Thursday, July 31, 2014



      During the first twenty years of our marriage, Ed and I unabashedly acknowledged our fear of flying. One winter, friends armed with statistics and resort brochures finally convinced us that flying was safer than driving, boarding a train, or even taking a bath. At first, we took separate planes for the sake of the children.
      When we survived several flights, our confidence in the Wright Brothers rose. Deciding that flying separately was no fun, we made out our wills, had a signing and witnessing party, and thenceforward risked our necks together. Never did the thought cross our minds that some day we would possess a plane of our own—and even more unthinkable—fly it.
      The summer Ted turned eighteen, he got a job handling freight at Boston’s Logan Airport. Someone took him for an airplane ride, and the next thing we knew, we had a pilot in the family.
      When I told Mother Ed was taking flying lessons, she cried, “Oh, I wish he wouldn’t!” I felt the same way, but since he was determined not to let Ted get ahead of him, I could only bow to the inevitable. I had thought that if Ed took up flying, I’d want to. Then I saw all the technical stuff he had to study and memorize and changed my mind. If he’d just show me how to land the thing in an emergency, that was all I needed to know.
     Ed bought a small plane called a Tri-Pacer, and after a few lessons, he and Ted made plans to fly to Florida. The night before they were leaving, Ed invited me out to dinner:
    “This is our last night together for almost a week," he said, "and I want to be alone with you.”
     I was so flattered, I went upstairs and put on some silver eye shadow. We dined at the Scituate Cabin. Ed was in a rare mood and kept laughing at my wry comments about his new toy.
     When we got home Ted latched onto his father (“Hey, Dad, come here and show me how to work this slide rule”), and that was the last I saw of them for two hours. Airplanes, airplanes, you’d think there wasn’t another subject in the world. I went to bed in my silver eye shadow and still they talked. At midnight I asked the Flying Malleys if they would please lower their voices.
     “Be right up,” Ed said.
     He couldn’t understand what had cooled my ardor. I said querulously—and somewhat incoherently, I can see in retrospect—that I didn’t mind their going to Florida without me, I truly  thought it was lovely for them to have a week alone together. I knew they’d said no females on the trip, but I wasn’t a female, I was their wife and mother and not the backseat-driver yakety-yak type they probably had in mind. Even if they’d asked me I wouldn’t have been able to go, but just the same, it would have been nice to be asked.
     Ed undressed without comment, got into bed, pulled the covers up, and said, “Well, Ok-unk-ub-gmn-fmph.”
    “What was that?” I said, beginning to giggle.
     “Smartest thing I ever said,” Ed replied smugly. “Funniest, too, apparently.”
     Then he terminated our conversation by falling asleep.
March 31. 1962
5:30 a.m. (groan)
     “Ted just checked the weather,” Ed said, waking me up. “We’re going to have rain part of the way but it’s still—“ he mumbled something unintelligible.
     “It’s still what?” I asked, trying to raise my head from the pillow.
     “VFR,” he repeated.
     “Oh, shut up!” I said. Ed chuckled.
     “I’m going to start talking nothing but Spanish and see how you like it.”
     “O lay,” he said, coming over to the bed to kiss me goodbye.
     “I expected to see you wearing some sort of gung-ho flying suit.”
     “It hasn’t come yet. Mine has three stripes on the sleeve, Ted’s has six.”
     “Be careful. Remember to use your turn signals. Don’t pass on the right. Keep out of the breakdown lane.”
     Ed headed for the door.
     “VFR!” I called, waving jauntily.
     “ILS!” he replied. And off they flew into the wide overcast yonder.

