Fun and Games with Checkers the Cat! Ch. 121-133
Sheila (Seamands) Lovell is the daughter of Methodist missionaries to India, J. T. and Ruth Seamands. She is a graduate of Asbury College (now University) and the University of Kentucky. She came to Asbury Seminary in to work with David L. McKenna when he became President in 1982. She has been with the Seminary for 38 years, having served five presidents as their Executive Assistant and currently works as a Special Assistant to the President and Grants Administrator in the Advancement Office. In thinking about how to help keep her six grandchildren from getting bored and looking forward to something every day during their time of self-isolation, she began writing this diary from the point of view of her cat, Checkers, who by her own admission is practically purr-fect in every way.
The Cobra In the Rafters (Part 1)
I’ve seen the picture of Mommy Ruth and Daddy Jaytee on my mommy’s bookshelf in her bedroom. She has told me so many stories about them that I feel like I know them, almost. Best of all, she told me that Mommy Ruth liked cats.
Mommy Ruth once wrote that God designed Daddy Jaytee to be a missionary to India. God gave him strong legs to walk over rocky ground or plowed ground or raised earth bunds as he made his way into villages. He gave him strong arms to lift sick people into his Jeep to take them to the hospital. The strong arms also came in handy when Daddy Jaytee was needed to help dig “bore-hole latrines” for hundreds of camp meeting attenders. He once said, “if I ever teach missions classes, I’ll teach my students how to dig latrines. That should be a part of every missions course!”
God gave Daddy Jaytee a quick mind, a beautiful singing and speaking voice, a love of music, a wonderful affinity for languages, and a great love for India and her people. When he and Mommy Ruth were living in Belgaum, he served as a village evangelist. He spent about three-fourths of his time in outlying villages, witnessing through music and sermons and life. He could speak Kannada as though he had been born to it.
One day a message came from a village he had visited several times before. One of the old men living there had urgent news to give him and requested that Daddy Jaytee come to see him. So he climbed into the Jeep and drove to see the elderly man in the Hindu village, greeting him respectfully as Thatha (honorable grandfather). The man met him outside his hut and invited him in, calling to his wife to bring tea and biscuits. While they were sitting cross-legged on the floor, the grandfather looked up and pointed. “See that rafter up there just over my sleeping mat?” Daddy Jaytee nodded.
“Well, we knew there was a big cobra around here. I used my snake trap to try to catch him, but he was too smart for that. Cobras like to get up on rafters and I was always afraid he would fall on me sometime. It happened last night. The cobra fell on me while I was sleeping and he bit me on my forehead. Do you see the marks?” He leaned over close to Daddy Jaytee.
Horrified, Daddy Jaytee looked at his face. “Yes, I see two fang marks, and it looks like a cut also. And yet you are still alive!”
The old man took a deep breath. “Yes, with thanks to your God.”
“How is that? What do you mean?”
“I was fast asleep when that big heavy snake fell on my face. Immediately I felt pain between my eyes. I began to moan. My wife woke up just in time to see the cobra slithering out the door. She began to scream and soon all the neighbors came in with their lanterns to see what was the matter. I was in great pain. They all said, ‘If that cobra bit you, then you will die.’ And they all began to mourn and wail.
Daddy Jaytee knew that they had been right of course. A cobra bite, especially that close to the brain, can kill within 30 minutes.
The Cobra in the Rafters (Part 2)
I was anxious to hear the rest of the story about the old villager and the cobra that fell on him and bit him. I jumped up on Mommy’s lap and got comfortable.
The old man continued his story to Daddy Jaytee. “While all the people were wailing, I struggled to sit up,” he said, and asked them to be quiet. Then he asked his wife, “Do we have any medicine in the house?”
“All I have is a packet of permanganate crystals.” He told his wife to get them, and mix them with a little water. Then she was to get a knife and make a cut between the fang marks and pour the mixture in it. She was screaming, “But that won’t save you!” But she did as he asked and poured in the permanganate water.
(My mommy explained to me that permanganate crystals are used for medicinal purposes for skin conditions and to disinfect wounds.)
The old man took a breath. “Then I said to them all, “Listen! Seamands sahib said his God brought a man from the dead and He healed many people. I believe what sahib said and I am going to pray to his God. I believe He can heal me. Now be quiet and pray with me to this God, for He is more powerful than our gods.”
“So, I prayed,” he went on, “and asked your God to heal me of the bite of the cobra. The pain was great but I managed to go back to sleep.”
“My wife told me this morning that she and my neighbors all sat and watched me sleep, fully expecting me to die. Everybody knows that when a cobra bites, you’re dead in thirty minutes. But I just kept sleeping and during the night your God answered my prayer. The pain stopped and I woke up this morning knowing that I must have you come back so I could tell you this story. Now I know your God is who you say He is – the greatest God of all. We are so happy that you came here. Otherwise we would never have known about your God.”
