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Most Recent

First Flight

June 2, 2014

First Flight

Once when I was little and played on the hill,
One wondrous evening, I dream of it still-
Mom called me to dinner, impatient, I knew-
So I lifted my arms up and flapped them and flew.

I lifted my arms up and flapped them, and lo!
I was flying as fast as my short legs could go.
The hill swirled beneath me, all foggy and green;
I lit by the yard fence, and no one had seen.

I told them at dinner, I said, "I can fly."
They laughed, not believing. I started to cry
And ran from the table, and sobbed, "It is true-
You need not believe me; I flapped and I flew."

I told them next morning, I told them again-
For years I kept telling; they laughed and I ran-
No one would believe me; I ceased then to tell;
But still I remember, remember it well-

One soft summer evening up there on the knoll,
Before life had harried the reach of my soul,
I stood there in twilight, in childlight, and dew-
And I lifted my arms up and flapped them and flew!

This was written by Southern author and poet Louise McNeil, West Virginia's Poet Laureate for many years. It was written late in her life and while she was never a pilot or even so far as I know a passenger in a small airplane, she speaks eloquently of the yearning that lives in the breast of all humans, to defy gravity and soar above the earth. In the volumes of work that she accomplished in her life and the several books that she had published, this was the only poem or story that had flying as its theme. She wrote about the people and the land of West Virginia. She described the mountains and the rivers and the characters of the Appalachian Mountains who inhabited them and she made them come alive as few authors have. But it was her 'First Flight' that gave me a deep kinship with this woman, because I too had my first flight at about the same age as her childhood persona. My flight didn't end so well, however.

If you are to understand this tale I must start at the very beginning and tell you about Sue Proudfoot, since she was the cause of it. It was her fault.

It began the fall the big War ended, while life was beginning to return to normal as the veterans came home and picked up their lives. The mood was upbeat and Americans were anxious to move on. Where we lived in Central West Virginia the West Arden School, perched high on the side of a hill above the Tygart River, had started its school year with a record enrolment and a first grade class numbering about twelve. I was a part of this class, along with my best buddy Murphy whom I had known for all of the life that I could remember.

Fate had decreed that also in this class was the girl that was destined to be my first love and subsequently cause my first broken heart. In fact I fell in love with her the first day, at the very moment she came through the door of our one room school. I should say at the moment she flounced into the room, with the golden tresses that her mother had doubtlessly curled that morning framing a perfect face that held the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. I was so done with school. I wanted to get married.

Unfortunately, I was doomed to learn about love triangles before I learned addition and subtraction. Alas, my love had eyes only for Murphy, who for some strange reason hated girls and steadfastly ignored them. So there we were, with Sue staring moodily at Murphy, me staring longingly at Sue and Murphy staring grumpily at me and wondering why I couldn't concentrate on making paper airplanes to fly at recess.

At recess Sue would gravitate to wherever Murphy was playing, and in the meantime I had apparently become invisible, since nothing I did could divert her attention from Murphy.

One day though, after being rudely rebuffed yet again by Murphy, Sue in desperation turned her attention to me. Perhaps she thought I could get her an appointment for a conversation with him. But the reason didn't matter, because for once I had her attention and I wasn't going to waste it. Frantically I groped around in my cluttered mind for something that would make me interesting to her. "I CAN FLY!" I heard myself blurt.

Where the heck did that come from I thought? It had worked though, I definitely had Sue's attention, albeit her very dubious attention. 'What do you mean you can fly?' was her skeptical response. Well, I wasn't sure, because my synapses were firing faster than I could keep track of, but I heard myself answer that I had a cape at home with Super Man flight capabilities, and that I put it on every night when I got home from school and flew around the yard. I was astounded. Was this really me saying this stuff?

The blue eyes bored into mine. "Prove it", she said. "Bring it to school tomorrow and show me".

"Mom" I said, "I need a cape". I described the cape that would need to look as much as possible like the one Superman wore and she asked me if we were having a play at school. 'Uh Huh' I said, while crossing my fingers.

I remember walking the quarter mile to school the next morning carrying Mom's creation in a brown paper sack. It was a proper cape sure enough, but made of a turquoise material which was probably an old curtain, and I recall it fastened around my neck with a brown shoelace.

At school I quickly stuffed the bag in my desk before anyone could ask me what was in it, but the rumor had already gone viral. All over the room you could hear grades one through eight hissing at each other, "hey, Weaver's gonna fly at recess". Our teacher Miss Stewart restored order, but she had apparently broken the code and knew what was scheduled to happen at 10:30, because I remember a lingering and somewhat amused appraisal from her unlike any she had given me before. In fact I wasn't sure she had even noticed me before.

The morning's lessons droned on while my mind buzzed with the important issues of the upcoming flight. On takeoff I had to hold my hands just so. Had anyone besides Superman ever done this I wondered? I hadn't heard about it if they did. The cape was made right, so it should work, shouldn't it? Should I just go once around the school or maybe out over the river and back? I wondered why more people didn't do this. I hoped I could do a stand up landing the way Superman did it. The teacher dinged the little bell she kept on her desk. It was recess.

During an ordinary recess the school broke up into little cliques of playing children. The sexes and the grades all had different interests and they scattered as they came through the door, but not this time. Lacking only lighted torches to resemble a lynch mob, the school was united in watching Arden's first airshow, and perhaps too they also smelled blood just a bit. Miss Stewart who normally stayed at her desk at recess followed the students outside and everyone clustered by the 'runway'.

I was counting on the very steep hill that the school was on to give me the needed performance boost to becoming airborne. In addition, the spot beside the school where the ashes from the pot bellied coal stove had been dumped over the years had grown into a sort of ramp, somewhat resembling a short ski jump, and I had calculated that this would add to the slope of the hill and hence my momentum.

Poised at the top of the ash dump, I reached into my brown paper bag and pulled out the cape. My finest moment of the whole affair came when Sue Proudfoot, sensing her chance to be part of history and doubtlessly filled with responsibility as the promoter of this spectacle, stepped forward and tied the brown shoe string around my neck. At that instant I felt that I'd been paid in advance for anything that might happen to me.

A few years ago I was visiting with my old buddy Murphy, and I asked him if he remembered the day I flew. He smiled and said "You know Weaver, there for a second I thought you'd done it."

There for a second I did too. I held back nothing, and once I was horizontal I did fly, hands outstretched properly to break the air. This lasted until I caught up with the slope of the ash dump, and then it was like the country song says, 'its funny how falling feels like flying…. for a little while'.

If there was ever another occasion when more laughter ascended to the heavens from the West Arden schoolyard I don't know when it was. I do remember one particular laugh that rang above the juvenile glee though, as I was trying to unwrap myself from the failed cape. It was the only time I ever heard Miss Stewart belly laugh.

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Steve Weaver Aircraft Sales - Route 3 Box 696 - Phillipi, West Virginia - Phone 304-457-4523 - Fax 304-457-4799 For a restorative vacation for both your body and your soul, consider a week on the banks of the unforgettable Tygart River, in the heart of West Virginia. Click for more.

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