     Ed called from Norfolk, Virginia. Because of headwinds, he explained, they’d landed short of their goal. The next day they were still weathered in at Norfolk. Ed was bored and lonely and wishing he hadn’t left me behind. Poor Edward, I said to myself insincerely.
     “If you were down here—“ he began.
     “You miss me!”
     And he’s been gone barely twenty-four hours. O happy day!
April 4, 1962
     Ed called from Fort Lauderdale and launched into my favorite subject, Missing Wives:
     “Separate vacations are for the birds. I look across the terrace and expect to see you sitting there in your little straw hat, writing in your diary. The nights are the worst. That bed is awfully big and cold.”
     “This one is bigger and colder,” I assured him.
     Before he left for Norwood Airport, Ed told me he was going to be tested on flying cross-country. When he got home, I asked him how he’d done.
     “Terrible. I was supposed to go west to Southbridge, so I figure out the course and say to Bruce, `Two hundred and eighty-two degrees, right?’ He just grunts, and off I head in the wrong direction, one hundred eighty-two degrees. After twenty minutes Bruce gives me a poke and says, `What’s that over there?’ I take a look and say, ‘Must be a lake.’ He said it was the Atlantic Ocean. He let me fly all the way to Fall River, the bastard. I told him he reminded me of the chap who kept letting his son fall on his head and then warned him, `Don’t trust nobody.’”
     I must have looked pained because Ed said, “Still planning to go up with me this summer?”
     “I can hardly wait. How about inviting that nice Bruce to come along.”
August 9, 1962
     Ted celebrated his 20th birthday in a novel way yesterday. I was in the greenhouse watering plants when I heard one of the workmen (we’re having the back porch rebuilt) say to Mother,        
     “Lady, do you know someone who might be in an airplane circling the house?”
    I ran outside, and sure enough, there was Ted, all by himself in his flying machine, smiling and waving. He had been circling for five minutes, trying to get our attention. I tore back into the house and got Vonnie out from under the hair dryer. Then the two of us stood on the picnic table, cheering and waving back.
     The next day my pride suffered a small setback when Ted told me one of the neighbors had reported him for flying so low. He didn’t know—or so he said—that he wasn’t supposed to fly below five hundred feet in residential areas. However, Ray Remick claims there isn’t a first-class pilot alive who hasn’t buzzed his house at some time in his career.
     “The fellows that follow the rules to the letter are the ones who panic when something unusual comes up. The guys like Ted, who have a touch of daring in their natures, keep cool and use their heads in an emergency.”
     We were vacationing at the Vineyard when Ed asked if I’d like to go flying with him for an hour. It was a question I’d been nervously anticipating ever since he passed his flight test. He was a “private pilot” now, qualified to carry passengers.
     “Why not?” I said. I could think of a dozen reasons why not, none of them marriage buttressing.
     My confidence in my husband’s new hobby, already flimsy, disintegrated completely when he got lost on the way to the airport. “Do we turn here?” he muttered at the Lobster Hatchery sign. “No, I guess it’s the next right.” The next right was a dead end. Captain Malley cussed as he turned the car around and said he couldn’t understand why he always had so much trouble finding this airport. I didn’t say a word, but I was thinking in a Jack Bennyish accent:  “If he can’t find it from the ground . . .”
     We went back to the Lobster Hatchery sign and turned left—to another dead end at the Lobster Hatchery.
     “Good for you, I knew you could do it!” I said when Great White Eagle, as he now calls himself, finally located the airport.
     Oak Bluffs Airport looked like a reclaimed cow pasture with no runways at all as far as I could see. Ed checked the Tri-Pacer’s propeller, gas tank, and other essentials; then we climbed in and fastened our seat belts. As he taxied down to the end of the pasture, I said, “That looks easy, I could do that.” All at once his hands and feet were pulling levers and pushing pedals and we were roaring toward a grove of trees at ninety miles an hour and I changed my mind.
     We flew to Nantucket, and Great White Eagle decided to land, “just for practice.” A voice on the radio told him which runway to use, and he started his approach.
     “First time in my life I’ve ever made a right-hand approach,” he remarked. I said I wished he wouldn’t tell me these things.
     “Nothing to it,” he said. We landed safely and, since it seemed silly to fly all the way to Nantucket without doing something, I went to the Ladies Room. Ten minutes later we were ready to take off again.
     “Five zero zulu,” Ed radioed the tower as he taxied toward the runways. “Do I make a left turn here?”
     “I’m not too proud to ask.” Ed said. “Gave everybody heart attacks last week when I turned the wrong way.”
     After we leveled off, he let me fly the plane for a few minutes. Let me? He was tuning the radio in front of my knees. Someone had to fly the bloody thing. I had a tendency to climb. Ed kept telling me to bring the nose down, but my stomach didn’t want to bring the nose down. My stomach had a passion for altitude.
    As we neared the coastline, Ed descended to a thousand feet and circled Oak Bluffs Harbor. Below us, the Vineyard Queen chugged toward the dock, a toy-sized boat trailing a miniature wake. Matchstick figures milled about on the deck, waving to their matchstick friends onshore. I preened my feathers and thought, “Poor earthlings! What a slow way to travel! How confined! How dull!”
     Ed found his way back to the airport with no need to stop and ask directions and we coasted gracefully to earth. Thus ended, uneventfully, my flight as Great White Eagle’s first passenger.
 “Why is it that sometimes you file a flight plan and sometimes you don’t?” I asked Ed as we climbed into the Tri-Pacer and fastened our seatbelts. Flying up to Waterville to see Ted play football was easier than driving, I had to admit, but I was still far from relaxed about Ed’s hobby.
     “It depends on how far we’re going, usually. If we’re just on a sightseeing tour I don’t bother, but when we have a specific destination and intend to stick to a definite course, I file a flight plan. That way, if anything goes wrong, they’ll know where we are.”
     “And who we were,” I said gloomily.
     We were no sooner aloft than I was sure I smelled something burning. Ed laughed and told me not to worry, it was just the engine heating up.
     “The last time I smelled something like that, our boat was on fire.”
     “It’ll go away in a few minutes.” A few gray hairs later, it did.
     I found myself becoming interested in this flying racket. I asked Ed dozens of questions and I studied the chart, and once I even helped him. We were nearing Lebanon, he thought, but so far he hadn’t been able to correlate anything on the terrain below us with our probable position on the chart.
     “How about that lake down on our right, the one that’s shaped like a boot? Doesn’t that look like this lake on the chart?”
     “Could be. It’s hard to tell, though. Everything looks like everything else up here.”
     “Yes, but look at that other little lake right near it, that arrow-shaped one. See, honey? This one on the chart looks like an arrow, too.”
     “You’re right,” he said. “That’s exactly the way you’re supposed to figure out where you are. You try to make the puzzle on the chart match the puzzle on the ground.”
     As we flew over Concord, Ed asked the man on the radio how the weather was at Montpelier.
     “Only a thousand feet—I don’t see how we could be that low.”
     “He said `one zero thousand,’” I said. “Wouldn’t that mean ten thousand, maybe?”
     Ed looked at me, then thumped me on the back. “That’s just what he means. They always say `one zero thousand’ instead of `ten thousand’. Good for you!”
     I could see I was going to enjoy Ed’s flying hobby more than boating. On the boat my loving spouse was more apt to yell at me than tell me how bright I was. Perhaps the salt water had a corrosive effect on my brain.
     On the way back to Norwood, Ed gave me more pointers on the art of flying. I still get butterflies when he lets me take the controls, but I'm beginning to think a few lessons someday might be fun.
October 13, 1962
     We slept on the boat last night. Ed got up at 7:30, stuck his nose out, and said, “Brrr, it’s freezing! Let’s go home.”
     “What do you want to go home for? We just got here.”
     “Great day for flying,” he said.
     We argued (“I want to go home,” “I want to stay here”), but in the end I gave in, as I always do once a year on Ed’s birthday. We began the depressing chore of emptying bureaus and lockers. Ed said we’d be back, but I knew better. Goodbye, dear boat. Sob.
     But there would be other summers, and fall wasn’t a bad season, what with Ted’s football games at Colby and hot dogs and foliage. We stopped at the house to stow our boating gear and drove to the airport.