Because of that miracle, witnessed by so many, others in the village were also convinced about the God that Seamands sahib had preached about.
Mommy Ruth said that years later, when the family came back to America on furlough, she wondered about that permanganate. She told a doctor friend the story and asked him, “Could that permanganate possibly have been strong enough to kill that cobra venom?”
“No,” he answered without hesitation. “No, it is not possible.” That settled her doubts. Only God can save someone from the bite of a cobra, in a village far away from any hospital.
My mommy reminded me of that verse in one of her favorite psalms, Psalm 91. In talking about God’s loving care for those who call upon His Name, verse 13 says, “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra. You will trample the great lion and the serpent.” That old villager, desperate to save his own life, called out with faith no bigger than a mustard seed, and the great God of the universe heard him and answered his prayer. I’m glad we have a God like that, who created and cares for all His creatures, even the little furry ones like me.
Mommy Ruth and the Antlanche
I was chasing an ant on the carpet today, and so tonight while I was getting my neck scratched and my tummy rubbed, my mommy told me the story of Mommy Ruth and the antlanche. She explained that an avalanche was a fall of snow down a mountainside, but an antlanche was the only thing Mommy Ruth could think of to call her epic battle with the black ants.
It happened in Belgaum when my mommy was two years old. She was sleeping in her screened-in bed, while her big sister, Sylvia, slept in her own bed across the room. Mommy Ruth came in to check on them before going to bed herself. For some reason she turned on the light instead of using a flashlight. Something black was moving across the floor. It was a long line of big black ants marching about five abreast from a wide crack in the floor where two of the stone slabs didn’t fit together properly. The ants were climbing up one side, over the top, and down the other side of my mommy’s screened-in bed.
Mommy Ruth howled for Daddy Jaytee, who was home, for once. Jerking a scarf off the dresser, she began flipping the ants of my mommy’s bed and yelled, “Now they’re headed for our beds. Get a broom and start killing them quick!” She shoved the screened-in bed into their bedroom and grabbed another broom to help Daddy Jaytee. They began swatting the ants with the flat of the broom and the dead began to pile up on the floor. The other ants seemingly had lost their leader and were milling all around everywhere, while more and more kept coming out of the hole in the floor. Suddenly Mommy Ruth had a thought: “Get the DDT!”
She grabbed the spray gun and aimed it at the hole. She had only given two or three squirts when the antlanche happened. Instead of coming out by the hundreds they now poured out by the thousands. The DDT didn’t seem to have any effect except to make them mad. They swarmed all over the floor and climbed all over Mommy Ruth and Daddy Jaytee. Fortunately, these were not the soldier ants that eat everything in their path – they were just the big long-legged common black ants. They didn’t eat humans, but they did bite.
Mommy Ruth and Daddy Jaytee were losing the battle when she had another brainstorm: get the electric sweeper! She dragged it in from the storeroom, plugged it in, and set it over the hole. That sweeper began Hoovering up those ants, which were no match for its strong suction. Daddy Jaytee was pushing them toward the sweeper with his broom as fast as he could. They worked for about 45 minutes in their mopping-up operation before no more ants came out of the hole. Then she filled the crack with more DDT to discourage any others from daring to come out. After sweeping up all the living, Mommy Ruth went after the piles of ants they had already killed. By the time the floor was clear, the sweeper bag was bulging.
Of course, all the commotion had awakened both the little girls. The ants hadn’t gone near Sylvia’s bed and my mommy was safe in hers, looking solemnly out through the screen. When her parents stopped and heaved a sigh of relief, my mommy asked Mommy Ruth, “Why are you and Daddy chasing ants in the middle of the night?” A good question, to which there was no really good answer, except to say because they were there.
Wow! I thought that was a great story. Wish I had been there to help them chase all those ants. My mommy’s house only has one or two and that not very often. Some people have all the fun!
The Bug Chick Saga (Part 1)
“Look, Checkers,” Mommy said, pointing out the window. “That’s the kind of plane that my Jessica used to fly.” I looked up at the shiny white silver thing in the sky. It flew like a bird but it never flapped its wings. I looked at Mommy and wondered: You mean Jessica? Your daughter Jessica? “Yes,” she nodded, “reading my feline mind, “that Jessica.”
Now, I’ve met Jessica. She’s been over to the house, of course, and I knew that she is Mommy’s daughter. Suddenly a new thought struck me: does that mean that Jessica and I are sisters? We both have the same mommy! How interesting that my sister knows how to fly a plane with passengers in it. How did that happen? I settled down on Mommy’s lap for her to tell me all about it.
