Authors: Jeanette Ingold
Copyright Â© 1999 by Jeanette Ingold
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Airfield/by Jeanette Ingold.
Summary: In 1933, fifteen-year-old Beatty hangs around a small
Texas airport waiting for visits from her pilot-father from whom
she longs to learn about her deceased mother.
[1. Fathers and daughtersâFiction. 2. Sex rolesâFiction.
3. AirportsâFiction. 4. AirplanesâFiction.] I. Title.
Text set in Ehrhardt
Designed by Ivan Holmes
F E D C B A
Printed in the United States of America
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and
organizations, all places and events are fictional. Any
resemblance to any organization or to any actual person,
living or dead, is unintended.
For my parents, Jim and Carey Reilly
The Muddy Springs Airport and the airline it serves are fictional, but the idea for this book came from stories my parents told of the days when my dad first worked for American AirlinesâAmerican Airways, thenâin a job very similar to Grif Langston's. Dad was part of the airline for forty years, but his best tales came from that time when commercial aviation was a brash adolescent trying hard to grow up.
I'm indebted to many people for helping pin down the details of what flying was like in the early 1930s: Ben Kristy, curator of the American Airlines C. R. Smith Museum in Fort Worth, and the museum's director, Jay Miller; Colonel Knox Bishop (USAF/Ret.), curator of the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas; and, at the University of Texas at Dallas, Dr. Larry D. Sail, associate library director for special collections, and the History of Aviation Collection volunteers who let me listen in on their hangar flying.
I'm grateful, too, for assistance from fliers and aviation experts Otto Becker, Jack Callaway, Gregory Kennedy, Nancy Robinson Masters, Mary and John Stevenson, and John Talbot, and for the helpful staffs and wonderful resources of the Texas State Library and the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
IRFIELD?" THE OLD GUY
sorting radiator caps in front of Joe's Texas Auto Parts sends a dented cap spinning to a junk heap. "You goin' flyin', young lady?"
"I wish I were! But I'm just taking a late lunch to my uncle. He's filling in for the station manager."
"I guessed you was new here. That turn's another mile on."
"Oh..." I rub the back of my neck, lifting away hair wet with perspiration. Dark patches of sweat pock the front of my dress. "I'd hoped I was closer."
Out on the otherwise empty highway, a worn automobile struggles our way. Its outside bristles with tied-on house goods, and the inside is packed with people. Depression migrants, I suppose, like half the world seems to be this June of 1933.
"I reckon," Joe says, "you could take that old farm track past my billboard. It'd be a bit of a shortcut."
There's the sudden
of a tire blowing out, and the car we've been watching lurches to a lopsided halt.
The first out is a boy who looks to be a couple of years older than me, perhaps nearer seventeen than my almost-fifteen.
It's a fleeting thought, gone as fast as I can feel bad for thinking it.
But, truthfully, he does look about as ragtag as the vehicle itself.
"They ain't gonna have no money," Joe says, as though he's already hearing the whole conversation, him trying to sell a replacement and the family wanting whatever threadbare tire he'll give for free.
"Yeah. Well," I answer, feeling for him and them both, "I ought to be getting along. Will that shortcut take me straight to the airport?"
"Close enough, anyway."
I'm soon thinking that Joe and I have different ideas about just what a shortcut is. Going the extra mile on the highway would have been quicker than this. Twice I have to pull my dust-coated bicycle under barbed wire strung across the old roadbed.
I keep remembering that migrant family, wondering if they left a place like this, land once farmed but now surrendered to mesquite and cactus. Or maybe they're from a place where pine trees close in, or where vines smother?
Or maybe they didn't ever have a place?
I remind myself,
I don't have a place, either.
That is, I do, only it rotates, aunt to aunt. Yesterday it was with Aunt Fanny in Dallas and would have stayed so all summer if that storm hadn't blown a tree down through the roof of her house.
It was easy enough, though, to catch an early bus here, to Clo and Grif and their temporary home at the Muddy Springs Hi-Way Tourist Court. And if this doesn't work out, my barging in on what's still almost their honeymoon, I can always move on to Aunt Maud in Waco.
Though I'm hoping it does work out. Clo's more like a sister than an aunt, fifteen years closer to my age than Fanny and Maud are. She's always made me feel that having me is pleasure rather than duty, and I hope her being married won't change that.
I think, laughing again at how she met my bus this morning, bursting aboard, all red curls and wiry energy, to hug me before I could even get out of my seat.
Abruptly, the old roadbed comes to an end, and I see in the distance a hangar. Next to it, a smaller building with a huge muddy springs painted on its roof must be the terminal where Grif is working.
And between me and the buildings there's a long, hard-packed dirt clearing, which, after a moment, I realize is the landing field. Its only marking is a huge embedded circle, for identification, I suppose, though I bet from the air it looks more like a target. Instead of runways there are just sun-baked furrows showing all the ways planes have come in.
I'm bouncing my way across the field, thinking Joe and I also have different ideas about "close enough," when I hear the faint sound of a motor.