January 11, 1963
     “All I want to do is learn to land the thing in an emergency,” I inform Bruce Pronk as he takes me aloft for my first formal flying lesson.  Within half an hour I'm hooked.  What a wonderful feeling it is to land the Tri-Pacer myself, to discover how obediently it will turn, glide, or climb when I follow Bruce’s directions.  How exciting it is to be learning something again, to shake the mothballs from my brain and set it to thinking.
      When I describe my lesson to Ed, he notes with a lift of his eyebrows that the Tri-Pacer has  become “our plane.”
January 16, 1963
      Ed has given me his blessing and his bible, Kershner’s Pilot’s Flight Manual.  While I’m tossing a salad with my free hand, I read aloud to him a passage about the turn-and-bank indicator:  “One of the most valuable maneuvers in coping with bad weather is the one-hundred-eighty-degree turn, or `getting the hell out of there.’”  A pair of arms slip around my waist and a voice addresses the back of my neck.
      “I love you,” Ed says, giving me a squeeze, “You three-hundred-and-sixty-five-degree person, you.”
      “Three hundred and sixty-five degrees?”
      “Okay, three hundred-sixty.  You’re learning.”
      A 180-degree turn puts me in a better position for continuing this conversation, a maneuver I accomplish with maximum (110 percent) dexterity.
January 23, 1963
      Last Sunday Ed invited me to join him and kibitz while he had an instrument-flying lesson.  He had told me a great deal about a plane he’d been using for the last couple of weeks, a Comanche, describing its retractable gear, propeller control, and fuel system, but neglecting to tell me one interesting detail that I discovered myself.  When I climbed into the back seat, my eyes fell on a framed document.  The name Malley attracted my attention, and when I read the words “Registration Certificate,” I put two and two together
     All I say is “Ohhhhh?”  That is enough.
     “Huh?” Ed says, looking over his shoulder at the certificate with a guilty small-boy expression.  “You mean the registration?”  I can see he hopes I mean something else, like a run in my nylons, maybe.
      “Well, I was gonna tell you,” he says finally, “but I wanted you to see the plane first. Gee, aren’t you the smart one to figure it out!  Boy, leave it to you to catch on right away.  Who else would look at a little paper like that and know right off what it meant!”
      “It’s a little late for objections,” I say, enumerating mine, anyway.  I was just getting used to the Tri-Pacer, and now he has to spring this Comanche on me.  What was wrong with the Tri-Pacer, anyway?  Not fast enough, Ed says.  Why does he always have to be in such a hurry?  But honey, in this baby we can start in the morning and get to Fort Lauderdale in time for a late afternoon swim.  I like a small plane, I say.  This thing is too big and complicated; I’ll never learn to fly it.  Ed says of course I’ll learn to fly it; if he could learn, I can.
      I say now I understand why he was so nice to the draperies salesman, with a new Comanche up his sleeve.  “Wasn’t I the simpleton!  All those piles of literature about the Comanches lying around, and I never tumbled.”     
      “You’re really adjusting to this very well,” Ed says.  “In fact, you’re being such a good sport, I’ve decided to forgive you.”
January 13, 1963
     In today’s lesson,  Bruce gives me a few pointers on the use of the gyro.  I warn him that I am very dumb about things like degrees of the compass and which way is north.  To me, the compass has always been one of life’s greatest enigmas, and I have little hope of ever becoming familiar with its mysterious ways.
     “Whenever you make a right turn, the numbers get bigger,” Bruce tells me, “and whenever you make a left turn, the numbers get smaller.”
     “Always?” I say doubtfully.
     “Always,” he says firmly.
     The compass has a habit that I find very confusing.  When I turn to the left, it turns to the right, and vice versa.  This is distracting when I’m under the hood and trying to keep a steady course.  I have to keep reminding myself to do everything backwards.  If it seems to me that I should bear left in order to get back on my heading, I must not let myself be deluded but must grit my teeth and bear right.  The compass then slides to the left in a sneaky attempt to get me to change my mind.  Avoiding the trap, I stick to my right turn, the numbers get bigger as Bruce promised, and behold—back on course.
     Ed claims the compass doesn’t move at all, the plane revolves around the compass.  A likely story.