“When Jessica was still in grade school,” my mommy began, “her grandma, Mommy Ruth, took her to California to visit Sylvia and her daughter Sandy, Jessica’s cousin. That was Jessica’s first plane ride. In those days, you could actually visit in the cockpit when you got on an airplane, and she took advantage of the fact to look at all the dials and switches. “Hmmm,” she thought, looking at the cockpit and the pilots. “I can do that.” And she was fascinated by the wings. “How do they keep the airplane in the air?”
From that moment on, she had a single-minded purpose in life. She would become a pilot. Her mommy (and mine) had had well-laid out plans for Jessica to attend Asbury College, just as she had. After all, they were living literally across the street from the College. They wouldn’t even have to pay room and board – just tuition fees. But Jessica had other ideas and stuck to them. So the hunt began to find the best place for her to get a degree in flight. Mommy and Daddy Jim didn’t want her to just go to an airport and take flying lessons – they wanted her to have a college degree and there aren’t that many good colleges in the U.S. that offer degrees in flight,
They even investigated the Air Force Academy, but there was a real sticking point there. The Air Force recruiter said it was a very competitive matter to put in for flight training. In the meantime, the candidate would have to major in electrical engineering. “But what if I don’t get selected for flight training?” the ever-practical Jessica asked. “Then I’m stuck with an EE degree that I don’t want and still won’t be able to fly.”
A good possibility was a college they’d never heard of – LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas. This Christian University was founded by R. G. LeTourneau, one of the world’s greatest inventors of earthmoving equipment. He had only a seventh-grade education, but he taught himself engineering and eventually built himself a manufacturing empire. He gave 90% of his income to the Lord’s work and lived off the remaining 10%.
In 1946, he was flying over Longview with his wife, Evelyn, looking for a likely location to build his next manufacturing plant. She spotted a complex of 200 frame buildings, which, she was told, had been an Army hospital. Told it was no longer in use, she suggested that they use it to train veterans returning from World War II. What began as LeTourneau Technical Institute eventually became a full-fledged university, and one of its premier areas of study is in flight. Jessica and her parents began to look at the four-year BS degree in Aviation Technology. The first two years were training in aircraft maintenance and the last two were actual flight training. Jessica was intrigued. A visit to LeTourneau College (it became a university in 1989) was next on the agenda.
The Bug Chick Saga (Part 2)
Mommy fussed at me a couple of times yesterday for chewing on the electrical wires behind her computer and the television. If she doesn’t want me to chew on them, why does she keep them out in the open like that? I heard her muttering something about bringing out the squirt bottle of lemon water again, so I’d better be careful. Anyway, by laptime, she had settled down enough to continue yesterday’s story.
Jessica never changed her mind about wanting to learn how to fly. Mommy’s first boss, Dr. David McKenna, the former president of Asbury Seminary, had come there from Seattle Pacific University, where he had been the boss of Dr. Bud Austin, who was at that time president of LeTourneau. As a matter of fact, he had recommended his friend for the position at LeTourneau and was very excited to know that Jessica was looking seriously at attending there. So, armed with an introduction to the president, my mommy and Daddy Jim and Jessica set out for Texas for college preview days in the fall of Jessica’s junior year in high school.
It’s a long drive down to east Texas from the middle of Kentucky – nearly 800 miles. They toured the campus and Jessica went with an admissions recruiter to look at the aviation labs, where students were learning to tear down, repair, and rebuild airplane engines. She took one look at the hundreds of engine parts lying on the worktables and was brought up short. “I’ll never be able to do that,” she said to herself. Discouraged, she finished up the tour. When she met up with her folks again, she told them, “I can’t do this. I’ll never be able to learn all I have to know. I don’t want to come here after all!”
Mommy was heartsick. After all the planning and time and money invested in checking out colleges and aviation degrees, this had seemed to be the best option of them all. And now Jessica had changed her mind. “Do you want to cancel sleeping over at the girls’ dorm tonight, then?” she asked. Jessica surprised her by saying no, she would go through with that.
Mommy tossed and turned all night, praying about the situation every time she woke up. The next day, when she and Daddy Jim went to the campus to pick up Jessica and head back to Kentucky, Jessica was all smiles. “I really want to come here!” She told them excitedly that after supper she had been invited to a prayer meeting in the dorm. She got to meet many of the girls (at that time there weren’t that many on campus – the male students outnumbered the females about seven to one!) She had been really impressed with the depth of faith she had seen there and with the friendliness of the girls. She would give it a try.
Over the next two school years, Jessica remained true to her decision. She took some Bible classes at Asbury College, knocking out some required college courses while still finishing up her high school. She and her brother, Little Jaytee, both worked at the local IGA after school and during the summer, and in the fall of 1990, she prepared for college.