I stop to search the sky....
There it is...
Shading my eyes, I watch a speck of rosy orange and yellow come closer and take the shape of a small, single-engine biplane. And then it dawns on me: The plane is getting ready to land on this field that I'm in the middle of.
I quickly get back on my bike, hop a few steps to get started, stand on the pedals to pick up speed.
The engine sound grows louder incredibly fast, and when I look behind me the plane is at the back corner of the field, coming in on a low diagonal.
Briefly I wonder if the pilot can even see me, if maybe the dust all over my clothes might make me seem to be part of the field. I wave and my front wheel catches in a rut and throws me onto a stubble of dry weeds and gritty earth. There's not even time to get to my feet....
And then, just as the plane seems to be almost on top of me, it swoops up in a steep climb. The gold lines on its side flash by so fast they look like bolts of lightning, and I glimpse a pilot fighting to gain height.
In no more than an instant the aircraft has cleared the nearest corner of the field and is climbing away.
I brush off my dress, untangle a tumbleweed from my bike spokes, and try to calm down. I'll give Grif his lunch and then get away from the airport before that pilot circles around and comes looking for me.
But even as I'm wheeling my bicycle along, avoiding what looks like the most worn landing path, my eyes follow the airplane. A shiver races along my skin, a feeling hard to place. Still fear, maybe, but also thrill.
It's a feeling I get every time I watch a plane and imagine that I'm the one flying. What would it be like?
The airplane briefly disappears into a blinding dazzle of sunlight, and when I catch sight of it again it's shrunk to a glittering speck. Already it has soared so far, so fast, so
HERE'S NOBODY IN
the main part of the small terminal building. Double doors on each end stand open to the breeze, and papers on a short counter flutter under the weight of a stapler and ticket punch. A chalkboard says the westbound flight is due in from Fort Worth at 1:59, to depart again sixteen minutes after that.
I can see it in the sky now, its deep-bellied body and single wing on each side as different from that other plane as can be. Still, the small one probably isn't far behind. Where's Grif?
Washing my face and hands quickly with water from a glass jug, I call, "Hello?"
A snatch of static leads me to the doorway of a tiny operations room where Grif sits at a table of radio equipment. He's wearing earphones and taking notes but waves a greeting when he notices my reflection in a mirror that hangs from a nail.
"Winds north at fifteen and gusting," I hear him repeat into a microphone. "Thanks, Sam."
Leaning forward so he sees, I put down his lunch and mouth the words "From Clo."
He nods, his eyes lighting up like she's done something a lot more wonderful than sending a ham sandwich that he forgot. He and my aunt have cared that way about each other since they were seniors in high school, half a dozen years ago, and I'm glad that he's finally got a job and they've been able to get married.
It's just a relief job. Grif has been hired by an airline to move about Texas filling in for station managers away on vacation or training. But it's work, and in aviation and using radios. To Grif, it must seem like incredible good fortune.
"I've got to go," I whisper, but he says, "Just give me a minute to relay this weather report." Flipping switches, he begins tapping teletypewriter keys. Then he adjusts more radio controls and identifies himself to the pilot of the westbound airliner. "You've got the skies to yourself," he says, "except for a small plane I heard fly over a bit agoâbut it's apparently gone on. Come in whenever you're ready. And, Collin ... she's here."
As soon as Grif pulls off his earphones, even before I hug him hello, I ask, "Is Dad flying that plane?"
"He is. He traded routes with another pilot just to see you."
"And you and Clo wanted me to be surprised?"
Grif grins and nods, though he says, "Beatty, you realize your dad will be on the ground only long enough to refuel."
That's OK. Sixteen minutes is better than nothing. After yesterday's storm, things happened so fast Aunt Fanny and I never even learned if the telegram we sent Dad reached him, but I guess it must have.
I hope Grif's right about that pilot I want to avoid. Maybe he really has flown on somewhere else. I don't think he would have had a way to make a report about me. Until recently, even passenger planes didn't have two-way radiosâI know that because I remember Dad talking about them being installed.
Still, Grif is looking closely at me now, taking in my scratches and the dirt on my dress. "What happened to you?" he asks.
"I fell off my bikeâ," I begin, but before I can decide how much to add, the telephone's ringing interrupts.
Grif picks up the receiverâ"Yes, this is Muddy Springs"âand after a moment jots a note, which he hands to me.
"Beatty," he says, "will you run this over to the hangar while I bring your dad's plane in? Give it to Kenzieâhe's the mechanicâand tell him it's about that part he's working on. El Paso needs it now."
"It'll just take a minute."
The hangar's wide doors have been rolled back to open up the whole front. "Mr. Kenzie," I call, peering into a huge space where unlighted floodlights lamps hang from a grid of roof trusses. The building smells of the grease and motor oil soaked into the concrete floor. There're tools and equipment but no people.
A small truck rushes up behind me,
MUDDY SPRINGS AIRPORT MOBILE SERVICE
on its side. It brakes to a stop, and the driver jumps out.