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Fear and Flying All the Same

Written By: Tina Tory

I had a really challenging childhood. I also had an amazing childhood. These things are not mutually exclusive. I’m lucky because I don’t really remember the bad stuff all that well, but I do remember the good.

For example, since I was a very little girl my grandparents built airplanes; redesigned, restored, rebuilt, and sold them. They had a ranch outside of Calgary with a landing strip and a hangar where all the magic happened. Grampa was an absolute genius. Having been born in the ‘20s in oil country to a poor family, he left home early and went straight to the oil fields. While there, he kept asking all the right questions until his bosses noticed and re-tasked him to airplane mechanics. Fast forward, he realized he could probably do this kind of work for himself at home and that’s what he did. So well in fact that he received an honorary degree in aviation engineering. By the end of his life, he’d have people from all around the world come to him to get help with tough flight issues (shameless brag).

Grammy-gram was excellent with all things interior and one of her primary roles was reupholstery and interior finishing, but her coolest role, far more adventurous than this, was flying all over North America to bring airplanes home.

My favorite story of hers, the one where she taught me what it means to “buy the farm”, gramma had flown to New York to pick up a small plane. She took a few days and flew it back all by herself and on her last day, just as she crossed the border near Lethbridge, AB, and before clearing customs, she had engine trouble and she had to put that plane down in a farmer’s field.

“I bought the farm, Tina,” she told me because any crop in that field would be completely wasted afterward.

She was fine, she hopped right out of the plane and into the customs vehicle (that was there within minutes of the crash), she straightened it all quickly and went home to rebuild that plane. And she never stopped taking to the sky.

As a pilot, Gramma not only taught me how to pick right back up and carry on; she also taught me my most powerful lesson about courage and a steady mind at a very young age. When we were small, Gramma would often load us into the airplane on weekends and fly us to nearby airports where the 99’s (her flying club, to which she belongs even still) would be hosting a pancake breakfast.

On one adventure the plane we were in (my sister, my mom, Gramma, and I) had previously undetected wasp nests hiding inside. Once the plane started flying, the wasps started buzzing about. Besides fear this memory is hazy, but what will never leave me is my gramma’s response to our fear and squeals.

“You girls listen now, I know those wasps are frightening - but more frightening still would be if we crashed. If you scream and startle me that could happen and so, no matter what happens, I need you both to keep yourselves under control.”

And so we did. I’ve taken that lesson on courage and composure through many of life’s battlefields and I continue to remember that the hard things don’t last, and, if we rise to them, they breed courage, time and time again.

Let’s remember - when we are surrounded by wasps of whatever nature, and trauma seems inevitable, we are still entirely capable of rising from our ashes and shining as bright as the sun, over and over and over.


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