Mommy and Daddy Jim and Jessica packed up the old Oldsmobile, stuffing everything into the trunk and the backseat and the luggage carrier on top. Then they set off for east Texas again. Everything was going fine, until as Mommy drove the car onto a cloverleaf exit in Memphis, the entire electrical system failed and she just managed to guide it off the pavement onto the grass before it came to a dead stop.
The Bug Chick Saga (Part 3)
I settled in for another neck-scratch (when my mommy’s home I get them all the time – yum!) and a continuation of the story about Jessica’s quest to become a pilot.
Mommy told me that if they had to have car trouble like they did, Memphis was a really hospitable place to do so. Someone gave Daddy Jim a ride to get a tow truck. Mommy and Jessica stayed with the car and all kinds of drivers stopped to ask if they needed help. When the tow truck got there, it took them to an Oldsmobile dealership. The service manager looked at the Kentucky license plate on the car and said, “We take care of our out-of-state guests first.” That was good news for them. Some three hours after breaking down they were on the road again, with a brand new timing belt under the hood.
When they arrived in Longview they spent the night at a friend’s house and the next day they got Jessica settled in to the dorm. After my mommy had put off saying goodbye as long as possible, they all walked out of the dorm. It was time for them to leave. Mommy turned to hug Jessica but she hung back. “Don’t touch me,” she said shakily, “because if you do, I’ll cry, and I don’t want to cry.” So Mommy simply said goodbye and that she loved her and she and Daddy Jim got into the car and drove off. Mommy said she cried after that. Her little girl was on her way!
“Now, Checkers, you must remember,” my mommy said, “that this was before email was readily available and certainly before cell phones were popular.” The telephone was the only way for them to keep in touch. So the answer was to get an 800 number dedicated only to calls to and from Texas. That way they could call as often as they wanted for a monthly fee. Mommy and Jessica set up a schedule of talking each Wednesday and Sunday, at least, to keep in touch. Mommy called it her “Jessica fix.”
Jessica was one of only three girls in the aviation program’s incoming class. Those girls really helped each other through it. It was difficult enough even if you had had any mechanical training at all, which Jessica hadn’t. During her second semester she had a lab partner named Brian Bowers, a sandy-haired young man with a quick laugh and a keen mind. He could only roll his eyes when she asked him, “What’s the difference between a piston and a cylinder?” She learned soon enough. When one of the boys in her class asked her, “When are you going to drop out? The girls always do,” it only stiffened her spine so that she was determined to finish and prove him and all the other boys wrong.
The first two years of her degree were all mechanics. The students had to learn all the parts of the airplane and the engine and how they worked. They had to learn electrical systems and about fuel and oil flow and all the things that kept an airplane in the air. They had to tear down airplane engines and put them back together again.
All seemed to be going okay with Jessica’s classes – until one Friday night In her sophomore year, she called home in near hysterics. “Mom,” she wailed, “I can’t do this. I just can’t do this any more. I’m going to quit and become a liberal arts major!”
After that call, Mommy was in distress, too. She barely slept at all, praying and agonizing over Jessica’s meltdown. She and Daddy Jaytee were in the middle of a Marriage Enrichment weekend, and she could hardly keep her mind on the sessions the next day. Would this be the end of Jessica’s dream?
The Bug Chick Saga (Part 4)
Mommy continued her story about Jessica’s quest to learn to fly. She had stopped the night before with Jessica’s frantic phone call from college.
After hanging up the phone, my mommy said, she suffered another troubled night, alternately dozing and praying. The next morning was Saturday and she and Daddy Jim had committed themselves to completing the Marriage Enrichment course at their church. She asked for prayer from the group for Jessica’s situation and had to be content with that until she could call her.
When she finally did get Jessica on the phone that evening, Mommy heard her cheery “Hi, Mom,” and heaved a sign of relief. She could always tell immediately how her kids were feeling by the tone of voice and first words on a phone call. Jessica had obviously settled down and was no longer threatening to throw in the towel. (Mommy saw my ears twitch at that and explained that it meant she was no longer considering quitting.) Mommy had been so upset by Jessica’s unexpected meltdown that she had forgotten one important thing about her daughter – whenever Jessica got overtired, her whole world fell apart. And that is what had happened the day before. As soon as she got some rest, she was her usual optimistic self.
At one point in her classes, the final exam hinged on an engine teardown and rebuild. She and her lab partners had to completely take apart an airplane engine and put it back together again. The final grade depended upon whether or not the engine ran at the end. Mommy told me she’d never forget the phone call from Jessica: “Mom, Mom, we ran our engine up today and it ran so good!”
During her junior year, Jessica continued to take some advanced mechanics classes and in the summer after that year she faced the dreaded test for her Airframe & Powerplant Mechanic certification. The LeTourneau aviation faculty was authorized to give this national test on campus. It took two weekends to complete. Three parts were written and three sections were practical. The whole family rejoiced when Jessica called home to report that she had passed them all!
