• Bill Stauffer

At Least It Was Not Espionage, Mom


27 years ago, this day, I lost my mom. She died at the age I am now. Age 56, which seems from this vantage point so incredibly young. I was 29 at the time, also a lifetime ago. She never got to see us kids grow up or be with us as we reached adulthood. The grief of the loss has tempered with time, but it is still an anniversary I end up reflecting on her life and so many conversations I would have liked to have with her as an adult.


One of the fun conversations I would have wanted to have with her involved a story from her own

teen years. A story I had never heard until a few years ago when a family member shared the tale from long ago with me. It was probably a few years before this picture was taken in 1958. In the photo, she was twenty. She was just a pup. We probably had a lot more in common in respect to our young years than we ever got to talk about. This would have been one of those stories where perhaps we would laugh and talk about how young and dumb we all were at one point in our lives.


When I was young, from time to time I would get in trouble. I know that may be hard for people who know me to believe, but true. Basic kid stuff nothing, egregious. More than a few times when it would happen, my mother would make vague statements like “I was young once too, and if only you knew the kind of trouble, I got in.” She never elaborated on what she meant. No doubt because she knew that it would be something I would have latched on to and remind her of at key moments when I snuck out of the house or got caught skipping a class. I had no idea at the time what she was talking about. But I remember wondering what she was talking about. What she could had she done that she thought she could not share, and I would top the folly of my youth?


A few years back, a family member told me about the time my mom was involved in the unauthorized use of a fighter jet and was briefly accused of espionage. Yup. This must be the “if only you knew story.” Every time I think of it, I laugh to myself. I have shared it in passing on prior years but not fully. I do so here with fondness.


The story goes that well before she met my father, she was briefly dating a fighter pilot, while in her late teens. One night, he brought her on to the military base, put her in a flight suit and snuck her on to a fighter jet to give her a view of Chicago at night for an unscheduled joyride. Not sure is she talked him into it or it was his bright idea, but off they went to see Chicago from the air.


Of course, they got caught. Apparently, the United States Air Force frowns on such things. Because the cold war was heating up, there were likely a lot of concerns at the time about espionage and what the Russians were doing and how they were stealing our secrets. The military scrambled a few jets to escort them back to the base and face the music. As the facts came out, espionage charges went away, although they were initially in the air and something my then teen mom might have faced. I can only imagine what happened to that pilot or if either of them thought it had been worth it. I would give almost anything to have had that conversation.


What I would have given to ask her about it or how her father, my grandfather reacted when he got the call about his daughter. I can only imagine. I can actually see in my mind’s eye my grandfather’s face turning red and him curing like the Irishman he was. Had I known the story before he passed, I also have no doubt he would have shared a hearty laugh over the whole thing too.


Mom, you were quite wise to never tell me or my brothers this story. It is true, had I known of it, there is not a shred of doubt that I would have pulled it out while being grounded for one thing or another. Of course, I would have said, “mom, it is not half as bad as stealing a military jet off a military base and being accused of espionage.” In hindsight this may have backfired and led to additional loss of privileges. It would have still come out of my mouth, in part because the apple does not fall far from the tree.


How we would have laughed about this if you had lived a bit longer. For the record, had the tables been turned, I would have gone for the ride in the jet too, mom. I hope you are smiling right now, and yes mom, at least I never stole a military jet and got accused of espionage.


Rest in peace, mom.

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