Color Me Happy                         

As told by Debby Buck DeJonge                  
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A view from the airplane. Photos by Debby Buck DeJonge.

Editor’s note: When local author Debby Buck DeJonge told me she had won an airplane ride in a raffle, I asked if she could write about it and share photos. The following is her unabridged account of her high-flying adventure.  

Some experts in the field of Longevity subscribe to the notion of doing something “scary” to increase one’s lifespan. Halloween doesn’t count, either. 

My longstanding fear of flying was born organically on a trip to Huatulco to attend the annual Southern Clinical Medical Society meeting. The plane bucked and jerked with dinners flying on their own accord, and eventually winded up dropping, as was reinforced by the pilot’s own voice commanding us to prepare to crash. None of the aforementioned was previously brought to light. Rather, it was the usual wresting match “Sky Cop Cindy,” over the size of my carryon. Apparently, size does matter!

Ready for take off!

Nowhere did any airline representative school us in the fine art of “crashing.”  Safe to say, we survived, however, that nagging fear reared its ugly head whenever the “T” word erupted over the intercom, causing post traumatic flying disorder. Like other good sports, I like to turn the other cheek so when the opportunity arose to see the magical color show that Michigan provides from a cockpit of a topnotch private pilot, color me in!

Cam Sikkenga commands the fast, big boy jets for private clients as his vocation. For extra credit fun he has a personal “pet” 1954 Piper. This is one cozy puppy that is just as much fun!  Cam is a very generous person who donated two breakfast sky packages to my annual charity golf event benefitting Mathews House Ministries.

Colorful trees seen on the journey.

We set the date for Saturday, Oct. 21 which should be renamed, “sodden Saturday.”  Cam took the command and reserved the next day for our adventure. The text arrived with glee the next morning.  “We got our day, Debby.”  Truer words were never spoken. His next text originated from the Greenville airport where he was fueling his pride and joy. That was my signal to hot foot it over to the Lowell Airport, where I would board his red and white beauty. Perfect colors for Lowell, “go Red Arrows!”

In all of my imagination, I was unable to muster the notion that I would be sitting behind the pilot, wearing a headset, and strapped in like a paratrooper. Secretly, my tummy did one revolution pre boarding.  My daughter is well schooled in my “flight-anoia” and therefore deemed it a terrible idea as was evidenced by her past experiences being saddled with a scaredy-cat mother.  I was determined to buck up and get a new view of how wonderful the world could be in the capable hands of a confident commander on a day designed for a color tour extraordinaire.  The takeoff was smooth, and the fog had lifted as had my spirits.  Oh, what a view! A kaleidoscope of nature’s palette ever changing with each glance.  I couldn’t look away so I didn’t.  I was so enthralled with the stunning show of our great lakes, and tapestry of trees.  Snap, snap, snap went the camera. Cam tilted the wing for a better look-see and a do-over.

The only images I’ve seen burn as brightly are displayed at Visser’s Farm Market with the fall colors bursting and begging to be enjoyed. Cam asked if I had played Pilgrim’s Run as he pointed to the lovely property below.  I made a mental note to add it to the list. He said it was his personal favorite. So, I threw mine in the hat.

“How about Garland?”

To which he replied, “I love Garland.”

Great, I played the final weekend and thought I had seen all the colors. Just not like this!

Wow, Big and Little Whitefish Lakes were directly below us calling up memories of water skiing.  Just then, it was time to land. “Ut oh, really,” I’m thinking. How is THIS going to happen?  How did the tire pressure appear? What was I thinking?  I can’t even ride the chairlift at Boyne Mountain to pretend to traverse the Skybridge.

My mind was racing like a prairie dog on a roulette wheel when just like that, we were on the ground and dismounting the Piper puppy in search of breakfast at KJ’s in Mecosta. I did not need to brandish my Delta Sky Club card. Cam had it handled! I notated that a single egg cost one dollar. Where were we again, I wondered? We both ordered.

He enjoyed his eggs and the rest while I rearranged mine, vowing to consume food when my tummy wasn’t topsy turvy.  We hiked back to our ride, and he did all the things and safety checks I had learned earlier.  At this point I proudly announced that I am highly coachable.  A little nervous talking does an adventure girl good.

Everything looked completely different on the return flight and the sun had joined us to dance and play behind the towering trees backlighting God’s country. I learned there is a small community of private pilots who gather and sometimes at Cam’s house. Another opportunity for takeoff and landing. I snapped a photo of his personal deer blind and sent it to my son who gave it two thumbs up.  Heavenly palettes on parade for their annual two-week peak season show begging for their due.  I could almost hear my mother’s voice from above, “let the flag wave a moment, darling.”

My died-in-the-wool fear of flying flew the coop in the mosaic of foliage.  And, my takeaway from takeoff to landing is now installed in a newly indelible sense of beauty and spacious skies.  I was like a little kid:

“When are we going to get there to an about face-do we have to go back?  Please Mr. pilot can we keep going and see my property? I’ve never seen it from this vantage point.”

The short answer was no.

I’m safely secluded in a swath of glorious trees of my own. On purpose. I was however, able to do a little spy mission.  Always fun!

When he finally called uncle and returned me safely to the hangar, I couldn’t help myself; I had boots on the ground headed to address my favorite four letter addiction: golf! Drinking in nature’s beauty as a nightcap, I hot footed it to my closest haunt, Candlestone, wearing Uggs on my feet and a stocking cap complete with a wide grin.

The back nine didn’t disappoint.  A giant orange oak shook her leaves in the breeze providing a soft carpet below.  I spied a painted turtle still craving the last moments of this glorious summer. The painted turtle, the forest for the trees the land and lake whisper the song of harmony and color me happy. 

Check out an interview with Debby in the Jan/Feb 2024 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine.

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