Monday, 12 November 2012
Higher Than a Kite
By Marcy Belson
A grandson said to me, “You should write about that, Grandmother, not everyone spent their teenage years flying in a small plane as everyday living.
I never thought much about it but I suppose he is right. However, in the time and place of my youth, it wasn’t unusual. I would say that a good number of the boys, not girls, had their pilot’s license while they were in high school.
Kids weren’t worked so hard in my generation as in my parents but nonetheless they were expected to be responsible and help in different ways. A teenaged boy might be sent to Phoenix to pick up parts for farm equipment, or the plane was used to ferry a child to a doctor practicing in the city.
I think most farm families thought it was the norm to have one car, one old pickup truck and a Piper Cub with a dirt runway located next to their cotton fields. They might have lived on the land or in town but it didn’t mean the family was flying off to Aspen for the holidays or using their planes for recreation, other than the occasional flight into Phoenix or Tucson for a special event.
When I started dating, my first “serious boyfriend,” meaning that I wore his high school ring on a long chain around my neck, had a license. His father was a cotton farmer, they lived in a small house in town and kept a tiny two-seater cub at the local airport.
This was the airport you have seen in old movies. If you arrived in the evening, you had to know where the owner lived in town so you could buzz his house; he would get dressed, drive to the airport and use his car for the landing lights. Best that you had plenty of fuel on board those nights, or you might be landing in the dark.
By the time that boyfriend, who will be called “Ralphie” (not his name), and I had dated for a year or more, we had devised a plan. I was to go to school on Friday morning but be prepared to leave with him during the noon recess.
We would drive over to the little airport, I would climb in the passenger seat and Ralphie would start the engine, set the brake and go out to prime the propeller.
Sometimes that had to be done several times, with me holding my breath, hoping the plane wouldn’t careen down the runway without a pilot. After he got the propeller spinning, he would run around and jump in the pilot’s seat and away we would go, off into the wild blue yonder.
He offered, on a regular basis to do some stunts, like dropping straight down or doing spins but I was a chicken and he didn’t push it.
Phoenix was about 25 minutes away by air and we would land at Sky Harbor, park with the other private planes, tie down the plane and walk over to the bus stop. Then by bus, we would go to whatever movie was playing that afternoon.
Didn’t matter if we got in at the beginning of the movie. In those days, the same movie or two would play repeatedly so you just sat there through the intermission and watched what you had missed.
In fact, as a small girl, I got into serious trouble with my mother because I was so enthralled with Gene Autry, I sat through two showings instead of walking home. My mother was frantic and finally found me happily watching my hero in the theater.
My dad sort of looked like Autry and they both had the accent, Autry from Oklahoma and my dad from Arkansas. Roy Rogers was too skinny to be my hero although watching his movies was better than any song and dance movie.
You might enjoy knowing that I liked cowboy movies because they kissed the horse, not the girl.
In other movies, I would get out of my seat, kneel and put my head on the seat in order to avoid seeing the kissing scenes. Boy, what a strange kid I was. I must have been pretty germy too, kneeling in a theater – yuck - my face touching the chair cushion.
Anyway, back to 1952, Ralphie and I would catch the bus back to Sky Harbor airport and he would fly us back to our little town, deliver me to my doorstep in his old pickup truck, with no one the wiser.
Then, on the following Monday morning, I would write myself an excuse note for the Friday afternoon absence, forge my mother’s name and present it to Mr. Hinshaw in the school office.
In April of that year, Mr. Hinshaw said, sort of as an afterthought, “Marcella, you should be more original with these notes. Stop using the same words every week.”
He must have been so sick of dealing with teenagers who thought they were so smart.
I don’t think my parents ever knew what we were doing. The strange thing is, my father’s business office and equipment shop sat on the property next to the airport and he kept a couple of planes at the end of the runway.
They could have looked over and watched us fly off. But my mother was working in the office as the bookkeeper and my dad was probably out in some field checking the tractor work being done. Maybe, they knew.
Ralphie must have been a good pilot; we never had a mishap of any kind. Well, we did have the one mishap coming home from California with my parents in my dad’s plane. But that wasn’t Ralphie’s fault.
The plane ran out of oil and Ralphie did set it down on the highway which was retty spectacular, looking back. I mean, the truck hit us, we didn't hit the truck. And we walked away from the crash.
The sad ending is that Ralphie died in a plane crash. He was married with children and I was far away; didn’t know about it for years.
I wouldn’t trade those years - the good, the bad. We lived in a different time and I’m glad I have the memories of being higher than a kite!
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]