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My late husband had a love affair with airplanes and learned to fly when he was nine years old. April 15 is the 5th anniversary of his death and I’m posting the first chapter of his unpublished book in his memory. He wrote this in prison and every month I would get a chapter about the summer that changed his life forever. This is the first plane he flew.Screen Shot 2012-10-07 at 12.37.14 PM

Chapter I

It was the beginning of summer and the first day out of school. It was the start of the first flirtation of my life. It was the summer of 1944 and I was nine years old.

Ever since school began, from the school windows and the school yard at recess, I’d watch the bright colored aircraft flying in the distance. They flew low across the fields of tomatoes and corn spraying the newly emerging crops. I’d convinced myself that as soon as school was over, I was going to see a real airplane up close and maybe even touch it.

I had been building model airplanes since I was six and there was not a vacant space to hang another plane from my ceiling. I’d watched the crop dusters flying their patterns over the field for as long as I could remember and now was the time for my promised adventure for the summer.

My grandparents wouldn’t miss me during the day because I always left after breakfast to play games on the beach or ball-field. I told myself that I could just get on my bike – ride across the causeway bridge and I’d be at the airfield. Then I could watch the planes take off and land and do whatever it was they do when they were on the ground. I was finally going to be close to a real airplane.

I thought it would take forever for the night to pass. I couldn’t go to sleep and I lay in bed looking at all of my airplanes, thinking how great it would be to fly one of them.

Finally morning came. I put on my dunagrees, shirt and tennis shoes, and dashed down the steps for breakfast. I guess I was early because my grandparents weren’t up yet and the sun was just breaking over the ocean.

I went outside to make sure my bicycle was all ready for the trip. I couldn’t take a chance that a tire might be flat or worse yet, that my friend Joey hadn’t brought it back after borrowing it last night.

There it was – all ready for me to start the most exciting day of my life.

I heard my grandmother in the kitchen fixing breakfast so I ran back inside. My excitement must have shown as she asked me why I was in such a hurry to eat. I just said it was the first full day out of school and I wanted to ride to the end of the boardwalk and watch the crab boats go out to sea. It wasn’t exactly a fib because I did have to go that way to get to the causeway bridge.

As soon as I finished breakfast, I kissed my grandmother goodbye and ran out the door to my bike. As luck would have it, I did watch the boats go out as I waited for the drawbridge to come down afte they all passed under it. I didn’t know there were that many boats in our little fishing harbor.

Finally, the last boat passed and the bridge slowly lowered itself back into place. There were only four cars going off the island, so I started crossing the bridge as soon as the gate went up, before any cars could start their engines.

It was a short bridge and I was across and on my way to the airfield before any cars came by. It was a small place and I was hoping there was no one in the cars who knew me and might wonder where I was going. No one blew a horn, so I was safe and on my way.

As I rode on to the dirt road that led to the airfield, a bright red two wing plane flew right over my head. I almost went into the ditch watching it go by. It was so low that I could see the pilot’s head sticking out of the cockpit. I just sat there and watched as it disappeared over the fields and dreamt that someday I would be sitting there like that pilot was.

I rode on down the road until I came to the hangers where several airplanes were out in front. There were men doing things like putting gas in one plane and checking the tires on another. Others were putting liquid in tanks under the wings. I later found out this was liquid spray for the fields. All the planes were used to spray crops.

I sat there on my bicycle and watched in wonder. These were real airplanes and here I was only a short distance from them. I could smell the gasoline and the funny smelling liquid spray. I could feel the excitement of flying although I had never even touched a real airplane. I knew then that this was something I had to do. I just didn’t know how I was going to go about it.

Finally, I worked up enough nerve to get off my bike and take a few steps toward the first plane. It was only about thirty feet away and it looked much larger than I’d thought they’d be. Just then a dog came up to me from inside the hanger. As I knelt down and rubbed its head, one of the men came out of the hangar, saw me and came over. He asked me who I was and what I was doing there. I told him where I lived, that my father was a pilot in the war and I just wanted to look at the planes.

Instead of making me leave, he asked me if I’d like to help him carry some tools to his (really his own) plane. He was a real pilot. I was the happiest boy in the world. I was going to get to go right up to a real airplane and maybe even touch it. I could not believe my adventure was turning out so well.

The pilot’s name was Hank and that’s what he told me to call him. We picked up some tools and rags, walked right out to that big shiny yellow airplane and stopped by its side. Hank asked me if I would like to help him clean up some dirt that had gotten on the bottom of the lower wing and under the body of the plane. WOULD I? I could hardly believe that I was going to help clean a real airplane.

He gave me some rags and a bucket of water and showed me how to wipe the fabric gently so as not to damage the material. I spent the next hour in a dream world kneeling under the wings and the body of the plane. I wiped every speck of dirt I could find at least twice. Finally, I went up to Hank who was on the wing doing something to the wires between the wings. I told him I was finished. I felt like I had just done the most important job in the world.

Hank asked me if I’d ever seen inside of a cockpit and I could not get NO out fast enough. My heart was beating so fast I could hardly speak. He helped me up on the wing and showed me where to step so as not to hurt the fabric. He took me over to the cockpit and helped me to look inside. It was a whole new world that I had pictured in my dreams for as long as I had known what an airplane was. I’d seen cockpits in the small model planes I had built, but here it was – a real cockpit in a real plane and I was standing looking into it.

Hank said, “How would you like to sit in it for a minute to see how it feels?” I’m not sure what I said, but the next thing I knew, I was sitting on the seat looking at the dials in front of me and the stick was right there for me to touch. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Hank told me what each of the few dials were for and what they told him. Then he told me how to move the stick and what each position made the plane do. I was a little short to see outside the plane, but that didn’t matter to me. All I wanted to see was the cockpit all around me.

Finally Hank said he had to get ready to go so he helped me out of the cockpit and off of the wing. He asked me if I’d like to help him again sometime and he’d tell me more about flying. I said “Oh yes, I’ll help you all summer if you like.”

He said that would be great. This was the busy time of the year and there was quite a bit of work and flying to do. Now that I knew how to clean the dirt off the plane, that could be my first job each day I was there.

I walked over to the hangar and stood by my bike as Hank started the engine and taxied the plane into position for take-off. As he took off, the plane passed right over my head and I could see Hank waving to me as he flew away. I watched until I could no longer see him in the sky and then I climbed on my bike. I headed home knowing that I would be back and I would someday be a pilot.

End of Chapter 1

This is the plane he flew in the Air Force. He was so happy up in the air.Screen Shot 2012-10-04 at 10.08.47 PM

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