February 23, 1963
      My takeoffs are good, my approaches are perfect, my landings are unworthy of the name.  Bruce sits by my side, unruffled, explaining what I'm doing wrong (everything), then goes into action at the last minute, leveling the wings, lining up the plane with the center of the runway, and deftly touching down at the right moment.   By the end of my ninth lesson Bruce allows that I probably can land in an emergency.  "You wouldn't get any medals, but you'd walk away from the plane."
     Since today is too windy for takeoffs and landings, I practice flying under the hood at 2500 feet, where the air is smoother.  This is something I do fairly well, and it gives my morale a boost to hear Bruce say, "That's fine, Barbara."  Of my landings he is more apt to blurt, "Whoopsy‑daisy!" as he grabs the controls to keep us from plowing into a snow bank.
     Bruce has figured out why I do so much better at 2500 feet than at twenty-five.  "You're land shy.  You see the ground coming up, you get nervous, and you forget all the things you do so well up here."  I say a land-shy pilot sounds about as useful as a gun shy-hound, but he tells me I'll get over it.
     Ted got his instrument rating a few days ago and is now qualified to fly in a pea soup fog, depending solely on the instrument panel for the safe conduct of the plane.  His father hopes to get his rating in a month or two and is already talking of the exciting far‑away places we'll be able to visit when the children are older—New Mexico, California, New Orleans, the Bahamas.  As far as I'm concerned, there's no place in the world more exciting than Norwood Airport.                                                                               


                                                               CHAPTER TEN  
                                                            ALONE IN THE SKY 

  With ten hours of solo and three cross ‑country trips behind me, I overcame any lingering qualms about flying, but I will think long and hard before I ever get on another motor scooter. Ed’s latest toy weighs only seventy pounds, travels for miles on a teacup of gas, and folds into a compact case that fits neatly in the baggage compartment of our Comanche. And there it should stay, in my opinion.
     We fly up to Rockland, Maine, and with the help of a couple of fellows at the airport, Ed unloads the scooter and assembles it.  I hop on behind him, rap my arms around his waist (ah, this is fun!), and off we start on a sightseeing trip.
      We are traveling at a pretty fast clip when the scooter begins weaving back and forth in an alarming fashion.
      "Hey, what are you doing?"
      "Fixing the handlebars.  They're not adjusted right."
      The progress of the scooter becomes more and more erratic until finally he loses control altogether.  Perceiving that we are in for a nasty tumble, I choose to jump off rather than land in a heap with 70 pounds of metal and 160 pounds of husband.  Ed stays with his new toy and goes rolling head over heels down the embankment, while I hit a bed of cinders, skidding along on my  "quien sabe" and tearing the seat out of my shorts.
      We jump to our feet, exclaiming, "Are you all right?"
      "I think I broke my collarbone.   Ed winces, touching a bump on his neck.  Broken collarbone or not, the man is determined to fly back to Norwood rather than risk getting stuck in a hospital in Maine.
      "Promise me you won't faint. You know I haven’t learned how to land the Comanche yet."
      I am able to do the straight and level flying, but Ed is in charge of the takeoff and landing.  He keeps his promise and doesn't faint until we get to the South Shore Hospital, where the act of removing his T‑shirt briefly put out his lights.
      The doctor makes the mistake of mentioning that a broken collarbone in a young boy heals in ten or twelve days, but with older folks takes two months or more. Since Ed regards himself as being in the former category, he is sure he'll be flying his plane ten days after the accident.  How he expects to manage the controls with his shoulder in a plaster cast, I don't quite see, but I don't argue with him. Flying gets to be like a drug—if I were deprived of it for very long, I'd rave, too.

