“I Have Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth . . . “

Today is my mom’s birthday and I usually write a little story about a memory we shared as a way to honor her.  Instead, I find myself grieving the loss of my brother, who was killed in a plane crash yesterday morning, and as I’ve done so many times over the years,  I’m looking through  the wonderful photo albums my mom spent a lifetime putting together, and finding a little bit of peace and comfort, at least enough to want to wake up in the morning.

george and me (1 of 2)

 

George was four years younger.  He was born in Philadelphia, and at that time, we lived on 5th Street, and were very much a part of the Ukrainian community there.  We may have been poor immigrants, but neither one of us realized it.  I remember being so happy when he was brought home . . . I finally had a “doll” that I could push around in the toy baby carriage.   When he finally learned how to walk, things really became fun.  I “helped” him cut his hair (to our mother’s horror) and together we decorated the walls of our bedroom with lipstick.

george and me (1 of 1)-2

As a baby/toddler, he did not know how to play nicely with someone his own age.  When the neighbor brought her baby girl over to play with George, they couldn’t be left alone because he would beat her up.

george and me (1 of 1)

 

Both of us inherited our mom’s sense of adventure and fun, and for better or worse, just plain orneriness and stubbornness.   Put a couple of kids like this into country life, and you end up with more  “adventures”  than you bargained for.

Even though we had a huge yard and an orchard to play in when we moved to New Jersy, it was the paint cans in the shed that fascinated us.  Mom always watched us through the kitchen window while cooking or washing dishes.  Of course she spotted us trying to open the gallon of paint and immediately rushed out to intervene.  She put the paint back and told us to leave it alone . . . as if we were going to listen.   When she went back in the house, we immediately went for the paint again, but this time, we hid behind the shed so mom couldn’t see us. . . or so we thought.  We were sitting on the ground and working very hard, when as if by magic,  my mother’s feet appeared next to us.   I think we had to go into the house after that.

george and me (1 of 1)-5

George and I were the official egg gatherers.  We’d go into the coop to collect eggs and got some resistance from the hens, so one of us would hold a bucket over the chicken’s head to keep from getting pecked, and the other would get the eggs. . . pretty clever for a 5 and 1 year old.  We figured this out after George thought he could just pick up the hen . . . he had scratch marks over his stomach that were then doctored with mercurochrome . . .  that was his usual “attire in the field”  . . .  shirtless with a custom-designed red mercurochrome “tattoo” . . . courtesy of the chickens he was determined to carry.

The older we got, the more elaborate the pranks and mischief became.  Our dad had a habit of falling sound asleep on the sofa after supper.   We decided to wrap him in thread while he slept.  Mom watched and was already snickering in anticipation of the outcome.  I would have been happy with just a few threads, but not George.  He spent more than an hour, creating an intricate spider web of threads.  Then he woke him up by pouring water in his open mouth.  Well, the reaction was nothing short of the Frankenstein monster coming to life.  The more dad struggled, the tighter the threads seemed to get and the madder he got.  We ran away while mom was still laughing, so he got mad at mom because she said he had no sense of humor.

 

george and me (1 of 1)-13

Our adventures became more sophisticated as well.  We both learned to scuba dive in the Atlantic Ocean . . .  he was the one who introduced me to flying and amateur radio.    As we grew into adulthood,  it made no difference that geographically we were far apart  and circumstances kept us from getting together more often.  When we did get together, it was as if no time had passed and we picked up where we left off.

george and me (1 of 1)-6

george and me (1 of 1)-7

Whichever adventure one of was involved in, the other of us felt compelled to participate whether it was snowshoeing, skiing, fishing, treasure hunting, riding horses, flying,  pretending we were rounding-up cattle (more like bulls, and that did not go well . . .  when we lived on a farm in Arkansas, George used to climb the rafters in the barn and then jump on a cow’s back while it was eating).

george and me (1 of 1)-15

We were and are kids at heart regardless of age, and for us there was beauty in the spontaneity of the moment . . . it was playtime and surprises galore.  Other than our mom, he  was the only other person in my life, even to this day,  I could count on who would say “OK” to any unplanned escapade . . . always a willing accomplice.

george and me (1 of 1)-12

As soon as an idea was planted in his head, those wheels started turning and he would figure out how to make it work. . . . and then turn it into some kind of hilarity that usually resulted in something unexpected.

george and me (1 of 1)-16

He really was much more extraordinary than most people will ever know or appreciate.  Although he rarely talked about it, even after a bottle of wine, he served in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot.  There was little that he could not do.  And if he couldn’t do it, he learned how, and he wanted to teach everybody around him.  When he was here last time, he insisted I needed one of those little electric welders and went to great lengths to teach me how to use it.

george and me (1 of 1)-8

Undoubtedly his greatest legacy is the family he left behind . . . he and his wife, Suzy, the perfect balance to his zaniness, the love of his life (although he would never use those “mushy” words . . . ) and whom I love as a sister,  raised awesome children.  They filled their lives with music lessons, hiking, hockey, travel, and mostly, love. . . . there was no time or tolerance for unhealthy, detrimental behavior . . .     It didn’t matter how old they were, he and Suzy were always there for each of them, and for each other.

george and me (1 of 1)-10

I remember during one phone call as he was updating me on the kids’ progress in school and their plans for going to college, he proudly declared, “And they all still live at home.”   If he could have had his way, he would have kept all the kids and grandkids at home with him.  He truly loved being a dad.  I know his kids refer to him as a “great dad,” and  I can’t think of a better tribute for George.

