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It's not always the easiest route to success, but sometimes it gets you to your goal.

"Flying by the seat of his pants" is an old aviation term originating in the emerging aviation

industry of the 1930s. This was an era when planes and their pilots had few navigational aids. They flew by use of skill and experience as well as personal perceptions of weather, speed, temperature and plane's condition. With time the phrase has taken on various definitions. Used by a supervisor, it may mean the employee has not adequately prepared for his position. Two more generous descriptions are "to do something difficult without the necessary skill or experience or "to decide a course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions rather than a predetermined plan."COURTESY PHOTO - Seymour

My father used this phrase to describe his last flight as a professional pilot, flying through the Columbia Gorge from Pendleton to Portland with my mother and 4-month-old me. Wind gusts made the flight extremely perilous, and he hung up his aviator's hat that night. Recently, a friend used that phrase after listening to a story of my second grade experience.

Some readers may remember that in second grade, I received a report card with all "As" except for a "B" in religion, having been tardy and absent from that class the entire quarter.

Yes, by the end of second grade, I had become a promising student — but that was not the case

for the first half of that year. Having transferred to Our Lady of the Lake the previous May, not even knowing the alphabet let alone reading, it was a marvel that the nuns allowed me to proceed. Summer school and their kind tutelage had me reading at grade level by September and so there I sat, planted like a straggly weed in a rose garden, unsure still what school was really all about. Shy and teased about my constant tardiness, I found solace in reading, math and art as well as two equally shy playmates, Suzie and Colleen.

The school year was thus harmoniously moving along (except for tardiness) until February when spelling became part of the curriculum. New books were handed out and we were told to take them home nightly to learn to spell the words listed in each week's lesson. Dutifully, I took the little blue book home each night and brought it back the next day, unopened.

In the first few weeks after spelling commenced, there were weekly written exams which were puzzling to me. I'm sure that only my name on the paper was spelled correctly. Soon, Sister decided competition would motivate the class. Weekly, in addition to the tests, she would choose two varying team captains who then would choose their teams in alternating fashion.

To no avail, I would feign illness on team day, hating the misery and attention of being among the last chosen on either side.

Bonnie, a girl I did not know well, sat in the assigned desk in front of me that year. One morning, right before the spelling test, I noticed that she had her book open, was progressively covering up the listed words with her hand and muttering to herself. I whispered, "What are you doing?" "Memorizing," she replied. Voila! The secret was out! That night I opened the book and tried the technique she had later explained. By the end of March I was always among the first ones chosen by either team leader. Having reviewed the lessons covered prior to my enlightenment and blessed with good visual memory, spelling was now my forte!

There have been many times since that spring that I have had to "fly by the seat of my pants." It's not always the easiest route to success, but just as with my dad and the other early aviators, sometimes it gets you to your goal.

Josie Seymour is a member of the Jottings writing group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.


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