SANTA CRUZ (July 2010) - “Flying is one of the most exciting and wonderful experiences I have encountered ‘yet’,” Ann grins. Bi-coastal elder Ann Goldsmith has one hell of a resume and she didn’t really start kicking up her heels until she pushed past 50. Now in her seventies, Ann, a teacher, minister and counselor, divides her time between her Aptos home and a rural cabin in Maine.
After decades of being a passenger, Ann is once again spreading her wings and flying into the wild blue yonder as an airplane pilot. The first planes she recalls were a far cry from the small aircraft and controls with which she is now becoming acquainted. “Fighters and bombers going off to war,” were Ann’s first glimpses of air travel.
Goldsmith grew up on the east coast during the 2nd World War. “Friends lost their brothers,” Ann recalls. “Everything was rationed. Newsreels showed deadly scenes, while films made it all romantic. From the age of 7 through 13, my childhood was overshadowed by war.”
Ann’s family survived the war intact, and Ann became increasingly influenced by her Aunt Nell, who was a pioneer in early childhood education and ran a camp in New York State. Aunt Nell encouraged Ann to follow a career in education, and told her she could do whatever she wanted to do. “She always accepted me completely,” Ann recalls, “so I took her advice to heart”. After graduating from high school, Ann left home and attended the lush green campus of Goddard College in Vermont.
While attending Goddard, Ann’s family continued running its outdoor camp in Maine called Blueberry Cove. Thousands of children have attended the camp through every season of the year. Once she graduated from Goddard, Ann began working at Blueberry Cove full time. “I have had a kind of reverence for nature,”
Ann ran the camp for many years, inheriting it from her parents after their deaths. She eventually sold Blueberry Cove to a 4H organization, which continues to preserve the property as an educational institution for young people and adults. “There was no way I’d let go of the property,” Ann says adamantly, “no matter how difficult it had become, unless I was sure it would not be destroyed. It has since been put into a conservation easement, which will save it from development in perpetuity.” It is on part of this same property that Ann maintains her east-coast residence; a small, but cozy cabin.
In 1985 Ann, “Decided that my life-long attraction to alcohol had become a problem and it was time to desist.” Even though she had stopped drinking for over a year (an addiction she had started early in life), she had discovered that being sober had not helped her deal with her alcoholic behaviors. She still didn’t know how to deal with pain without trying to avoid it, or numb it with work or distractions, and she withheld a lot of her thoughts and feelings from others. She started attending Alcoholics Anonymous and found it “to be a life saver."
It was 1992 when Ann left the East Coast and had a friend drive her, her dog and a few possessions, to California. Weeks after arriving on the west coast she began attending Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley. She said she felt like she had a new family. Students and professors were “talking about things that mattered,” says Ann. “We wanted to know what life was about, why we are here and how to make it better for others”.
Ann had found a second home on the west coast and was increasingly identifying herself as a “bi-coastal woman”. While receiving her Masters in Divinity, Ann learned how to “walk tall” by joining a performance group in Oakland called Women Walking Tall. “We made our own stilts and costumes and choreographed beautiful performances with up to 100 women and girls on stilts all over the (San Francisco) bay area,” Ann says fondly. “I loved learning to walk on stilts at age 60. It looks impressive, but is easy when you ‘get it’”.
In addition to performing and hovering over people on stilts, Ann found herself involved in the care of people who were in their last months of life and was drawn to work in the Hospice movement. Hospice provides medical, emotional and spiritual care for people with life-threatening illness, and grief support for those that have already had someone die.
After moving to Santa Cruz, Ann continued volunteering with Hospice of Santa Cruz County. “Since my entire professional life was about working with children in schools and summer camp, and helping teachers of children become more sensitive advocates of learning,” Ann says, “it was natural for me to move into the hospice children’s program.” Debra Houston, past grief support coordinator for Hospice says, “Ann is an amazingly dedicated, creative and responsible volunteer. She cares deeply for the children.”
Ann says that children are expected to “get on with it” after a death, or are whisked away to another relative and distracted. "To be honest and direct with children, and adults, can change everything."
Ann recently decided to take to the air and get her wings. “I have always had a desire to learn to fly,” she says, “but never had the time and the money. Since I sold the camp and am retired, I now have the funds and plenty of time.”
After countless hours of practice with her instructor, Michelle Ruprecht, Ann has completed her first solo flight, joined an international organization of women pilots and is working on her license. “She loves to fly and loves to learn,” Ruprecht said, “and the icing on the cake is that she’s good to be around. When you spend hours in a little airplane with someone, it’s a pleasure to have them contribute to your life by just being themselves. Ann may look up to me as a pilot, but I look up to her as a person.”
The next time you hear a plane overhead, look up and give them a wave. The pilot could be Ann, following her dreams and her Aunt Nell's instructions to learn, and teach, and keep moving towards the next horizon.
As a freelance journalist, Gabriel Constans has written for magazines and
newspapers in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. He has 12 books
published in the U.S, with his latest novel being "Buddha's Wife". Gabriel
is a longtime Santa Cruz resident, the father of 5 and an advisor to
the Rwandan Orphan's Project. His web site is: www.gogabriel.com