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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

(9) MY HEART THUMPING, I QUIETED THE ALARM'S SCREAM.

September 28, 1963
     "Be careful of my Comanche," Ed said sternly as I set out for the airport with my mother.
     "Our Comanche," I reminded him. My passenger didn't seem at all uneasy, which was more than I could say for me. I felt as nervous as I did the day of my first piano recital at age six. Flying over Cohasset, I pointed out familiar landmarks—the golf club, the yacht club, Minot's light, Sandy Cove, our house. Descending a few hundred feet and going into slow flight so we could see better, I jumped when the gear warning blared. This bird‑brained gadget is obsessed with the idea that every time a person slows down, she must be coming in for a landing. Until you become accustomed to its ways, its hysterical scream (translation: "For God's sake, don't forget to put your gear down or we'll all be killed!") is enough to shock you into a tailspin.
     "What was that?" Mother asked interestedly. "Some sort of signal?"
     My heart thumping, I quieted the mechanism by pushing the throttle in a notch and explained somewhat incoherently that the sound was a warning—well, not a warning, exactly, nothing to get excited about, it was just a ‑ uh ‑ reminder so if we happened to be coming in for a landing instead of just slowing down—I hadn't meant to pull the throttle out quite that far, you see—well, the horn goes off to remind you that your gear is still up."
     "I see, dear," Mom said. "Someone pushes a button and the sound comes over the radio."
     "No, it has nothing to do with the radio, Mom. It goes on automatically."
     "Automatically!" she breathed, more impressed than she would have been had someone merely pushed a button. "Isn't that amazing!"
     As I made my approach to the airport, my passenger continued to chat and ask questions. I was too busy to tell her I was too busy to talk. "Gas, undercarriage, mixture, prop," I say to myself, rehearsing my gump check as I slow the plane. "Gas on full main tank, fuel pump on; undercarriage—light, handle; mixture, full right; prop, full low pitch. Watch your altitude."
     "How long does it take you and Ed to get to Martha's Vineyard?" Mom is inquiring.
     "Gump," I mutter. "Unhh—about half an hour."
     "And then does someone meet you or do you take the scooter?"
     "Someone meets us," I say, trying to locate the plane ahead of me, which had become invisible against a background of housetops. "You won't catch me on that scooter again.”
     My turn from base to final is hairpin shaped, but I’m still not lined up with the runway. Moreover, I’m on the high side. I consider going around again and making a more respectable looking pattern, but I’m afraid a sudden burst of power would startle my mother.
     "What time is Ed going to meet you, Babs?"
     Giving the rudder a kick, I jockey the plane to the left as if it were a balky horse and get myself lined up in the general direction of the stable. Runway. Darn that Bruce, if I know him, he’s out there somewhere watching my every move. He’s probably disowning me this very minute. "Mercy!" I can hear him saying. "That can't be one of my boys!"
     "I think he said 4:30," I say.
     Still too high, but I have plenty of runway ahead of me; what does it matter if we land in the middle? Save taxiing.
     "It's only 3:30 now," Mother says. "I'll wait with you until he gets here. I enjoy watching the planes taking off and it's so lovely and cool here. Gracious, wasn't it hot in Cohasset!"
     I raise my hand to the lever over my head and gave it a twist. Ah, that’s better, we’re slowing to 90 miles an hour.
     "Are you waving to someone, dear?"
     "No, Mom, I was adjusting the trim. I'm afraid my approach was pretty terrible." I work the rudders to keep the nose straight as we skim toward the pavement, “but at least the landing is going to be a good one."
     "Why, I think you're doing beautifully, darling!"
     Zip‑zip, left wheel, right wheel—a perfect crosswind landing. And where is my eagle‑eyed instructor now? Looking the other way, no doubt.
     "Thank you, dear, that was just lovely!" Mother says.
     "I'd give you about a seventy‑five on that one," Bruce drawls later.
     Oh well, my mom appreciates my talents even if no one else does. It was the same way at the piano recital when I was six.

April 4, 2012  And now it occurs to me half a century later how dear and brave it was of my mother to go aloft with me not long after Ed and I had both had plane accidents.

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