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Monday, July 2, 2012

A Name on a Suitcase

I recall one occasion when my grandmother — my father's mother — visited my family when I was a child.

My memory is that my grandmother's visits were rare.

Both sets of my grandparents lived in Dallas, Texas, when I was a child. That made sense. My parents grew up in Dallas.

But, when I was growing up, we lived in central Arkansas, which was more than 300 miles from Dallas. I would have loved to have seen my grandparents more frequently than I did, but distance was a factor.

I lost both of my grandfathers before I was 10 years old, and, by that time, my father's mother was well into her 70s. As a younger woman, she had accompanied my grandfather to places in the U.S. where he taught religion and philosophy — as well as to the Philippines, where they were missionaries for a time — but I guess she didn't have much stamina for road trips after my grandfather died.

Typically, when I was growing up, we visited her in Dallas. We stayed with my mother's mother — she had a house with room for guests whereas my father's mother lived in a one–bedroom apartment that was too small to accommodate a family of four — but we always made time to spend with my father's mother, took her out to eat and stuff like that.

Ordinarily, we made about three or four trips to Dallas each year. My mother's mother often came to visit us, but, as I say, my father's mother rarely did.

It is primarily for that reason, I guess, that I remember her visit.

Another reason I remember that visit is because I had just started taking piano lessons, and my grandmother brought me a music box that was shaped like a bust of Beethoven. When you wound it up, it played Beethoven's Minuet in G.

(I've still got that music box, too. And it still works. It's a little banged up. The paint is missing in places, but Grandmother gave it to me to encourage me, and it still does, all these years later.)

I also remember that visit because I recall, quite vividly, being with Grandmother in the guest room and watching her unpack her suitcase. I noticed the name on the suitcase was Amelia Earhart.

I knew that wasn't my grandmother's name so I asked her, "Who is Amelia Earhart?"

Grandmother replied, "She was a very brave woman," and she proceeded to tell me, in words that would make sense to a child, how Amelia Earhart had been a pioneer for women in aviation.

No one knew what became of her, Grandmother told me. She disappeared while trying to fly around the world.

Maybe her plane went off course and crashed into the ocean. Maybe she managed to land the plane safely but was captured and then executed — perhaps by natives, perhaps by Japanese soldiers. Possibly the plane crashed, but she and/or her navigator survived for awhile. Nobody knew.

I was too young to understand the details of the case, but I have studied it from time to time since then. It continues to intrigue me, as it intrigues others.

And tomorrow, as the search for the wreckage of Earhart's plane resumes in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, I wish the searchers well.

I don't know if they'll find anything, but it would be great if they could. Miraculous even. As I say, it was 75 years ago today that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared.

After all this time, no one thinks the remains of either can be found and brought back to the United States for burial.

But it is possible that the searchers will find wreckage from the plane. If they do, it might bring us closer to solving the mystery.

Grainy photographs taken decades ago have prompted some researchers to believe they have seen evidence of a plane in the waters off a coral atoll called Nikumaroro. That — and today's anniversary — prompted the search.

Originally, that search was going to begin today, but it was postponed until tomorrow.

There have been a handful of truly enduring mysteries, and the Earhart disappearance is one of the greatest of them.

Searchers found the Titanic, and Mark Felt revealed that he had been the Deep Throat who kept the Watergate investigation focused.

Perhaps now we will find out what really happened to Amelia Earhart.

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