My grandmother, the aviatrix

CNN  — 

“The Flying Housewife is ready to leave.”

The crowds huddled on the tarmac of the Port Columbus Airport in Ohio on a cool day in March 1964. There she stood, carrying a suitcase, a typewriter and a box of food bars to munch on during the long flights over open ocean.

Geraldine “Jerrie” Fredritz Mock had dreamed of flying around the world since the age of 7 when she first went up in an airplane at the county fair.

She pursued her passion at Ohio Statue University, where she was the only woman out of 100 students in the aviation-geared class, but dropped out to marry Russell Mock at the age of 19.

The dream stuck with the Newark, Ohio, native through marriage and three kids. She eventually got her pilot’s license and continued pursuing aviation.

Jerrie Mock poses in front of her plane, The Spirit of Columbus, in 1964.

In fact, Mock’s husband encouraged his wife to pursue her dream of flying around the world. Russell, an ad man, knew that endorsement deals from brands could support this dream.

The Columbus Dispatch newspaper and local store Champion Spark Plugs, among others, supplied the funding, while the United States Air Force crafted her flight route.

Despite her flight record and accomplishments, the media dubbed her “The Flying Housewife.”

Dressed in a skirt and heels, Mock climbed inside her 11-year-old single-engine Cessna 180 airplane – she called him Charlie – and started the engine.

More like the flying heroine

Mock, surrounded by reporters upon her arrival in Egypt.

Mock’s oldest son, Roger, is my dad.

I was homeschooled, so I spent a lot of time hanging out with Grandma. We watched TV (“Gilligan’s Island” and “I Dream of Jeannie” were favorites), drank tea, listened to loads of opera (she loved Verdi and Mozart) and talked for hours on end.

Grandma and I were very close all my life. I always admired her spirit, especially once I was old enough to understand the significance of what she had done.

I always knew her history, but it took years to appreciate it because, well, she was just Grandma. Her story was simply a part of my life.

A few of her memories

The stories my Grandma told me about her flights have never left me. Here are a few of my favorite anecdotes.

When most people describe their visits to Morocco, they’ll talk up the cuisine, the touristy places they visited and perhaps some interesting encounters they experienced walking around Casablanca.

However, the memory that Mock most often shared from Morocco was seeing the king’s red silk pajamas flying from the laundry line on the roof of the palace, just below her hotel room. She took a picture of it but wasn’t able to keep it.

“I still don’t know why the government confiscated my photos,” she said, “but I want that picture back!”

President Lyndon B. Johnson honored Mock at the White House following her return in 1964.

The next stop was Cairo – or at least, what she thought was Cairo.

As it turns out, Inshas, Egypt, is the home of a secret military base designed to mimic the Cairo airport.

Mock spent most of the day dealing with red tape and watching television and drinking cider with the soldiers at the palace of the exiled King Farouk until she was permitted to leave.

Three days later, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Jerrie found herself surrounded by soldiers from the Royal Arabian Air Force – sent by Prince Faisal himself. They searched her plane looking for the man who had flown it.

After all, it was illegal for women to drive automobiles in Saudi Arabia. (This law was repealed in 2018.)

Mock pointed out that her flight wasn’t technically illegal: “Probably no one had thought to make a law saying a woman couldn’t drive an airplane.”

A loud shout of triumph escaped the crowds when Mock’s skirt and high heels confirmed that she was, indeed, a woman.

The people of the area were so curious to witness such a strange occurrence – a lady pilot – that Mock’s car circled the airport several times for the people to catch a glimpse of her.

A pioneer named Grandma

Mock double-checks her plane's gas cap in this 1964 photo.

Fifty-five years later, Mock (who died in 2014) remains less famous than Amelia Earhart, who tragically disappeared while attempting to complete the solo round-the-world flight that Mock would later complete.

But why?

She was in the media for a few years following the record-setting flight. “My Three Sons” did an episode based on her.

Mock stopped flying in 1969 and published a memoir, “Three-Eight Charlie,” the following year.

In her later years, she started going to more air shows and giving talks again. But for the most part, as soon as she finished setting aviation records, she disappeared from the limelight and raised her children.

Her dream for me was not necessarily that I’d follow her steps and pursue aviation, but that I would follow and achieve my own dreams, whatever they were.

Besides her incredible life story, I have a few other things to remember my grandma.

Grandma collected china. She had about 12 full sets of china service for up to 18 each, and partial sets of dozens of others. Her favorite was the hand-painted china she purchased from Portugal, which she gave to me shortly before she passed.

Rita Juanita Pike is the granddaughter of aviatrix Jerrie Mock, the first woman to pilot an airplane around the world.