Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fit for a Fighter Pilot

Last weekend, which already feels like at least a month ago, we celebrated my grandpa's 80th birthday in Houston. It was the first time all members of my dad's side of the family had congregated since my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary nearly 8 years ago. My little piece of the family drove over Saturday morning and made it to the photographer's just in time for the group pictures. That was the morning after I'd returned home from Denver at midnight after an 80-hour work week, but luckily I'm a woman and can apply a thick layer of make-up under my eyes. It was great to get everyone together and I'm really glad we could be there.

My grandpa is a retired Navy Captain, fighter pilot, and engineer. He flew jets off aircraft carriers for four years in the Vietnam war (cheating the system in order to return for that fourth year; my grandma was displeased, to say the least, but looking at them near the end of their 57th year of marriage, I'd say they got over it), and then he went on to be a joint Navy and Air Force chief engineer, building the engines on the F-111, F-14, and F-16 fighters. As he explained in his toast at the party, he wasn't really sure what he wanted to do in his career, but he knew he liked to fly airplanes REALLY FAST. His cake shows him in full Top Gun mode:

The party had a fighter pilot theme so we brought my grandpa's old flight helmet as a centerpiece. My dad thought he should model it first.

Which reminds me of a quick story about my grandpa. We all went to Busch Gardens in Tampa Florida about 8 years ago and as my cousins and I ran over to line up for a giant roller coaster, I saw that my grandpa was coming too. I said, "Grandpa, you like coasters?" He looked at me, very nearly offended, and said, "I'm a fighter pilot." That answered that and we road roller coasters all afternoon.

Here is the original family of four - my dad, my aunt (dad's ever so slightly older sister), grandpa, and grandma:

And there's me and my guy. I think Landon was also in this picture but his mouth was full of an appetizer meatball and I cropped him out. I'm a merciless editor.

Claire was not quite herself (of course, they never are when there's witnesses). She had been on antibiotics for an ear infection for 10 days and her tummy was pretty mad. By the next afternoon the amoxycillin had been out of her system for 24 hours and she was back to her smiley, perfect self - though of course, we were on our way back to Austin. She spent most of the party sleeping, fussing, and pausing the fussing to look confused at all the commotion going on while she was trying to tell us about her pain.

The meal was delicious but the pièce de résistance was the chocolate explosion cake with my much-younger grandpa copied onto a giant piece of chocolate. He was pretty tickled with it:

I believe right here he was saying, "Would you look at me?!"

My dad gave a lovely toast, but my favorite moment came when my cousin presented my grandpa with a picture and a short essay. As the author, he tried to read it aloud, but he quickly became to choked up to continue. My dad (he of the leaky eyes) took over in an effort that was valiant but doomed:

Two lines later, it was handed to my mom who executed the whole thing flawlessly. The leaky eye gene only runs along my dad's side of the family.

It was a great party, and it continued after the restaurant at my grandparents' house. My grandparents are packing up their house to move to the same retirement community where my maternal grandparents currently live (and love and won't stop raving about, as it should be). I took away some gorgeous wooden dishes and serving platters. They were particularly meaningful because my grandma was a great hostess and it's something I love to do as well. Soon they'll be in San Antonio -- how lucky am I to have all four grandparents alive, healthy, happy, and an hour's drive away?

Very. Very lucky.


  1. I see why you and your kids are so adorable - you come from gorgeous genes! Your grandpa is still a very handsome man. :) You are lucky, indeed, and so are your kids to have them so close!

  2. No kidding. I couldn't tell who was 80 and who was 50ish in that photo of the four of them!

    Funnily enough, my father had the same career (absent the Vietnam War, of course) as your grandfather. Navy Captain, flew F-14s for 30 years. He also loved to fly. He turns 60 this year - we may steal your cake idea!

    You have an excellent family. You're so lucky, and you know it, and that makes it so wonderful to read about. Happy birthday to your grandpa!

  3. I think it's wonderful how much you treasure your family--it's so important to enjoy all the special moments.

  4. Thanks so much for forwarding this! A great party to a super guy and friend and Jo. Could you send me Jim and Jo's email address? I lost it in a computer loss. Roy and Jean Kraft ( P.S. Jim and I were squadron mates flying F9F- Cougars and FJ-3D Fury's. Best to you Liann and your family, Terry now a Rear Admiral on USS Enterprise and Tracey still flying 777 to far east.