April 18, 1963
          After months of study, Ed finally is ready to take his instrument flight test.  He won't admit the day has arrived, but I can tell.  He went to bed at 9:00 last night, instructing the children not to wake him if they valued their lives.  And instead of announcing every day or two that he isn't going to tell me when he’s scheduled for the test, he’s now reminding me of this every five minutes.  "If I don't pass, no one's going to know a thing about it."
     He got up at six, kissed me good‑bye, and looked startled when I said, "Good luck, honey!"
     "Who told her?" I could see him wondering.

     A few hours later, as Ed was homing in on runway 35 at the end of his flight test, I was taking off on  runway 17 and climbing straight toward him.
     "Here comes old Dad now, on his ADF approach," my instructor drawled.  "We'll soon know whether he passed or not."
     Bruce climbed out of the Colt as soon as I landed and waved me on my way.  I did a couple of "supervised" solos, but got little attention from the supervisor, who was clearly more interested in how Ed made out than whether I landed upside down or right side up.
     "They're coming in now," he said, climbing back in beside me.  "I'll be able to tell if he passed the minute he steps out of that plane, even if he's five hundred yards away."
     But Ed crossed him up by taxiing back to the hangar, so Bruce was unable to interpret the jaunty or non‑jaunty set of his shoulders, no matter how he craned his neck.
     "We won't know now till we get back to the office," he said with an air of frustration.  "I guess that's enough now, Barbara, that wind's getting stronger, we might as well go in."
     What was getting stronger was Bruce's curiosity.  Had Ed made the grade or not?
     "The boy got his rating," Charlie Melley called to us as we were tying down the Colt.
     Thank goodness!  Great White Eagle kept his nose in those books of his for so long, I'd forgotten what he looked like.
     I reached a goal, too, in my Small Eagle way.  Having completed my third hour of supervised solos, I was qualified, it says here, to go out and practice by myself.  The prospect scares me—I wish I had as much faith in me as Bruce does. 
April 20, 1963
     "Simmer down," I say to myself as I drive to the airport.  "So you broke a mirror this morning.  That means nothing whatsoever."
     Popping a stick of gum in my mouth so I'll at least look nonchalant, I walk into the office to find out which Colt I’m supposed to take.
     "Looks pretty good out there today," Bruce says.  "Wind's out of the east at the moment.  Be sure to look at the tee every once in a while in case it changes."
     "Suppose they change it and I'm the only one that notices?  If I switch to another runway, the other pilots will think I'm a crazy woman driver."
     "No, they won't," Bruce says.  "I've told you they're like a bunch of sheep—you lead the way, they'll follow.  Jump off a cliff, they'll be right behind you.  A bunch of sheep, that's what they are—baaaa!"  When my instructor talks like that I vow I'd rather die than join the herd.
     I taxi to the east runway and for the first time go through my pre-takeoff run-up without surveillance.   Checking the sky for traffic, I taxi to the center of the runway, take a deep breath, push in the throttle.  He‑e‑e‑re we go!
     Do other tyros feel the qualms I do as the earth drops away, or do they face this new challenge with cool‑headed equanimity?  Alone in the sky, with no Bruce standing by to catch me if I fall, the only cool thing about me is my feet.
     "What in heck am I doing up here?" I ask myself, looking down at the runway, 850 alarming feet below.  "I must be out of my mind!"
     Getting the plane off the ground is simple with all that nice soft air to fly into. Getting back down  again is another matter. That chunk of asphalt is hard, lady.
     When it was time to make my descent, my mind shifted from a disorganized jumble to a complete blank except for a question in headlines: HOW DO I GET THIS AIRCRAFT BACK ON THE GROUND?”  
     I got it down the same way I always have, but were the butterflies in my stomach impressed?  "No way," they said, "that was pure luck and you know it.  Why don't you quit while you're still in one piece?"
     Resisting the temptation to take their advice, I wiped my perspiring hands on my shorts and took off again.  Two more respectable landings appeased the butterflies, although they were still jumpy about the weekend traffic.
     Checking the tee to make sure it was still facing east, I noticed that three fellow pilots had taxied onto the grass at the edge of the runway.  I was wondering why all three quit at the same time, when suddenly my plane begans to jounce and rack around in a peculiar fashion.  I had a difficult time trying to make a respectable landing and was glad Bruce wasn't around to see me smack the asphalt at a sideways angle.
     I followed the one remaining pilot around the traffic pattern and observed that he, too, taxied off the runway as soon as he landed.  What was the matter with these fellows, were they all afraid of a little crosswind?
     Two minutes later I find the wind has grown from a little crosswind to a large one.  No matter how I struggle with the controls, I can't point the plane down the center of the runway.  Those four planes are lined up on the grass like ten‑pins, and the wind, now directly from the south, is bowling me toward them at eighty miles an hour.
     If I hadn't managed to avoid them, my memory would have been an unpopular one at Norwood Airport.   Safely past the quartet of airplanes, I concentrate on making as unspectacular a connection with the ground as possible.
     The wind is toying with the Colt as if it were made of paper.  There are updrafts and downdrafts and other strange atmospheric phenomena that make me wish I'd stayed home with my mending.
     Bang!!  The plane strikes the runway crabwise and bounces toward the edge as I try unavailingly to straighten it—too late, I’m off the pavement and bumping along on the grass.  I brake to a stop and sit there for a minute, recuperating.   It's amazing what a terrible landing you can make and live to describe it.
     I walked into the airport this morning, scared green at the thought of flying again and found Bruce and a couple of other instructors chatting over their coffee.  Silky Sullivan said, "Barbara, I was just telling Bruce what a good job you did with that last landing yesterday."
     I stared at him.  "Are you serious?"
     "I mean it," he says. "I landed just before you did, and I don't know when I've had such a hard time getting a plane down.   I watched you coming in, and believe me, you did well."
     I didn't believe him, but that’s all right, the butterflies did.  Their confidence soars.  I stop shaking, saunter down to the Colt, and calmly, with hands dry, perform several quite passable take‑offs and landings.



