him of her. Besides, for someone’s 100th you should buy them a really big gift, and the only really big gift you can buy in Waldport is a chain saw with a 47″ bar. At the risk of sounding ageist, I don’t think a 100-year-old woman–even one as fit as my aunt–should wield a chainsaw bigger than an electric carving knife.

Peter, my globe-trotting brother who’s spent much of the last nineteen years in Asia, visited my parents in Santa Barbara for the first time in ages so in April I made my second visit this year to California. Everyone asks what he does overseas. I have no idea. Outside of playing the guitar on the streets, he has no obvious means of support. Some joke that therefore he must be with the CIA. If he does, that might explain some of the intelligence agencies’ recent fiascos.

As if two visits to California weren’t enough to dry out my delicate skin (Waldport is one of the few places where moss remover is used as a skincare product), I went a third time, this time for my mom’s 70th birthday. It was snowing in the Siskiyou Mountains and officers were posted to make sure cars had chains on their tires. “Do I even have chains?” I thought as I rummaged through a cache of emergency items. Amazingly I did, although the directions on the outside of the box had long since worn off. When I got them on I felt so proud of myself. When I reached a point where I saw others taking their chains off, I did too. “I’m a pro,” I foolishly thought.

Under a “Chains Required” sign some wag wrote, “Whips Optional”. They should have written, “Don’t be fooled. It only looks like you don’t need chains anymore.” By the time I came to the second chain up site outside of Edgewood it was dark, sleeting and the wind was blowing something fierce. After 20 minutes and still far from having the chains on, my dog, Heidi, and I were sopping wet and freezing so we decided to pack it in for the night. I turned off to find a hotel in Edgewood only to discover that there is no hotel in Edgewood. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any Edgewood in Edgewood. I arrived too late the next day at the restaurant for the fancy French dinner (probably wasted calories), but in time for cake.

I’m working on my next book tentatively titled, The Right Stuff in the Wrong Body. It’s about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of WWII and their leader, Jackie Cochran. I first heard about the women from a pilot who told me the story of a WASP whose plane may have crashed because a jealous male pilot put sugar in her gas tank. The WASP were never militarized so a hat was passed to pay for her funeral. I like to think I’m above being titillated by the lurid, but–well, that’s human nature and I am human so I promptly wanted to learn more. I contacted one of the WASP and she invited me to their September reunion in Williamsburg. I don’t know when I’ve laughed so hard and so much as I did that week I was with them. I now know every nook on in a WWII vintage plane where booze can be hidden. And of course my tape recorder would run out of tape just when they got to the best parts of their stories (e.g. “… and then the Major’s pants flew out of the cockpit…”)

While away my adopted niece, Katie, fed my cats and conducted daily body sweeps. You’d think just once the schnooks would bring in an elk, a delicacy I could find a recipe for on something other than roadkill.com, but no. Paul, 50-something, stood outside and sent in Katie, 4 1/2, to do the deed. I’ve warped her well for she reveled in the task, eagerly examining guts and looking for heads when she only found bodies and looking for bodies when she only found heads. She’s either going to be a naturalist or work for the mob.

Hope all is well with you and yours.


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