Her flight training began in her junior year. At that time, LeTourneau student pilots learned in a four-seater Cherokee. The Cherokee has fixed gear, meaning that the landing gear doesn’t retract upon takeoff. It is still hot in east Texas in late summer and early fall. The little un-airconditioned airplane bucked and shuddered in the hot air, and she found herself fighting nausea for some time. Finally as the weather began to cool and her confidence grew, the airsickness wore off.
There were three women aviation majors in her class — Jessica, Heidi, and Jenny. These three were constantly cheering each other on. They each needed to have that kind of encouragement from each other during their difficult classes.
Jessica passed her private pilot’s test and next up was her commercial pilot’s license. For that she needed cross-country hours. She told Mommy that she and Heidi would fly up to Lexington from Longview that fall. Mommy prayed them all the way up. Remember, there were no cell phones around for her to check on their progress in flight. At one point they got lost and had to fly around a town’s water tower to get their bearings. Mommy and Daddy Jim drove to the Lexington airport to watch them land. Mommy cried when she saw that tiny brown airplane taxiing in safely. The girls had made it!
The Bug Chick Saga (Part 5)
The successful cross-country trip, Mommy said, continuing her story, was just one of many that Jessica had to complete for her commercial pilot’s license, which came after her private pilot’s license. Then came the instrument pilot certification, which involved training in a simulator. During her senior year, she was hired by the LeTourneau aviation department as their first female mechanic. She and her fellow mechanics, including her former lab partner Brian, worked on the planes at night, changing the oil and doing any needed inspections, so that the students could fly them the next day. Sometimes, Jessica reported to her mom, they would finish at 2 a.m. so they managed to get a few hours sleep. Other times they didn’t finish ‘til 6 in the morning and she had to get to a 7:30 class. She was usually exhausted but knew she was achieving her goal.
“Now here. Checkers,” Mommy told me, “I have to back up just a bit.” She said that while Jessica was still at home, Daddy Jim had had a heart attack. As part of his rehabilitation, he had acquired an old treadmill to exercise on. Mommy started using it, too, and her daily 30-minute sessions in the basement by herself turned out to be an ideal prayer time. She prayed earnestly for her family, and most especially for the man and woman that her daughter and son would someday marry. She felt certain they would marry. She explained to the Lord that He’d have to have somebody special in mind for Jessica. Her future husband had to be someone who was not threatened by Jessica’s intelligence and who would encourage her to fulfill her dream of flying. Mommy didn’t know who he was, but prayed that he would have the same faith that Jessica did and come from a Christian family.
In the spring semester of her senior year, Brian made his move. He asked Jessica out for her birthday in February. After that, deep friendship blossomed into love and Mommy’s prayers were answered. Not only did the Lord pick out someone who was just as smart as Jessica, he understood all about her desire to fly and how hard she had worked for it, as he had done the same. If anything, he was working even harder, because he was putting himself through school.
Jessica took her flight instructor training during the summer after graduation, and gained her CFI (certified flight instructor) rating and her CFII (certified flight instructor instrument rating). She was then hired as LeTourneau’s first female flight instructor. The next summer, after Brian graduated, they came to Wilmore to be married in August. It was a lovely wedding in McKenna Chapel on the Asbury Seminary campus (Estes Chapel was already booked for a wedding that day). They had rented a mobile home not far from the airport in Longview. He was also hired for a time as a flight instructor and then as an aviation mechanic at the LeTourneau hanger
The next summer, a phone call came into the aviation department office. The administrative assistant, Mary, answered it. The caller explained that he was looking for a good aviation mechanic to work for his company in the Mediterranean fruit fly eradication project in Orange County, California. Could LeTourneau recommend anyone? Mary said she knew exactly the person for the job – Brian Bowers.
Brian was hired and flew out to California ahead of Jessica, leaving her to pack up their belongings for the move. Mommy and Daddy Jim drove down to Longview to help her load up and to drive with her cross-country in the Penske truck, towing her little car behind it. They left their car with friends in Dallas, as they would fly back after getting their kids settled out West. Then it was California or bust!
The Bug Chick Saga (Part 6)
“I have to do a little backtracking here, Checkers,” Mommy told me, “and catch you up on what Little Jaytee was doing during this time.” I flicked my ears forward, ready to listen with both of them. “Remember,” Mommy said, “we only called him Little Jaytee to distinguish him from Daddy Jaytee, my dad.” And he wasn’t little – he’s 6’4” tall.
