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The High-flying Tales of April 12

April 14, 2013

The High-flying Tales of April 12, 1998

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Within the first two weeks of December of 1997, I experienced two overwhelming losses. On December 1, 1997, my extraordinary father passed away; and then on December 15, my first guide dog Keller passed away. Somehow, by putting one foot in front of the other, I continued walking through this life—temporarily with a white cane. Four months later, on April 12, 1998, I was on a flight from Denver to Detroit and was taking a big step in trying to move forward with my life by going to Leader Dog School for the second time. Although I was still keenly aware of my losses, I was excited and ready to welcome anew guide dog into my life.

On the jet, I was very pleased that a travel agent who enjoyed talking was sitting next to me. For whatever reason, his wife was sitting in the middle seat directly behind the travel agent; and I was sitting by the window. After we, new acquaintances, enjoyed a few lengthy conversations, the pilot calmly announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are having trouble with one engine. In approximately 25 minutes, we will be landing at the nearest airport—Minneapolis.” Instantly, every passenger was absolutely silent. Never before nor since have I experienced such silence on an airplane. My heart seemed to be doing Olympic high jumps inside my chest. To try to steady the rapid beating of my heart, I told myself that either I would see my dad and my first guide dog again or I would go on to Rochester, Michigan, to meet my second Leader Dog. Fortunately, I calmed down. Gradually, passengers began conversing again. Although I wished the pilot had waited to tell us the news about five minutes from the nearest airport—rather than 25 minutes—I was pleased to pass these long minutes with the travel agent and his wife. In some ways, I was grateful that I did not have a guide dog with me on this flight.

When we drew close to the Minneapolis area, a severe storm was in progress. Once again, my discomfort level increased. Despite the tempestuous weather, our flight was fairly quickly cleared for landing; and we appropriately prepared for the descent—with a few more prayers than usual when I am flying through the sky. I felt as if I were whirled into a combination of Disneyland and movie landing—a little rougher than usual, very fast, and then smooth. The entire cabin of passengers cheered! A safe landing! In the happy state of relief, passengers buzzed about alternative plans. Nevertheless, as these grateful passengers exited the plane, they vigorously and earnestly thanked the pilot for his superb work and our safe landing.

Inside the terminal, we were immediately encourage to move promptly to a nearby gate where we were to board as soon as possible another jet. I was not ready for this rapid re-entry into another airplane. I told the airline employee who was assisting me that I was making an unscheduled stop at the ladies’ room. Then, all or most of the passengers of the previous flight reassembled and boarded our waiting plane. I was pleased to be sitting by the same friendly people. However, the storm had intensified. The pilot taxied along toward the runway, but the severity of the storm brought an abrupt halt to our progress. Looking out the window, the travel agent was giving me a vivid description of the unfriendly skies. A funnel cloud had formed in the distance, but, thankfully, never came toward us. Fifty-five minutes later, this second jet was on its way to Detroit; and I could again hope to meet my second Leader Dog.

The storm and excitement had passed, yet I knew another type of excitement lay ahead of me. Late that night of April 12, our flight landed safely at the Detroit airport where, of course, a trainer from Leader Dog School was there to greet me. After about an hour drive to the school in Rochester, the dorm was quiet; but, even after ten o’clock, a few friendly voices welcomed me and let me know that they were glad that I had arrived safely. Somehow, the news about my unusual flight had already spread at the school.

I met my destiny; and three days later, on “tax day” of 1998, I met my strong and beautiful yellow labrador, Heather—my second Leader Dog, with whom I began a new chapter in my life.

Paw-script: On April 12, 1990 (Thursday), having successfully completed my first training session at Leader Dog School, I flew home to Indiana with my first guide dog—Keller, the gorgeous golden retriever who was so extraordinarily dedicated to her work as a Leader Dog.

Post-script (More about April 12): On April 12, 1879, my paternal grandfather was born in Levone, Italy. Another, much more recent April 12 birthday is being celebrated by my friend Jenna, who helped me to initiate this blog on January 19 of this year. Thanks again and Happy Birthday!

May all your flights be safe and smooth!
Alice and Leader Dog #3, Zoe

April 12, 2013, Friday


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  1. You were indeed blessed with an extraordinary dad! It is a blessing which is beyond comparison and one that I can also say that I shared. Must be something about that Massa name!

  2. I, for one, am very glad your plane made it safely back down to earth that day. Great post, and here’s to many more to come.


    Deon Lyons

    Author of Sully Street

    A Fiction Novel


    Personal Blog

    “The happiest of people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything they have.”

    Unknown Author


  3. It was enough of a shock to lose my mother on December 15, 1999. If I’d suffered another loss days later like you did, I don’t know how I would have handled it. I liked the way you transitioned from that to your harrowing journey to Rochester, Michigan. Keep writing.

    • Thanks, Abbie, for your comment about transitions. From reading your writings, I know how special your mother was in your life, including your writing career. Take care–AJM

      • Dear Alice,
        No wonder you are always hesitant to fly anywhere! The details of your adventure in the air made me cringe as I remembered your flight from Denver to Detroit via Minneapolis. You and Heather were such a great team for so many years that the tumultuous trip was certainly worthwhile.
        Love, Mary

  4. Rick Alekna permalink

    Alice-Jane, the little Alice-Jane, my neighbor from up the road. I am touched by your special strength of character. I am glad I came across a note about your blog and had a chance to read some of it. Best to you.

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