Editor's note: Cindy Arnold Pierce's parents, Charles Arnold and Rachel Baker, were among the 75 people killed in the Marshall plane crash Nov. 14, 1970. Her parents relocated their family to Huntington one year earlier in order for her father to run the office of Mutual of Omaha. He was the general agent. Her mother was a nurse. This originally ran Nov. 14, 2003.
As Nov. 14 approaches, my mind ultimately flickers back to that night in 1970, 33 years ago. I was 12 years old and living in Huntington with my parents and sisters. I had a great life. I thought my father was the funniest man alive and was sure there was no one more attractive than my mother. I was making the transition from elementary school to junior high. I loved making friends of all the "new" kids from other schools and changing classes every period. Going to school mixes was the best! What a great and exciting time. I felt I was growing up and moving into the big world.
We had only lived in Huntington for a little over a year. So, my parents were very excited to be asked to accompany the Marshall University football team at an away game against East Carolina.
They joined the Marshall football team players, coaches and other supporters on the chartered plane. Alas, Marshall lost that Saturday, but I knew my parents would be home that evening. I was excited to talk to them about the players they may have met.
That evening it was raining, but I don't remember ever registering any concern. As the evening got later, I began wondering what was delaying my parents' return. The TV news announced a plane had crashed at the Tri-State Airport, but the report was that is was a private plane.
My sister kept trying to call the airport, and they told her the same thing, "No, it was a private plane."
Then, finally, the TV announcement was made. Yes, there was a plane crash, and yes it was the Marshall University chartered plane.
Thinking with a child's mind, I just could not believe this was true. Like a movie with a twist, I kept waiting for my parents to come home to hold and comfort me for the scare I had experienced.
However, the time kept ticking, and people kept showing up at our house, but not my parents. On the news they said they were looking for survivors. I went from not believing to hoping and praying someone would find them alive.
As more time went by and more hope was gone, I prayed to God to bring one back. I would not tell him which one, just please, please bring one.
Our house filled up. One of my younger sister's friends took her to their house. Then one of my friend's parents took me. They put me to bed, and I remember telling them to wake me up if there was any news. They never awakened me. The next morning, I learned all 75 people on board had been killed.
This was devastating to each family that lost someone, but it did not stop there. The whole town was devastated. The young men all had parents, sisters, brothers, friends and fans. Then there were the adults on board who left spouses, children, siblings, parents, co-workers and friends.
The town was in shock, and the country grieved with us.
I remember hearing people talking about us. They said, "Those poor children", "What are they going to do?" and "She just does not understand."
I remember thinking, "I can hear you," and "I do so understand." What I knew was that I had lost the two most important people in my life.
What I did not really know and what those people meant was how this loss would affect my future. My support system and most important role models were lost as I grew and encountered life's challenges. Beyond my immediate loss, I was not considering graduation, relationship advice, educational decisions and just the everyday closeness and emotional support only loving parents provide.
After all the funerals and memorial services where completed, real life set in. We had to adjust to being without our parents, and it was a greater hardship because of the short time we had lived in Huntington. We did not have the neighbors and friends we had known all of our lives. No one knew our names. We were "The girls that lost their parents."
We found that people are people, and you must take the good with the bad. There were those who focused on everything we did and enjoyed spreading rumors and gossip. And, unfortunately, there were people who were interested in us only because my parents had left some inheritance. Through this experience, I observed that money can corrupt even the most well-intentioned people. Many others were caring, good-hearted people truly concerned with our situation. And then there was our grandmother, who loved us unconditionally.
So, what am I like now? Today, I consider myself a happy person, just like when I was 12. I have a wonderful husband and his family, great old friends and new, and I still have my loving sisters.
I chose not to have children, the time was never right. Maybe I feared the possibility of leaving them. My youngest sister has four children, however, allowing us all the opportunity to share them.
I have a successful career which makes me wonder if I approach work like my mom or dad. Once, my uncle described how my parents would tackle a situation or problem. He said my father would chop the top off of mountains to quickly reach a solution while my mother would go down in each valley to investigate and thoroughly understand all aspects of a situation. I am like my mom!
Recently, my sister went through my grandmother's belongings and found a letter from my mother. It was, most likely, the last letter mom ever wrote to her. Mom's letter describes what was going on in each of her children's lives and was filled with humorous comments and interesting details. In one section, she spoke of losing a pet. As my husband read my mother's sad comments about our pet, he looked at me and said, "Who does that sound like?" He could not have said anything to make me feel more proud.
Not only do I continually wonder how my parents and I were alike, but I also wish I knew what they thought of me as a child. Was I a handful? Did they think I was funny, smart or clever?
For this and many other reasons, I would like to advise everyone to love your family, each day as if it were the last day you would see them. Take time to record the little details and interesting occurrences in your family's life. Ask your children questions such as what do they like about themselves, what is their favorite thing to do with mom and what is funny about dad. Hopefully, they will always have someone to tell them those interesting stories from the past, but whatever the situation, they will always appreciate you for spending the time to preserve memories they can read over and over again.
To Charles Arnold and Rachel Baker Arnold, I would like to say thank you for our short time together. Huntington may not have had the time to know you well, but I did. I only have to look in the mirror to see familiar eyes and hair. I know you are looking down on all of us and are very proud. Also, I guess you have noticed, Marshall's football team has improved! One last thing, someday when I join you up there, be prepared to sit down and spend quite some time telling me more and more of our family history and stories.
Cindy Arnold Pierce lives in Freeland, Mich.