Little Jaytee (he likes to be called J.T., Mommy said) is just exactly a year younger than Jessica (they share the same birthday). While he was a sophomore in high school, he took the ASVAB test (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). This is the test that would show the Army (that’s where he was headed) just what sorts of areas he could do best in. When the results came back, he had done so well that the recruiter said, “Are you sure you’re just a sophomore? You can have any job that’s available in this man’s Army!” So he selected one that came with a top secret clearance and took delayed enlistment, meaning that he would join up after his high school graduation. And within a few weeks after graduation, Mommy and Daddy Jim put him on a bus in Lexington to his basic training base at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. After that he had nine months of AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for the specialty he had selected. He would spend six years in the Army, and during that time was posted to several U.S. bases as well as being deployed to Panama and Bosnia.
While Mommy and Daddy Jim and Jessica were driving from Texas to California, Little J.T. was at Fort Huachuca, in Arizona. They stopped over near Phoenix for a few hours to visit Daddy Jim’s sister and have a meal there. Little Jaytee came with his girlfriend at the time (whom he later married) so the family was together for a few brief hours. Then the travelers boarded their Penske truck and headed west again. They timed their arrival to get into Huntington Beach in the early hours of Sunday morning, so they would have as little freeway traffic as possible.
Mommy’s niece (and Jessica’s cousin) Sandy, lived in Huntington Beach. She had helped Brian find an apartment to rent. The next couple of days were spent getting Jessica and Brian settled in. Then Mommy and Daddy Jim flew back to Dallas, picked up their car, and drove back to Kentucky. After being with both kids, the house in Wilmore seemed really lonely again.
Brian had been hired by the aircraft company as a mechanic, fixing the lumbering Turbine Beech 18s that the pilots were flying by day. The company refused to hire Jessica, saying that they had had a bad experience before with husband-and-wife employees. So Jessica went looking for a job. She handed out resumes all over and was hired to work in an office for a company that placed physical therapists and other health care workers in local hospitals. In addition, she found some part-time work as a flight instructor and as a pilot for a company that gave flying tours over the area, pointing out places of interest. Her passengers were Japanese couples honeymooning in California, so there wasn’t much conversation going on.
Meanwhile, Mommy was back in Wilmore praying on her treadmill. She informed the Lord that Jessica really needed to be flying fulltime, and why couldn’t He help persuade the company Brian worked for that she wouldn’t cause trouble but simply do the job she loved – flying. Several of the employees there had been classmates of hers and Brian’s at LeTourneau, so they knew her. They put in a good word for her and finally, after a year, she was hired on with the company as one of their pilots. Mommy said she’d tell me tomorrow exactly what kind of flying Jessica was doing and how she earned the nickname “Bug Chick.”
The Bug Chick Saga (Part 7)
Mommy continued her story of Jessica and her nickname. I settled down on her lap to listen. I like chasing flies, but I guess I wouldn’t so much if there were millions of them!
Insects have always been a problem for California’s fruit crops. The state began aerial spraying of Malathion, which could be toxic to humans, sometime around 1979. When spraying was to take place, people were advised to close their windows and turn off their air conditioners so as not to let it in their houses. They were even advised to cover their cars to prevent damage to the paint. This went on for about a decade and many in the state were opposed to it, saying it caused nausea and rashes. In 1989, a sudden invasion of the Mediterranean fruit fly began devastating California’s crops. It seems that a group of bioterrorists had released the flies in response to the state’s Malathion spraying. California was forced to stop the regular spraying and find some other way to keep the fruit fly population under control. An innovative plan was developed by scientists in Hawaii. The researchers began growing fruit flies and submitting them to doses of radiation at just the right moment of their development to render them sterile. The plan was to release these sterile fruit flies into the fertile population and eventually the entire population would die out.
The company that Jessica and Brian worked for had a contract with the USDA to drop these sterilized Mediterranean fruit flies over the counties of southern California. They called it the Medfly project. They gathered pilots and mechanics and specially-designed aircraft and based them at Los Alamitos.
Dropping millions and millions of sterilized fruit flies was a highly structured enterprise and called for precision flying. The flies couldn’t just be dumped out of an airplane in a clump; they had to be able to mix in with the flies already on the ground. This was done by flying very low over the city – at 500 feet – and slowly releasing them, dodging the low-flying police and television helicopters all the while.
The sterilized flies were grown in Hawaii and Guatemala and shipped to California in special bags holding thousands of fly pupae covered in a special pink dye to distinguish them from the regular fruit flies. The adult flies emerged after arrival. They were refrigerated to cut down on their activity and put into a large metal box clamped onto three augers that would release them at a constant rate out of the bottom of the aircraft while it used GPS to fly in a grid pattern over the city. The flies would warm up on the way down. Each airplane had been specially modified, with a hole cut into its floor for this purpose. When the refrigerator unit wasn’t working well, the pilots knew right away because there would be flies everywhere. A tube sticking out of the window made it possible to suction flies out of the cockpit when they got real annoying. The planes flew every day, usually four of them up at a time, each plane covering two of the 29 different regions a day. Fly traps on the ground were examined regularly to see if the flies put under ultraviolet light glowed with the pink dye, marking them as the sterilized ones. Any flies that didn’t glow were known to be unsterilized, which resulted in many flights over that particular region, releasing sterilized ones at a higher rate for a couple of weeks, until a few fruit fly life cycles had passed.