     Ed and I have discovered an interesting though inconvenient fact of life involving our hobby—the difficulty of finding two people married to each other who are both willing to risk flying with us. There's always a man here or a woman there who will say, "Just name the day!" but invariably the husband or wife wants no part of such folly.
     Our friends Jayne and Blake Thaxter fly commercially when they take vacations, but Jayne is routinely terrified from the moment the plane takes off until they have safely reached their destination. Since Blake, too, isn't keen about being airborne, we are surprised when they ask if they can hitch a ride with us to Vermont. They’d like a bird’s eye look at a piece of property they are interested in buying.
     "I'll believe it when I see it," I say to Ed. "At the last minute Jayne'll think of some excuse not to fly with us, what do you bet?"
     When the alarm wakes us early Saturday morning, I go to the window to see what kind of day we have. The sky is clear, but horrors—the wind is blowing up a gale. If there's one thing that scares me half to death it's being in a small plane at the mercy of a big wind. I remember the gusty day shortly after my first solo when I thought I'd never get the Colt and me down with both of us intact.
     "We don't have to go if you're nervous," Ed says. "We'll call the Thaxters and tell them we've decided it's too windy."
     "Don't you think it's too windy?"
     "Naw, I can handle it all right. I've seen worse. I'm game to go ahead if you and the Thaxters are."
     My only hope is that Jayne will back down. She, however, is too busy trying not to think of what lies ahead of her to be aware of a minor factor like a hurricane. Blake picks us up at 7:30, says his wife is still in bed with the covers pulled over her head. Never has Jayne seemed so sensible! I’m tempted to say, "Tell her to move over," but don't want to ruin my image as that fearless female pilot from Cohasset. We collect my friend, who says she has taken three tranquilizers for her nerves, and drive to Norwood Airport.
     To my relief, the flight to Rutland was nowhere near as choppy as I expected. The landing, however, was tricky, since the airport is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains; a fair‑sized hill rises almost directly in front of our runway. While Blake and I chewed our knuckles, morbidly fascinated by the way the wind kept tipping us toward the hill, our pilot skillfully circumvented the obstruction and touched the pavement with a gentle tap. Jayne missed out on the excitement, being a strict believer in keeping her eyes closed during takeoffs and landings. She claims she'd rather fly with Ed than on a commercial airline any time. Now there's a girl, as Ed would say, who's playing her cards j‑u‑u‑s‑t right!