Stories were important to George, and I imagine they still are.  He wanted his kids and grandkids to know about their ancestry . . . about his life experiences and escapades.   So that task now falls to me . . .    I have so much more that I could share about my brother, but I’m reserving those stores for those he loved the most, his wife and children.

george and me (1 of 1)-17

I remember when he had a “desk” job (manager) at the FAA . . . he truly hated being a manager and as soon as he could, he retired and went back to the only other thing that he loved as much as his family, flying.   In the end, he died doing what he loved . . . little comfort to those he left behind.

george and me (1 of 1)-4

Part of me is angry with the Universe, with the angels who are supposed to protect  all of us, even a little angry with my mom  . . . why didn’t somebody keep him safe?  Could  they not have reached down and pulled that plane over the trees and given him a chance to land safely?  Or why didn’t somebody intervene and have the plane sputter BEFORE he started the take-off run?  Don’t our loved ones have that power when they “cross over?”

So, the two people whom I love most in my life have both gone on this new “adventure” . . . and I can’t help but feel envious of that,  and sad that I was left behind . . .

Mom died almost eight years ago . . . George died yesterday . . .  my heart will ache for a long time.  It’s going to be hard to listen to a plane fly overhead and not think of George and remember.  He loved doing things on the spur of the moment and surprising everyone and whenever I heard a plane I would wonder if it was one of  George’s “spur of the moment” visits.

george and me (1 of 1)-3

As I was looking through the photos to include in this post,  I was flooded with memories . . .  reliving each moment as if it were yesterday.  That is the healing power of images, of photography.  And I wonder if that is what the “afterlife” is like . . . memories drift across a beautiful azure sky like soft clouds pushed and kissed by gentle breezes . . . and when we’re there, we get to pluck our favorite ones and relive the joy, and fill our souls with laughter and love . . . as often as we want. . . hold our loved ones forever . . .and never have to know loss or sadness. . .  ever again.

george and me (1 of 1)-19

 

Perhaps it is so . . . perhaps.

Good Night, George, dear brother and friend. Thank you for being a part of my life.  I love you forever and miss you more than you will ever know.

george and me (1 of 1)-14

 

high flight

 

9 Comments

  1. What a beautiful tribute. Love you much, ml

  2. Al Rice

    George and I were U.S. Army Helicopter Pilot and were stationed at Ft. Richardson, AK together. We flew together then and a few times after we both got out of the Army. Our lives went separate ways, but we sort of kept in touch. We saw each other a few times through the years. He is a good friend and will be truly missed. My friend has Gone West. God Speed, RIP George.

  3. Bittersweet….beautiful and heartbreaking! Condolences to all those we’ve lost!

  4. Kathy Davis

    What a wonderful tribiute to your brother and your family adventures.
    Very nicely done.
    Hugs and Love to you.

  5. Jack Thomas

    I didn’t know your brother, but he sounds like a brother I would have liked to have. You have given him a wonderful tribute, Helene. Cherish his memory, because he will live forever in your heart. My most sincere condolences.

  6. Dennis and Jan

    He is a wonderful man, friend , husband, brother, and father. Those of us that know him and love him are his legacy.

  7. Amy Armstrong

    So beautiful. Susan shared it with me. He was a giant here in Alaska and the knowledge that went down with him is a huge loss to the aviation community and the whole state in general. Thanks for sharing this very personal information with those that want to know more about George. This system will not allow me to post the direct URL to an article written about his mentor relationship with the young man in the co-pilot seat. However, if one goes to http://www.alaskastar.com and uses search words “Aviation Father,” they will find the title, “Aviation Father took young pilot under his wing.” It is not nearly as telling and deep as what you wrote, but hopefully it gives some insight in to his goal of passing his legacy on to the next generation. I am only so sad that I never met him, but am thankful to be learning about him and what he did for Alaska and the abiding love he had for his family. What an inspiring legacy that hopefully other men will follow in to give their families what they need most: knowledge and experience with a husband and father that truly loved them and gave them a secure life.
    Blessings.

  8. The most beautiful tribute. I was honored to have George as a friend and mentor. He is the reason I have a life time of flying. He was the only instructor and pilot I ever thought was indestructible. My heart breaks for you,Suzy,the kids and grandchildren. He was the best friend anyone could hope to have. You know more than anyone, how big his heart was,and how hysterically funny he could be. I will miss him teribbly, but every time I fly, I know I will have the best copilot next to me talking in my ear. Thank you for sharing such beautiful memories, they bring back so many stories George would tell of you growing up.
    He is a guardian angel for us all.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Content Protected Using Blog Protector By: PcDrome.