The planes had call signs of “Medfly 1, Medfly 2” and so on. The tower handling their flights was located in San Diego. The flight controllers there became very familiar with the pilots’ voices, especially Jessica’s, as she was the only female pilot in the group. At one point, Jessica called in her position, the tower acknowledged her contact, and the controller forgot to turn off his microphone and was overheard commenting to his colleague something to the effect of “That was Bug Chick.” “And that, Checkers,” Mommy said, smiling, “is how Jessica got her nickname. We’ve used it ever since.”
Into the Wild Blue Yonder
Mommy had still more to tell about Brian and Jessica’s flying experiences – with and without the flies. So I settled down to listen some more. . .
Brian and Jessica spent nearly two years working with the Medfly project is California. They enjoyed it tremendously. They were both flying (though Brian was doing more of the actual mechanical work), and they had colleagues who were already good friends through LeTourneau University. So it was with no little regret for leaving it all that Brian accepted an offer to transfer to the company’s headquarters in Virginia. Once again, he and Jessica packed all their earthly belongings into a moving van and headed back across the country.
Mommy and Daddy Jim drove to meet them there and spent a day with them looking at several available apartments, and then helping them to move in to the one they chose. Brian worked in maintenance for the company. Unfortunately for Jessica, they didn’t have a pilot’s position for her, so she spent many long days inventorying aircraft parts from planes the company had bought from the Army. After just a few months in Virginia, Brian asked to lead the Medfly project that was being launched in Tampa, Florida. He and Jessica would be both flying and fixing the aircraft there. This time they headed south in the moving van. It was difficult work, as there were only four members of the team there and the weather was not nearly so pleasant as it was in California. Jessica did the majority of the government paperwork.
Flying over Tampa was different from California, not least for the amount of birds creating a hazard for aircraft. One time a bird strike put an actual dent in one of the planes. Mommy and Daddy Jim drove down to Jessica and Brian’s apartment for Thanksgiving, and Little J.T. and his wife, Jennie, joined them from Texas, where they were living. Jessica and Brian stayed with the Tampa Medfly project for 10 months before moving on.
Their next stop was in Fort Wayne, Indiana, flying sleek Lear jets for a company making just-in-time deliveries for automobile factories needing parts to keep their production lines going. The experiences of flying very high and very fast were exhilarating, but the company’s lax attitude toward maintenance made them uneasy and aerial highjinks by some of their other pilots left the two of them in fear that they may lose their pilot’s licenses. Brian reached out to the commercial airlines, this time, and was hired by Air Wisconsin in Appleton. This happened on Mommy’s birthday in January of 2000. Air Wisconsin is a commuter airline and at that time they had a contract to fly in the Midwest under the colors of United Airlines.
Once again, Jessica did not have a pilot’s position. She and Brian moved to Wilmore and used Mommy and Daddy Jim’s house as their base of operations. They had bought Mommy Ruth and Daddy Jaytee’s house, upon their move into Wesley Village. The house had plenty of room for them in the bonus bedroom upstairs. Brian commuted to Appleton on Air Wisconsin flights that came into Lexington.
The year 2000 was a national census year. Jessica got a supervisory job with the census in Jessamine County and set up shop on the dining room table. Finally, in August, she too was hired to fly for Air Wisconsin. They rented an apartment in Appleton and moved once again. By this time they had moved six times in four years, and ultimately decided to settle down and buy a house in Wilmore. Brian flew for Air Wisconsin for 18 years before moving on to Southwest Airlines. Jessica flew for them for six years, until the kids came along. She actually made captain before Brian did, since she had more hours in the air.
Deliver Us From Evil (Part 1)
On this night, my mommy was very serious as she welcomed me onto her lap. The stories she told next were very serious too, while at the same time showing God’s glorious triumph over evil forces in the world.
One Sunday morning, Daddy Jaytee was sitting with missionary guests in the Belgaum Methodist Church, when someone tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Please, sahib, please come and help me with my wife. She has a devil.” Daddy Jaytee wasn’t quite sure what he meant, so he just told the man not to disturb the service and he would talk to him later. At that moment, there was a commotion in the aisle, back by the door. He looked around to see a woman who apparently fallen in some sort of fit. Not wanting to disturb the service further, he got up and went to the woman. The visitors followed and all of them carried her up the hill to the verandah of the mission bungalow, where they laid her down on the stone floor.
