Posted by: rusch | October 30, 2006

Grandpa Rusch

This morning I was thinking about the life, death, and afterlife of Grandfather Jack Milan Rusch.

He had been a pilot for Pan-American Airlines back in the glory days of commercial aviation.  He had flown every commercial airplane from the old seaplanes, known as China Clippers, to the ultra-modern Boeing 747’s many of which are still in use today.  His career literally spanned every age of commercial aviation and there were few if any places on the earth where he had not been.

He was also an alcoholic which has made for some humorous stories that give us a chuckle to this day.

There was the infamous time my parents began having car problems and Granpa Rusch, or Captain Jack as we also knew him, came to their rescue.  Their Volvo sedan broke down on I-5 just outside of Seattle on one of those dark and rainy nights familiar to those who have lived in the Pacific Northwest.

My dad found his way to the frontage road and from there, the home of some people that let him use their phone to call Grandpa Rusch.  Grandpa sounded funny over phone, but chalking it up to the weather, Dad told Grandpa where he was and how to get there.

An undetermined amount of time later Grandpa Rusch showed up, very drunk.  They knew something was up when instead of gradually pulling off of the busiest stretch of freeway in the Northwest like any sober person; Grandpa Rusch pulled off as if he were pulling into a just vacated parking spot near the front door at the local Super Wal-Mart on a Saturday, barely on the shoulder of the road away from the passing traffic.  To this day it is a wonder to mom and dad that, to their knowledge, Grandpa Rusch made it there safely.

Grandpa Rusch also played a vital role in the Pacific theatre of World War Two and during the Vietnam Conflict flying cargo planes and troop transports.  He served on the USS Arizona but was discharged almost two years before infamous attack that made the Arizona famous. Even though he vacationed for many years in Hawaii following the war, he never visited the memorial, due to the fact that he lost so many friends who were entombed in the ship that sits on the bottom of Pearl Harbor.  During Vietnam he even came under enemy fire flying troop transports.

Grandpa Rusch, in what is a powerful testament and tribute to the power of the will, conquered thirty years of Alcoholism determining that he was not going to drink his life away.  At the point he decided he was going to quit drinking, Dr. Pezioberrelli (affectionately known and Dr. PeeBee) told Grandpa that his end was imminent if he did not do something about his drinking.

Grandpa Rusch quit cold turkey and without Alcoholic’s Anonymous.

I later found out that was how Grandpa Rusch did most things in his life.  He made up his mind that he was going to do something and then worked his brains in to accomplish whatever he had set out to do.  One day I asked my dad about Grandpa’s religious beliefs, he said that Grandpa Rusch believed in one thing, himself.  For him if something were to happen, it was because he made it happen.

We enjoyed twelve wonderful years with him until he died in the Spring of 1992 and all of the grand children remember him as the kindly retired airline pilot/Grandfather who could be found in the kitchen of his house with the paper, a glass of orange juice, and puffing from one of his many pipes, one of which I acquired a year ago; one of the last remaining items of his estate.

When he slipped into a coma a few months after having a stroke, we went up to Seattle on what I remembered as a sunny afternoon to be with Grandpa one last time.  We went into the hospital room and in tears sang a primary song about Grandpas, hugged and kissed him, and then said goodbye.  Grandpa Rusch would pass away not more then a day later.

In 1993, my brother was baptized for him in the Atlanta temple.  I remember that one of the young women their commented after the baptism, that this must have been someone special because “I feel something special”.

To this day we talk about Grandpa Rusch with much joy.  I personally honor and revere him as someone who despite his demons, he was an alcoholic all while flying airplanes, was able to accomplish most everything he put his mind to.  To his credit, he never violated Federal Aviation laws governing alcohol and flying.

From his life I have learned a couple of important lessons.  The first is that despite our demons, they need not keep us from accomplishing our goals.  That redemption is possible and that no one is too far-gone at any stage of life to turn it around and be a joy to those around them.  And finally what we see now does not fully represent what we really are when we are “seen as we are seen, and known as we are known”.


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