During the first 20 years of our marriage, there was only one way anyone could have induced my husband and me to board an airplane, and that was on a stretcher: bound, gagged, and chloroformed. Neither of us had the slightest desire to set foot in a contrivance designed to separate us from our familiar planet and propel us through space at a speed unnatural to man or bird.
One winter, when we were doubtless weakened by colds and flu, friends armed with statistics and resort brochures finally persuaded us that flying was safer than driving, boarding a train, or 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 companionably risked our necks together. Never did the thought cross our minds that some day we would possess a plane of our own—and fly it.
Then the Fates stepped in: The summer Ted turned 18, he got a job handling freight at Boston’s Logan Airport. Someone took him for an airplane ride, and the next day, 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 used to think if Ed took up flying, I’d want to. When I saw all the technical stuff he had to memorize, I lost interest. If he’d show me how to land the thing in an emergency, I’d know all I needed to.
Ed survived a few more lessons, bought a Tri-Pacer, and the next thing I knew, he and Ted were planning to fly to Florida. He invited me out to dinner the night before: “This is our last night together for almost a week, and I want to be alone with you.”
I was so pleased, I went upstairs and put on some silver eye shadow. We had dinner at the Cabin. Ed was in a rare mood and kept laughing at my wry comments about his new toy.
When we got home Ted latched on to 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 rather incoherently, I can see in retrospect—that I didn’t mind their going to Florida without me, I truly and sincerely 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 a word, 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 fell asleep.
October 23, 1962
“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. “Would 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 salt water haa a corrosive effect on my brain.
October 13, 1962, Falmouth
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 and stripping the bunks.
Ed said we would fly up to Colby for Ted’s football game. And while he was at it, he’d show me how easy it was to operate the plane. Maybe I’d decide to take some lessons. Yeah, right.
But there will be other summers, and fall isn’t a bad season if you can ignore its proximity to winter.
October 14, 1962
The flight to Maine was bumpy because of the wind, and Ed alarmed me as we approached Barnes Airport by saying, “This ought to be interesting.”
“Not too interesting, please,” I said, tightening the flap on my seat-belt.
Here we go . . . the downdraft buffets us about . . . Great White Eagle steadies his wings . . . we sink to the runway. The wheels touch the asphalt with no more jolt than a bicycle going over a curbstone.
“Very nice,” I say shakily. We call a cab, and it’s on to Ted’s football game.
October 31, 1962
Ed had two tickets to a Monday night cocktail party for Ted Kennedy. He told me to buy a hundred-dollar dress and meet him in the lobby of the Statler-Hilton at 6:30. After I had my hair done by Miss June on Newbury Street, I walked around the corner to Sabien’s and tried on a few of their more expensive gowns. I’m just not the Hundred-Dollar-Dress type. I couldn’t find anything I liked as well as the pleated lavender dress I was wearing.
The party wasn’t crowded, so getting a look at Ted was no problem. My, but he was handsome. And my, but the hors d’oeuvres were yummy. I didn’t know which attraction to focus on. Ed said he wished he had enough nerve to walk right up and shake hands with our future senator.
“I sure contributed enough to the campaign, but I guess I don’t have an aggressive enough personality.” Ah, but someone very close to him did.
Ted made a brief speech from the platform at the far end of the room, and as he started to leave I could see he was going to pass within a yard or two of Ed and me. I stepped forward and put my hand out, and the President’s brother paused and shook it. Not only that, but he said, “I’m glad to see you.”
Instead of saying, “I’m glad to see you, too,” I stood there speechless, gazing into his eyes. Gazing into his eyes was no mean feat, since he’s slightly wall-eyed, and so am I. When I came to, he had unclenched my fingers, withdrawn his hand, and gone his illustrious way.
November 18, 1962
When the youngest member of the family turned sixteen today, I brought him his breakfast on a tray and a Password game.
“Hey, Ma, you can’t kid me, you’re like the guy who give his son a railroad set and then monopolizes it himself. Well, I might let you borrow my Password game once in a while, but don’t count on it.”
Mrs. White concocted the most unusual birthday cake this house has ever seen. She knew Tim was fond of marshmallow fluff, so she used the frosting recipe on the Fluffo jar. She followed instructions to the letter, she said, but the resulting product had the consistency of flour-and-water paste and was difficult to spread. When we tried placing candles in the rubbery stuff, they got a toehold and then inclined slowly toward a horizontal position. I attempted to twist one of the candles in place, but the frosting twisted, too, wrapping itself around the candle’s base and drawing away from the edges of the cake—as when Ed rolls over in the night and takes two-thirds of the blanket with him.
Finally we stuck the candles in various threadbare spots that Mrs. White had been unable to frost, and we had what could pass for a birthday cake.
When Tim came downstairs he found the cake on the kitchen counter, along with a note: "Dear Tim—I dreamed up a beautiful cake, a real picture with lovely white frosting, but the gremlins were at work and led me astray. It is a mess, but gosh I tried! Anyway Happy Birthday—B. White.”
“Hurry up and blow out the candles, Tim,” Mrs. White said. “That stuff might be explosive!”
Tim extinguished the candles with one gusty breath and then attempted to cut a piece of cake. The frosting sank but didn’t surrender. He lifted the knife to try another angle, and the confection soared into the air, denuding Mrs. White’s Lemon Surprise.
“Oops!” said Timmy, shaking the sheet of frosting from his knife and carefully replacing it on the battered cake. “Stop laughing, everybody,” he said. “You’ll hurt Mrs. White’s feelings.”
But the baker was laughing as hard as the rest of us.
“It’s not her fault,” I said. “We should put the stuff in an envelope and send it to the Fluffo people with our compliments.”
January 3, 1963
On New Year’s Day Mrs. White prepared a holiday dinner of roast duckling cooked in wine and orange sauce. She had dinner with us; we all had champagne first, then dined by candlelight, which has a wonderfully quieting effect on a lively family. Tim started to switch on the lights, but Mrs. White said, “Uh-uh, Tim.”
“What’s the matter, don’t you want us to see what we’re eating?” Timmy said with a grin.
Mrs. White understands that Ed gets home late from work and enjoys relaxing with a drink, but she still thinks we should dine together as a family more often.
“Every once in a while, why don’t you let me serve you all a nice dinner in the dining-room? It would be good for the children to learn how to conduct themselves on formal occasions. Then when they’re invited to other people’s houses, they won’t feel uneasy or self-conscious.”
She is a dear to be willing to do this for the young Malley scamps.
Mother sent us a poem called “The New Year.”
The New Year’s a penny untarnished and bright;
The New Year’s a baby, asleep in the morn—
A fine bouncing baby who’s glad to be born.
Let’s write in the notebook, nor leave any smudges,
Let’s spend the bright penny and settle our grudges,
Let’s comfort the New Year who’ll cry when he wakes,And discover he’s stuck with the Old Year’s mistakes!