|June 26, 2006
Growing up in West Virginia
It's a really neat thing to
spend your life living where you grew up. One reason this is
true is, you are constantly seeing things around you that remind
you of earlier times in your life. The other day something I saw
reminded me of my early fascination with things that flew. As I
thought of how I was then, I wondered if there could exist in
our modern world, a child with the intensity of yearning for the
sky that I had when I was young. I recall a passion for the air
that I can only describe as blood lust for the sky and the
machines that went there. I was wild to see an airplane on the
ground; one I could touch and look inside and inspect from all
angles as I walked around it..
such a thing was impossible, because I lived far out in the
country with no way to visit an airport and get close to an
airplane. I remember that my young dreams frequently starred
airplanes that had crashed near my home. Far from being
ghoulish, these dreams featured no broken people or bloody
pilots, but rather they were about airplanes that had simply
come to earth, seemingly with no people involved. Later I
realized my subconscious mind knew that if I was going to get
close to an airplane, this was the only way it could happen.
I grew up (and still live) in the small West Virginia
village of Arden, perched on the banks of the rushing Tygart
River, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. At the
time I write about, the big war was recently over and the young
men had come home to start families and get on with their lives.
Arden had a post office, four general stores, a church and two
schools and was located 9 miles from the nearest community that
could be called a town. West Arden School, where I matriculated,
was a one-room affair in the west shore of the river and East
Arden was a two-room facility on opposite bank.
school was located on a steep hill that ended on the banks of
the river, with only enough level area for the dirt road that
led up the river to where I lived, about a quarter mile away.
The hill containing the school, afforded a great recess and noon
time launching area for the paper airplanes that I and my best
buddy Murphy turned out by the dozens, and I still remember in
detail some of the most outstanding flights we had. What I saw,
as they rose and dove in the air currents and made their way
down the slope of the hill, was not a paper toy, but somehow the
real thing with myself inside it
Most of the men
living in the village farmed or worked in the mines, and it
seems to me now that the pace of life then was measured and
slow, and that there was lots of time for front porch visiting
and the school socials we all enjoyed.
raised a huge garden and shopped in a nearby town for staples
only monthly, by catching a ride with a neighbor. We had pigs,
chickens and cows and our table was always filled with delicious
things to eat, which I took for granted then and which I dream
about now. We lived in a big farm house that my Grandfather
bought at the end of the First War, and it was rambling and
comfortable and heated with coal stoves. By the time fall
arrived each year, the cellar and meat house were filled with
almost everything we needed to get through to the next growing
season, and we felt secure and provided for.
be difficult for today's child to imagine the world of that
time. Although we had everything we needed to live and be
comfortable, there was an almost complete lack of anything
beyond that, and our isolation from anything outside our village
was nearly total. Since the world of flight existed only
occasionally, high over my head and out of reach, there was no
way I could connect with it. There was no television or
telephones and almost no travel for us, since our family had no
automobile. There was also no library in our village, so my
entire access to the world of aviation was limited to an
occasional flying story told by one of the neighbor lads who was
learning to fly on the GI Bill, or a dog-eared 'Flying'
magazine, handed down to me by one of the same young men.
this lack of access to the very thing that I wanted with all my
heart, served not to discourage my passion but to feed it, by
dangling tantalizing out of reach, the magical world of flight.
Today, life for the average American child bears
little resemblance to that idyllic time. Instant and complete
communication with the rest of the world, via internet and
television has removed the veils of mystery from almost any
subject that a youngster could be interested in. The average
family's ability to move about the country or even the globe,
gives today's young people the opportunity to be jaded travelers
by the age of six. The family car enables an immediate drive by
Dad or Mom to the local airport, should their child show an
interest in aviation, and most family budgets could easily
spring for an airplane ride for the fledgling aviator, should he
ask for one.
I finally connected with the world of flight many years later,
my pent-up enthusiasm served me well. I loved it just as much as
I thought I would as a child, and I've been able make a living
doing what I love best in the world for most of my life. I've
never taken the gift of flight for granted, and even after so
many years and many thousands of flight hours, I still feel an
inexpressible thrill at each takeoff. At the instant my
aircraft's wheels leave the earth and I'm magically borne on the
invisible air, I know again that my childhood dream came true.