The flight test required for my pilot’s license should be a cinch, but my state of nerves is such that I can scarcely add two and two. “You may not get checkitis,” my manual observed. “If this is the case, you’re one of the chosen few. The examiner probably has had it himself and will always make allowances.”

I kept my examiner busy making allowances from beginning to end, starting with an error in my weight and balance computations and ending with a short field takeoff, which he said, after he had caught his breath, was more like a soft field takeoff.

“Next time wait till you’ve hit sixty miles an hour, then lift off,” he suggested.

“You mean you want me to do another one now?”

“No, no,” he says, “I’m sure you’ll remember all right.”

When I was doing the pre-flight check, I hoped the examiner wouldn’t ask me any questions about what goes on under the cowling because the way an engine functions has always been an insoluble mystery to me. Ed tried very hard to explain about pistons and cylinders and spark plugs, but the whole idea of it makes me anxious, especially the way the gas explodes when you push the starter.
Mr. Fahey asks what I’d do if I saw a crack in the exhaust stack. Not sure what part of the engine is known as the exhaust stack, but sure I wouldn’t be happy to see a crack in it anywhere, I say I would look for a mechanic. Mr. Fahey seems satisfied with my answer and we proceed to the next phase of the test:  proving I can fly without getting lost.

I manage to find Providence and return to Norwood without disgracing myself or my instructor too shamefully. One thing Mr. Fahey seems to approve of is my landings—after they are accomplished, that is. He shifts uneasily in his seat during my approach—“Don’t get too far to the right, Mrs. Malley, that’s it, a little more to the left, there’s quite a crosswind today but you’re handling it very nicely”—and then he sits back with a sigh and says, “Good, good!” as wheels touch asphalt with a soft thud.

Coming in for my final landing, I touched down on runway 17 and was informed by the patient gentleman at my side that I was now a private pilot.


February 26, 1963
     I never expect to pilot Ed's Comanche, but at least I'm learning to fly a Colt. I won't count the fifteen or twenty landings I did this morning with my instructor's help (I mean, like "Help!"); but I'm finally beginning to sense when I should level off, and I can feel the plane flare out as it settles down like a swan settling on the surface of a pond. W‑a‑a‑y back with the stick, and halleluliah, I've done it! I laugh like a loony‑bird and grin at Bruce, who grins back and says, "That was it—dee-lightful." Deelightful. What a perfect name for an airplane.
     I feel like a woman who has just learned the one she loves feels the same way about her. I am in love with the plane, and suddenly, incredibly, it has responded.
April 2, 1963
     "I guess I'd better let you go before this wind gets any worse," Bruce says, unfastening his seat belt and opening the door. "Remember to check the traffic before you take off. Watch your altitude—you'll climb a lot faster with me out of the plane. Don't let her get any higher than 850 feet. If you find you're coming in too high, just go around again. I'll be waiting right here. Make a full stop landing and then taxi back to where I'm standing."
     "And try not to run you down," I say.  I taxi to the beginning of the runway, stop to examine the sky for other aircraft, get into position for my take‑off. A plane is taxiing down the right hand side of the runway. Or is it taxiing up the runway? I am just nervous enough to be unsure whether it’s coming or going, I only know that it’s there. Instead of minding my own business, I keep glancing at the other plane. Applying power, I head down the left hand side of the runway with the idea of keeping well out of its way. As I near take‑off speed I realize I ‘m getting too far to the left. Forgetting everything I have learned about steering, I try to straighten the plane with the wheel instead of the rudders. As a result, I flounder into the air with my right wing drunkenly banked. Oh, the shame of it! The first take‑off I ever made was beautiful by comparison.
     Maybe Bruce is lighting his cigarette and hasn't noticed. Leveling off to build climbing speed, I glance down at his dwindling figure. It’s impossible to tell whether his face is purple, green, or devoid of color.
     Eight hundred feet already? I start my 90‑degree turn and look back at the runway to line myself up with it at the proper angle. I am surprised to see that instead of being well behind me, as I am expecting, the end of the runway is directly beneath me.  Had he said something about the plane climbing faster without him?  That must be why I started my first turn too early.
     Oh well, no harm done. Bruce will turn in his instructor's certificate and I'll go home and take up tomato‑raising or (sigh) bird‑watching. But before I go anywhere, there is the matter of landing the plane.
     I land it all right. Twice. You don't get extra credit for bounces. My flight manual states that a student usually makes his best landing that first solo. Why did I have to be a non‑conformist?
     Bruce is kind. "Well, anyway, you did it, Barbara," he says, extending his hand. "Congratulations!"
     By the time I receive further congratulations and handshakes from the personnel back at Wiggins, the memory of my amateurish performance begins to fade.  If you cross a Cheshire cat with the one that ate the canary, you'll have my expression as I walk into the house and prop my solo certificate up on the mantelpiece.


