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More than four decades later, fond memories of man and cheetah live on

Al Oeming obit photos Handout

My family and I met Al Oeming in December, 1970, while we were moving to Lynn Lake, in northern Manitoba, and he was taking his pet cheetah to visit the school there.

At that time there was no road into Lynn Lake, so we were to stop in Cranberry Portage overnight, put the car on the train and fly in from Flin Flon the next morning. As we booked into the motel, I asked if they minded that we had a cat with us. "Not at all!" was the answer. "There is a cheetah staying just down the corridor!" That got the attention of our children, then aged 8 and 5. So we asked if we might see the cheetah. Mr. Oeming kindly invited us in while the cheetah was eating. Tawana's purr was a bit louder than that of our cat and its fur was coarser. Tawana was busy and took no notice of us.

The next morning we woke to a snowstorm. Snow was flying past our window horizontally, so we were not flying to Lynn that day. Mr. Oeming was quite concerned. … He really needed to get to the school. But there was no way that anyone would fly in that weather. So he took his cat for a run beside his car along the highway.

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The second morning was no better; the snow was still flying horizontally, just in the other direction. By now Mr. Oeming was really upset and spent most of the morning on the phone trying to get someone to fly him and his cheetah into Lynn Lake. He couldn't disappoint the schoolchildren there.

Eventually he did find a young daredevil pilot to pick him up that day.

The third morning the sky was blue and our family had a smooth flight north from Flin Flon. At the Lynn Lake Airport we met Mr. Oeming again, waiting to fly out. I asked how his flight had been the previous day. "I've never been so scared in all my life," he said. "We flew along the railway line at treetop height!" But then he saw our cat and told me that his cheetah hated cats, so it was just as well that we had not been on the scheduled flight together.

I was telling this story at a Christmas party a few days later, when a young man turned to me and said: "He was scared? I was the pilot and it was really scary for me too. I was flying with a cheetah in the co-pilot's seat!"

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