Saturday, January 30, 2010

My Summer of Flying

Snow again. It sends my mind skittering from here, like dozens of waterbugs on the glassy surface of the pond in the woods. But it doesn't take long to find refuge. Mother reminded me at Christmas.

"Remember the summer you spent flying off the M.'s wellhouse?"

Another of my schemes. I took something my brother said -- about physics, about flying, about lift -- and mixed in my own harebrained ideas. My special brand of mental alchemy.

"You cannot be serious," my brother, the future engineer, would say. "Mother, you have to make her stop," was another of his requests. Mother would check to make sure I wasn't about to seriously harm myself or others, then let it go.

So I gathered my materials, enthusiasm bordering on hysteria, which drew a small crowd of followers. These included the believers, the bored and the skeptics. The last generally consisted of the neighbor boys, who enjoyed watching me fall on my face. My experiments frequently failed. But they always entertained.

It was summer and Mrs. M. watched my sister and me while my parents worked in town. No one was hauled off to camp or activities. The high school boys started two-a-day football practice at some point. And they got themselves to and from the field pretty much on their own.

Which left the rest of us to entertain ourselves. All day long. All summer. Three long, beautiful months.

So the first morning of the flying I was ready. I had kites and makeshift harnesses made of belts and ropes. I had money for helium balloons to be filled at the store across the highway. We needed lots of helium balloons. I had my long black satin cape and a myriad of other capes. I had cardboard boxes and tools for the building of aircraft. The materials, loaded into a red wagon and a wheelbarrow, were hauled to the M's with the help of my loyal assistant, my little sister.

I had barely slept. We were going to fly.

The M. sisters were already waiting for us at the big picture window. J., the oldest, S., M. and P.

We got the helium balloons and went to work at the sloping wellhouse. It was the tallest one in the neighborhood, almost five feet at the highest point. We climbed up, dragging our equipment. We were beginning to draw a crowd.

I don't remember everything. I know I was hoping for a windy day for my first attempts. We wrapped ourselves in harnesses, hooked kites to them and helium balloons. I could feel the slight tug of the kite against my weight. I held out my arms. I ran as fast as I could and jumped off the wellhouse.

Of course, I did not fly. But this did not discourage me. Not in the least.

I kept it up. We all did. J., the oldest of the M. girls, helped in between loads of housework and cooking and otherwise helping her mother. She wasn't really ready to grow up.

We went to work on wings, using all kinds of materials. We built aircraft using cardboard boxes and pillows for seats and tried to fly off the shortest point of the the wellhouse. Ouch. Not for long.

We added fake wings to the harnesses, Icarus-like. We interviewed each other and the "witnesses" with the seriousness of rocket scientists. We wrote down responses. Did you feel that? Did you feel any lift at all? Did anyone SEE anything? Just a little bit, you had to feel SOMETHING!

We were sure if we tinkered here and there, added this and that, jumped higher, ran faster, we would find the magic formula that would lift us into the sky. Into the wind. Up, up and away.

And our notion was not so off the wall if you think about what was going on around us at that time. Not for children growing up in a magic time and place. Yes, we were going through nuclear alert drills at school due to the Cold War -- watch for a flash of white light and get under your desk. But we weren't told to actually slide under those desks, like some. Our drills were verbal. Sort of wink-wink drills.

Because we had faith that such a thing would never happen. We also had a secret weapon.

Just to the south of us, in federal installations where many of our relatives reported five days a week, the work was being done to send man to the moon. Not only that, we had Werner von Braun, who had been responsible for some of the most feared German weapons before he surrendered at the end of World War II and came to Alabama to help lead the U.S. space race.

From time to time, we felt the earth move under us. "It's the big rockets," we were told. "They're testing them." So, we knew we were safe. The earth was moving. We were going to the moon. I mean, why couldn't we fly off the wellhouse?

So we tried. Over the course of days and on and off over weeks that summer. We just kept trying.

We never did fly, of course. At least not in a physical sense. But our hearts soared, up and out, over grass dew-tinted an emerald green, into wide open blue skies.

The sun's fire loosened our fluid young muscles. Air cleaned by miles of old forest curled into our lungs, sending blood pounding in our veins. Wind blew through our long soft hair as we stretched our arms high and grasped with small hands for clouds as white as the cotton bursting from the fields around us.

Over and over we jumped, throwing ourselves into radiance -- the sweet arms of a midsummer day in the deepest part of the South. Days we thought would never end, could never end. Drunk with it.

Other children gathered near the wellhouse to watch our whimsical quest. Then later, grownups too. They stood, watching, but not really seeing. Because their eyes had gone soft, remembering what could be seen only in memory -- their own long-gone childhoods.

So now, that wellhouse exists only in memory, too. We're all scattered to the winds. And J. has gone on ahead, without us, off somewhere with Cyn.

