This is a love letter to my Dad, and a Thank You to the amazing, brave pilots who make up the Blue Angels.
It’s Seafair in Seattle and the Blue Angels are here!!!
When I was growing up, Angels were a surprising but recurring theme with my fairly agnostic father. He was one of the least religious and more unconsciously spiritual people I have ever known. Angels seemed to be everywhere in the things he did, where he took us and in what he showed us.
From San Diego, where we grew up, we went on many trips north to Los Angeles, the “City of Angels”, to ride the “Angels Flight”.
He told us many stories of the “Guardian Angels” he had as a kid who helped him survive his completely unsupervised childhood. Apparently he had many bizarre accidents and adventures…like tumbling off a mountain and landing halfway down on the only possible 11 inch ledge that could break his death-fall.
When he died, it was really no surprise that we received gracious help from the Hell’s Angel’s on the day of his Memorial.
We bungee-corded my Dad’s ashes to the back of his lifelong Dream-Harley. (He didn’t get it until he was in his eighties.) Our caravan of family cars followed Lee on the bike out into the mountains East of San Diego to my Dad’s favorite little town called Julian. We celebrated his life and when we got ready to leave, I spotted a couple of real Harley riders, mounting up. I told them my Dad’s story, and pointed out the box of ashes on the back of my Dad’s bright red, flame-painted Sportster (with matching helmet). Much to my delight (and the chagrin of some of my religious relatives) we were escorted down the mountain by the two guys I talked to AND their friends. FIFTY Hells Angels followed my Dad (and us) back down that mountain, lights on, in two perfect parallel lines!
The Blue Angels entered my life very young!
My favorite of the Angel Activities as a kid was this. My little sisters were too young, so Dad would take just me to Miramar Naval Air Base early on Sunday mornings, to watch the Blue Angels practice their soon to become famous stunts. He was very proud of being able to get on the Base and to show off what he claimed to be the planes that “he had built”. (My Dad was an aeronautical engineer who moved from Kansas to San Diego to work in his industry.) I would ride on his shoulders for the “show” and he would duck down when they flew over, as if they were actually flying low enough to be dangerous to this lone man with a squealing little girl on his shoulders. What an absolute thrill it was and my memories to this day are so clear, so physical!
Though I struggled sometimes with the dichotomy of a Hippie Peacenik Flowerchild being in love with fighter pilot jets, I have watched The Blue Angels through so many stages of my life. In my 20’s and 30’s, before the trees grew up around us, the huge deck off my house was the favorite viewing place of all the single Mom’s in the neighborhood. We’d put on our bikini’s and pose on the deck, debating the safety of doing that…as if the pilots were actually going to look down at us each time they flew over! Then, there were the years I worked lunches in a fancy restaurant in the tallest building in Bellevue…sharing the panoramic viewing experience with my wealthy customers. One of my favorite memories was when my small son and I watched them while we were zipping around Lake Washington on a friend’s Jet Ski right under them. What a high that was!!
And for almost 40 of these years, we kept the Blue Angels alive in our conversations during the rest of year. My best friend’s father, Colonel Louis Ford, was like a second Dad to me. He was a fighter pilot in 3 wars. And though he was respectful of the “Angels”, he clearly had a bias! Made for some lively discussions, Air Force vs Navy pilots, between him and my Dad, who built jets for the Navy! Colonel Ford taught me about the concepts of Hangar Flying (the time spent in the hangar, processing mistakes and accidents) as well as “The Hole in the Sky” (an opening in the clouds) that a pilot sometimes had to find in order to survive.
Boys got me autographs on my Blue Angel’s birthday t-shirt!
Now, I have 2 Grandsons, 9 and 11, and their Mom and my son have taken them to see the Blue Angels every year of their lives. This has been a great setting to share stories of my Dad, the wonderful Great Grandfather they never got to meet, a man who had a life filled with “Angels” and he passed them all onto us….
For many years I went by myself to a tiny (and progressively less secret) park on Mercer Island shore, the Thursday and Friday prior to the big Seafair Air Show. On Thursday, from this little park on the water, you can watch the scouting the Blue Angels do each year to get the lay of the land. And on Fridays, you can watch a full rehearsal of the big show they will perform on Saturday and Sunday. You can’t be at this little park for the actual show as it becomes an emergency Aid Station on those days.
My ritual was always to go there early, get settled and then call my Dad….so I could be on the cell phone with him as the Angels arrived. That first fly over is an indescribable thrill! In that park, they fly in low and from behind you. Their approach is muted by the hillside and thick trees, almost silent until suddenly, they thunder over your head. It is kind of like walking up the path next to the massive, rolling Niagara Falls; totally quiet until you get past a certain point and then instantly it becomes a deafening roar of falling water.
Anyway, I would hold the phone up in the air and scream at the top of my lungs as my Dad’s Angels buzzed our shared location.
No matter when or where I see them, I am instantly five years old again, sitting way up high on my Daddy’s shoulders when those beautiful Blue Angels scream by.
my only shot this year from my deck. they fly directly over me. could not get camera working in time
I sure hope Dad witnessed that generous and spontaneous Hell’s Angel Memorial procession, and that he sees us watching the Blue Angels every year, from somewhere up there through the “hole in the sky”.