“In the good old days, you knew things were well made.”

I was told I just had to speak with Dot, and I loved meeting her.  She is a kind, thoughtful, strong woman who has made an incredible life for herself.  She founded the Midland Aviation Camp and began flying airplanes as a hobby before instruments became digital, before GPS, and has watched her students transition from analogue to tech aviation.

Dorothy “Dot” Hornsby was born August 27, 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  She’s lived in Cincinnati, San Antonio, Charlotte, Wichita Falls, Casa Blanca, Geneva, Hong Kong, and Midland, Michigan.  She married her high school sweetheart and had three boys (two of them twins).  Much of their travel was a consequence of his enlistment in the Air Force during their younger years, but some came later in life through working for Dow Chemical.  Dot told me that when she was young she decided she wanted to travel and go around the world, which she eventually did.  From Hong Kong, she took her youngest son to many of the countries that weren’t accessible by normal travel from the United States.  She let him choose two places he wanted to go – climb the Eiffel Tower and see Lenin’s body – and they traveled the Far East with those detours.

When they were in Hong Kong, China was still closed to foreigners.  When the borders opened in the late 1970’s, Dot decided to return and enter China, completing a goal she set when she lived nearby.

“Even in high school my goal was to go around the world, which I got to do.”

Dot is a teacher.  She taught English in Hong Kong and math in Midland, and continues to teach flight classes today at the Barstow Airport in Midland.  She began teaching flight school after her husband died.  Really, flying was her way of coping with his death in 1992 only a short while after they retired.  In her words:

She told me, partway through our interview, that she wasn’t sure why she chose flying as a coping mechanism for her grief for loosing her husband.  My initial thought was that he was in the Air Force – perhaps that would create a closeness to his first occupation.  But as she talked about her youth and family, she thought of her father, and told me this anecdote:

Dot struck me as a very strong woman.  She did and continues to do so much that was before her time.  She supported her husband by teaching while he went through graduate school, traveled independently with her son because she felt it was important and wanted to see the world, got her own Masters Degree in Counseling and Guidance, and chose to go to flight school at a difficult time when most would never have considered it.

Of course, I had to ask her how technology has changed flying.  Obviously the GPS has been an influential tool, and I’d assumed that it had influenced her experience with flying, but I was sure to ask her and learned how very much it had changed.  In her words:

“What worries me is that kids have the attention span for cartoons on TV, but in the classroom we have to worry.”

I loved hearing about the first television Dot ever saw.  How strange it was, this thing in the room.  

“I don’t want the future my grand kids are going to have.”

At the end of our interview, Dot really thought hard about what technology has done, its benefits and losses.  She considered the phenomenal progress we made, that space travel is able to happen, but also the ‘throw away society’ we’ve become.  To wrap up, here are her musings:

When I arrived in Birmingham, AL, last week, I didn’t have any interviews scheduled there.  I didn’t have any connections and I had been unable to crowdsource nominees for that area.  So I started talking about the project with strangers, and hoped I’d find a connection that way.

On the last day of my three day visit, I met Barbara.  We sat across from each other at a coffee shop we had both chosen to get some work done.  She commented on my earrings, and we got to talking.  I told her I was out of town, and that I was working on a book about the history of our country as experienced by the Silent Generation.  She was instantly interested, and soon shared that her grandmothers were still alive, in town, and had beautiful stories to tell.

I wanted to interview them, but I was short on time.  We had a five hour window, but Barbara was confident she could make it happen, and she did.

I met Bettilew, Barbara’s maternal grandmother, at a retirement home that happened to be just across the street from the road on which she’d raised her children.  After our talk, I had the pleasure of driving by the houses she spoke of.

Bettilew Turk Gaskell was born January 4, 1925 in Prattville, AL in her grandmother’s home.  Her grandfather died when she was young, so her mother, father, and siblings all lived with her grandmother there in Prattville.  She spent her entire life in Alabama.  During childhood, she loved to dance, and took lessons in ballet and tap.  She also took piano lessons from her mother, and enjoyed singing.

Bettilew met her husband when they were 14, and would go on group dates throughout their teen years.  They did not marry before World War Two, however, but he wrote her every day.  She said that she has over 500 letters he sent her during his term in Germany.  Her husband was a guard of German POW’s before the Nuremburg Trial, and she told me of her husband’s witness to the suicide of one of the POW’s which became an international spectacle.  Here she tells the story of the prisoner Robert Ley.

What was really interesting to me was that the family still has had the same phone number since they got a phone in the 1950’s.  I told Barbara at the end of the interview about Google Voice so that they might save the phone number even after the land line goes away.

A story arose revolving around the phone number.  In the early 1950’s, Bettilew had a maid named Ethel that helped with her children and kept the house tidy.  Ethel worked with the family for 23 years.  When Bettilew brought up Ethel, her daughter (Gail) and granddaughter (Barbara), who were in attendance, joined the conversation to affirm Ethel’s role in their family, that she and her children were a part of the family even though she didn’t live with them.

Ethel eventually stopped working with the family as she got older.  One day, years later, Bettilew got a call from Ethel’s daughter, whom she knew well.  Bettilew was happy to hear the familiar voice and was eager to hear how Ethel was.  The news wasn’t good.  Ethel was ill and not doing well.  She had been delirious for a time, but every so often would speak a series of letters and numbers.  Since our phone numbers aren’t structured like that today, it took Ethel’s daughter a while to understand what she was saying.  It was Bettilew’s phone number, memorized from her time working for her.  Here, they speak about the call and the presence Ethel had in their lives.

Bettilew really highlighted that travel has changed a good deal since her childhood, and especially since her grandmother’s time.  Her grandmother was from Georgia, but there was no car, so they were unable to visit family.  Bettilew thinks we’re lucky that transportation has gotten so much faster, safer, and more convenient so that we can travel.

Bettilew recognizes that technology is interrupting are ability to have conversation.  Even when we’re talking on the phone, we interrupt ourselves to answer another call, to look at a notification, or to dual speak with someone else that is in front of you.  She sees her great grand children already using cell phones to play games, and wonders how it will affect them as they grow.