I'm going to try to catch a sign of them this summer, when I visit Alabama. When the crickets and Katydids are in full throat and the night sky is blazing with stars. That's when those days feel so close I can stretch arms into the darkness and almost pull them back to me.

I'll find an old wellhouse or another icon to sit on. Maybe I'll wear my black cape, not the satin one, that's long gone. But of course I have a black cape. I've always had one. I might have an opportunity to fly. Or something. And I want to be ready.

So, in the summer I'll look into the sky and recite the old directions. Tell them we'll all be along soon. Because I know where my friends went. And I know how to get there, when the time is right. We talked about it. You just follow some simple directions.

It's easy.

Listen closely. Remember?

All you have to do is hold up your arms, you way we used to do, take off running and fly. Up and away, into the sky. From there, just take the "second star to the right, and straight on 'till morning."

Hold on tight.

Much love, Glimmer


  1. Love this - it speaks of all that innocent child hope that we used to have!

  2. This reminds me so much of Ray Bradbury. You have such a gift with words, such an amazing ability to capture moments in time and give them the breath of life. You did fly, didn't you? You flew the entire distance of a summer. Ah, lah. This was beautiful.

  3. Thank you B. Mother was laughing when she talked about it. I can never remember "jokes" but make people laugh for decades anyway!

  4. I loved this post :) And I loved those feelings of innocence and faith that it stirred in me.

  5. great tale. reminds of the line from the song in 'crazy heart' -- 'funny how falling feels like flying ... for a little while.'

  6. an arrow through my heart..thats all i can say now...

  7. You honor me, Ms. Moon. I did fly -- you saw it too. That's the real gift, the gift of this space and the people who come here and read and comment. It enables me, it lets me go back there, briefly, once in a while. To BE there.

    SJ: For a few years I felt "deprived." No ballet lessons at age 3. Too late when we found out in high school that I had a talent for gymnastics. But I wouldn't trade any of it now. None of it. Because those feelings last a lifetime.

    Little Guitar: HA! You're right! It did feel that way. And I argued pretty strenuously with the ones who reported that they didn't feel a thing.

    Danielle: I'm glad. It hit home, then. And I'm happy.

  8. I saw you in my mind standing on that well house...I could see the wind in your hair, your arms is like childhood, ever so fleeting...we can visit it while watching a child even taste the dirt on our hands when we fall...try again, and again..all our lives we can keep trying...

  9. You are a beautiful writer. I, too, wanted to fly when I was a child. Flying just seems like the free-est feeling of all.

  10. Your words blow me away. I loved reading this. We would have been fast friends as children. I was always doing something semi-dangerous for fun.

    Love you, Glimmer.

  11. Ellen: I didn't think of that, a metaphor for life. Trying to capture a moment like to find a way to just keep trying. Thank you!

    TKW: I have a recurrent dream that I am flying. I love those dreams the most and don't want to wake up. Maybe that's why, maybe I set them in motion by "flying" off the wellhouse. Never thought of that either!

    SB: Of course we would have been great buds, wilding in the deep South. I would have given you the bullwhip as a loaner. I can see us now, up a tree, chunking pine cones and mouthing off: "They aint taking us alive."

  12. Been saving this.
    You yourself are magical, somehow full of this special way of seeing and feeling that just lifts anyone who is lucky enough to read your memories and thoughts.
    I was floating through this, arms out.
    I love your love of capes, with you still.
    I love your love of flying.
    Your friends.
    Your family. Childhood. Wishes. Dreams. Hope. How you SHOW it all, with your balloons and wagon and trying.
    Loved this:
    That's when those days feel so close I can stretch arm into the dark and almost pull them back to me.
    I love how it seems like you're talking directly to me in the end, whispering something I need to remember and believe in.
    I wish I could.
    I'm trying.
    Thank you.

  13. ooo i love Ray Bradbury, and your writing is delirious

  14. I just love this post. So very inspirational. Thank you Carole. May we all never stop trying to fly :) xoxo

    And thank you for your encouraging words on my blog. It means the world to me! *HUG*

  15. Bethany: I recently read that Stephen King said writing is really time travel. Maybe that's what I-we are doing, I am going there and you are going with me? You are starting to let the writing take you with it, too, you know. Keep going.

    And thank you for taking the time and the trouble to tell me. That means so much.

    Maggie: I was a delirious little girl, an apt description. So much so that I wore myself, and others, out. It's fun to channel it again, sometimes.

    Shannon: I agree re trying to fly. And your blog is sweet light.

  16. I like to read about your childhood adventures. You had a great idea to try so hard to fly. I never tried that. My floating was done on the water.

  17. Syd: Thank you. I appreciate, always, your encouragement. I was never one to let logic get in the way of one of my notions. My projects were usually good for a laugh, anyway.