THANKSGIVING CAME EARLY

Unexpectedly, Thanksgiving came 10 days early for me this year. Recently, I discovered a “reality” show on the Weather Channel, called  Ice Pilots NWT. The show focuses on Buffalo Airlines, a Canadian air carrier that uses a fleet of antiquated, pre-jet-powered aircraft, primarily for cargo service. Last week’s episode, although 7 years old, was a tribute to Arnie Schreder, a former pilot at Buffalo, who retired from the company, after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Two years later, Arnie lost his battle with cancer and died shortly after checking into a hospital in Kelowna, British Columbia, 1,500 miles south of Yellowknife.

Arnie Schreder may have left Buffalo, but Buffalo never left Arnie Schreder. Upon learning of his passing, those at Buffalo contacted Arnie’s family and coordinated plans to honor his last wishes and memory. A Buffalo DC 3 aircraft with passenger seats installed, carrying Arnie’s closest friends was dispatched to Kelowna to pick up members of the Schreder family and Arnie’s cremains and fly them back up to Yellowknife. Although Buffalo has several different aircraft, and Arnie piloted them all, the DC3 was chosen, because it was Arnie’s favorite. After climbing to cruising altitude, the urn carrying Arnie’s ashes was strapped into the very same pilot’s seat Arnie had occupied any number of times and a set of headsets was placed atop, to symbolize Arnie’s last flight.

Once back in Yellowknife, a memorial service was held in Buffalo’s hangar that had been converted into a chapel, with rows of chairs set up. Television viewers were treated to the remarks of Justin Simle, a protégé of Arnie’s who, summed up his feelings towards his mentor, by saying “he was one of my best friends”. It was Mikey McBryan, son of Buffalo’s taciturn owner “Buffalo Joe” however, who said it best: “it’s not so much remembering what Arnie did, but what we can do with what Arnie taught us”. Neither Justin nor Mikey remained dry-eyed as they shared their sentiments. Similarly, most other men in attendance stood or sat crying, as they bade a final farewell to one of their own.

Prior to scattering Arnie’s ashes over Pilot’s Monument, a structure set up in Yellowknife’s Old Town, honoring the bush pilots of today and yesterday, who helped open up the north to the rest of Canada, there was an appropriate honor guard of flybys of various aircraft from different Canadian carriers.

Say what you want about the veracity of “reality television”. Last week’s episode of Ice Pilots NWT, which first aired close to 7 years ago, leaves us with the following to consider:

There are those of us who not only make impressions but leave lasting impressions. Arnie Schreder was one such individual. Schreder’s death came about because of his lungs; Arnie Schreder’s life came about because of his heart. And his heart found its way into the hearts of more people than Arnie could have ever realized, because of his love for flying and his love of planes. And Arnie did whatever he could to share that love and express that love with others. It should not take the fourth Thursday of November for us to be thankful for the love that is similarly expressed and shared.

Appreciation is shown in different ways. The way Buffalo Airlines expressed its appreciation to Arnie and the Schreder family defies words. I can only hope and pray that it didn’t take Arnie’s death for that appreciation to be expressed. True thanksgiving ought never to take the form of delayed thanksgiving. Thanks to Shaw Canada and Reality TV, the Schreder family has a record of that appreciation. However tasteful the turkey, however flavorful the filling, however delicious the dressing, like any other food, it must be quickly consumed. True thanksgiving is the hug, the phone call, the note, and the letter, the television tribute, as well as whatever else we will remember and cherish the rest of our lives.