They say that many traits are hereditary. I like to think I get my love of flying straight from my grandfather (Poppa). I also get my stubbornness, my mathematical ability, and my love of sweets from him. He taught me to ride a bike, catch a ball, play tennis, and roller skate (with a rope tied around my waist so he could tug a bit if I was starting to flail). And today, my favorite pilot turns 99.
He grew up on a farm in Ontonagon, Michigan (the “almost Canada” part of the Upper Peninsula) idolizing Charles Lindberg and fell in love with flying after he first got to ride in a barnstorming “Jenny” at age 10. He graduated at 17 in the middle of the Great Depression and after two years of working on the farm, he joined the Navy so he’d have more opportunities.
He went through Navy Flight School in Pensacola, Florida in 1938 and subsequently joined a torpedo squadron. He served 33 years – through World War II, Korean, and Vietnam, including a stints with NATO and as CO at Glenview Naval Air Station.
Through all this, he and his bride Dorothy and their four children shuffled back and forth across the country (and occasionally across oceans – in one 24 month period, he shuffled the brood from Washington DC to the Philippines to Newport RI and finally to Norfolk VA).
He has told me many aviation stories over the years but I have a favorite one. In 1941, his squadron was assigned the job of ferrying a shipment of airplanes from New York to California. Along the route, he had engine trouble so he was forced to land his plane in the small town of Wink, Texas. It was a Saturday night and it seemed that everyone in town was walking in one direction and since he was stuck for the night, he decided to join them. Along the way, he found out they were all destined to watch a football game. They walked down cowpaths and through fields for a long time until suddenly in the distance, they came upon lights. He said in the clearing was the largest football stadium he had seen to that point. It was lighted and the entire town was there to watch the game. He jokingly called it his first “professional” football game as he had never seen anything like the 200 pound farm boys on the field.
Today I look forward to another family day as we celebrate with a family-favorite cake and hopefully hear more stories from my favorite pilot!
Maggie’s Butternut Cake
The secret to Maggie’s Butternut Cake is not the cake itself – it’s about the filling in between the layers!
This was the standard family “birthday cake” when I was growing up. While I might have had the fancy theme cake for a party with my friends, on the actual day of the birthday this was always the cake served at dinner with the family.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp flour
- 3 Tbsp orange juice
- 1/2 cup softened butter
- 1/2 cup chopped dates
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 2 egg yolks, beaten
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts
Mix sugar, flour, orange juice, butter, dates, and raisins together and heat in a saucepan on low setting, stirring constantly until well blended.
Bring to a boil for one minute then lower heat.
Pour part of mixture into the 2 beaten egg yolks in a separate bowl then add that mixture back to the saucepan.
Again bring to a boil for one minute.
Add 1/2 cup chopped nuts and blend, removing from heat entirely.
Allow to cool thoroughly and then spread as layer between two white or yellow cake rounds (add a bit of almond or walnut extract to the batter before baking, if you like, to compliment the flavor of the filling).
Frost with a creamy or fluffy white icing and serve.