August 23, 1963
Oak Bluffs Airport
     Everything was in order as we glided toward the field—gear down, full flaps, airspeed okay. Then something inexplicable happened. A gust of wind, or perhaps a downdraft, or a gremlin, caused the plane to plummet instead of continuing its glide.
     The exclamation “Throttle” leapt to my lips, but Ed was already pushing it in with a calm forward motion that should have produced the welcome sound of power. Instead, the motor failed to catch and we continued to fall. The Comanche's wheels hit the overhang of a sand trap between the field and the golf course and sheared off. We crashed onto the ground and spun 180 degrees..
     The force of the spin threw Ed against the windshield, breaking his dark glasses and giving him a deep gash over his right eye. The metal lever on his seatbelt hadn’t held, nor did mine. As the plane jarred to a stop, Ed saw me flying headlong through the door.
     Our passenger, Moppet, who had been taking a nap in my lap, was also flung out. As I hit the ground I could see her taking off as if fifteen tigers were after her.
     "Barbara, are you all right?" Ed was standing on the wing of the plane, blood streaming down his face but obviously alive.
     “Yes, I’m all right,” I said. “My God, are you all right?”
     “It’s okay, it’s just a cut, but the plane—my beautiful plane—goddammit, that’s the end of the flying, that’s the end of the airplanes!”
     I climbed stiffly to my feet and found I could walk all right except that my shorts kept falling down; the zipper was broken. Ed’s face still dripped.
     “It’s nothing,” Ed said. “But oh, my poor airplane, my beautiful airplane! What happened! What did I do wrong?”
     People were swarming around us, asking if we were all right, arguing over who would drive us to the hospital.
     “All I need is a safety pin,” I said, holding onto my shorts and wandering off to look for Moppet. She didn’t answer my calls.
     “Here’s the truck, come on, you two,” the greens keeper urged. Someone had given Ed a handkerchief to hold against his head; it was already bright red. “You’re going to need a few stitches, fella.”
     “My dog has run off,” I said.
     “We’ll find your dog; you go along with your husband.”
     From his cot in the hospital’s emergency room, Ed gave me my orders. “Call the house, call the insurance company—here’s Bill Gail’s card, if he isn’t home call the Washington office—call the hotel and tell Timmy to come get us.”
     “You lie still,” the nurse said, sponging off his face and giving him some gauze pads to staunch the blood. “Press hard.”
     I went to make the phone calls. When I came back, Dr. Rappaport took me aside. “I don’t suppose he’ll listen to you, either. He’s quite a manager, that husband of yours—told me how and where to put the stitches, took his own x-rays, developed them, analyzed them . . . rather used to doing things his way, I should imagine.”
     Timmy arrived with Moppet. “Someone at the airport found her and called me.”
     One of Norwood's instructors flew over in a Comanche, and Timmy drove us to Martha's Vineyard Airport. Moppet and I hopped into the backseat—that is, I hopped in with Moppet under my arm; given a choice, she might have preferred to take the ferry—and Ed flew us back to Norwood. Kathie asked us later if Moppet was nervous. "She had her hands over her eyes the whole way," Ed said.
August, 1963
     Our accident has been on the radio and TV, so there is no way of keeping the news from our parents. Now they’ll really be convinced we should give up flying and switch to a more sensible diversion like Parcheesi.
      Bruce gave me a lesson in a rented Comanche. I admit I’m having a delayed case of the jitters. He suggests we break out of the pattern and fly around for a while so I'll get the feel of the controls again.
     However, it's one thing to feel relaxed with Charles Lindberg the Second sitting next to me. The real test will come when he climbs out of our new Comanche–-Ed decided on a Twin, bigger and faster than the wrecked one—and says, "Okay, Pilot, she's all yours." 
     I celebrated my 42nd birthday by soloing for the first time since last Saturday's "event," as Bruce calls it. Ed took movies of my takeoff and approach, ran out of film seconds before the Colt touched down. Posterity will never know what a splendid crosswind landing was executed, nor how much the pilot was shaking. For some reason, most of my nervousness was concentrated in my left leg: the closer I came to the ground, the more it became afflicted with a separate and private terror all its own. The result was a one-legged St. Vitus's Dance that made me wonder how I was managing to control the left rudder. 
     Two weeks later, I soloed in the Twin Comanche. Brought Moppet with me for moral support.   
     “Thanks a bunch,” said Moppet.