Mommy Ruth hadn’t gone to church that morning. When she heard voices on the verandah, she came to the door and looked on in amazement at what was happening there. The man was dressed in simple village clothes, in a dhoti and turban, and she was wearing a dark cotton sari. The woman’s head was lolling from side to side and her eyes were rolling around in her head, seemingly seeing nothing.
When Daddy Jaytee asked the man to tell him about his wife, the husband began, “Sir, my wife has had a devil for many months. She often falls into the fire and the devil makes her hurt herself in many ways. All the people of the village are afraid of her. The devil also keeps us from conceiving a child.”
Then Daddy Jaytee began asking questions of the woman. “Why do you fall into the fire and why do you hurt yourself?”
Though her eyes were wild, she answered readily enough. “The devil pushes me to do these things, sahib. I don’t want to do them but he makes me.”
When he asked her how long she had had the devil, she said, “About a year.” He asked her more questions and she answered them all, though her body shook and her eyes looked around wildly.
Years before, when Mommy Ruth and Daddy Jaytee were students at Asbury College, they had heard a missionary from China talk about devil possession, a phenomenon he had witnessed many times. He had said that sometimes it is difficult to tell if someone really is devil-possessed or has some sort of illness. But, he went on, there is one sure way to tell the difference between devil possession and any form of mental illness. If the person can answer any questions or even talk at all, the most important question to ask is, “Can you say the name Jesus for me?”
“If the person is demon-possessed,” the missionary said, “the demon will never allow the name of Jesus to be spoken. Ask any other questions first, and then say, ‘Just say Jesus.’ That will be the true test.”
Daddy Jaytee asked her some more questions about her village and then said casually, “Please say the name Yesu.” The woman opened her mouth to comply, but nothing came out. She tried two or three times but could not. He asked her some more questions and again asked, “Please say the name Yesu.” And once again she was struck dumb, opening her mouth but unable to say anything.
Deliver Us From Evil (Part 2)
Mommy continued the story of the demon-possessed woman on the verandah of the mission bungalow.
Daddy Jaytee had asked her twice to say the name of Jesus and twice she had been unable to do so, despite the fact that she had been talking normally to him just before that.
God suddenly gave Daddy Jaytee the surge of faith he needed. He said, “Let’s pray.” They all knelt. Mommy Ruth was praying inside, but she could not tear her eyes away from the scene.
When Daddy Jaytee began to pray, in Kannada, of course, the woman was sitting cross-legged, her eyes rolling around and her head going from side to side. As the prayer continued, she grew quiet. It was a short prayer, asking for God’s presence and power. At the end, in faith, Daddy Jaytee said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you, demon, come out of this woman!”
At these words, the woman suddenly fell forward, her forehead hitting the stone floor like a pistol shot. Her feet were still crossed and sticking out stiffly behind her. She stayed like that for a few moments, and then she rolled over on her side and lay quiet. After two or three minutes she sat up. Her eyes were no longer wild, her head still. She had a look of utmost calm and her body had stopped shaking.
Daddy Jaytee asked her, “Who has delivered you from this devil?”
“Yesu Swami (Jesus Lord) has delivered me.”
“Tell me again. Who has delivered you?”
“Yesu Swami has delivered me,” she said with conviction in her voice. Daddy Jaytee had her repeat the name of Jesus a dozen times and she did so, clearly and without faltering. He taught her how to pray a simple prayer of thanksgiving to God for casting out the evil spirit. Then he told her and her husband the story of the unclean spirit coming back into the house and bringing seven others with him, so the last circumstances were worse than the first. (The story is told in Luke 11:23-26.) He told her to open her heart to Yesu Swami and let Him come in, so that if this cast-out devil ever tried to come back he would find her heart already occupied. He prayed with her about that and she said she did open her heart to receive Jesus. She was very calm and peaceful now. Daddy Jaytee gave them a New Testament and her husband promised to read it to her every day, as she was illiterate. Then they climbed back in their bullock cart and headed back to their village.
The next Sunday morning, again in church, Daddy Jaytee felt someone tap him on the shoulder. He turned around to see that same man. Daddy Jaytee’s first thought was that the devil must have returned to his wife. But the husband, and his wife standing behind him, were both smiling. “Salaam, sahib,” the man said, “we have come today to be baptized.” Now usually when people were converted, they were given a time of instruction in the faith before being baptized, but as this was such an unusual occurrence and the people were so radiant, Daddy Jaytee decided to make an exception. At the close of the service, he asked for special privilege, went up to the pulpit, and told the congregation the couple’s story. He baptized them then and there, among the congregation’s great rejoicing. They went back to their village and became wonderful witnesses for Christ. A few weeks later they came back, bringing another woman who, they said, had a devil. She too was prayed for and was cleansed. Those two illiterate women went home to testify to everyone in their village. They had no more trouble. But the devil wasn’t through. . .