“Lawsa, Miz Morgan, dat chile is lahk a lambs-tail in fly time, dartin’ all ovah dat yahd!!” That was my beloved black nanny Dolly, patient and tender, who still lives in my heart. Love doesn’t know color, when you’re a child. She would shield me from sadness “Oh dat kitty jes’ gone to kitty town” when my pet died… She was goodness in a ruffled bonnet, a gentle soul in a combative world.
The blacks of my childhood had a language tapestry rich in expressions pale white folk talk couldn’t come close to. When my Texas great-grandmother’s housekeeper announced she was leaving her husband, a long-suffering man, a man the maid had sniffed at and pronounced “no-‘count” – Mamacita asked “Do you really want to do that, Sally?”
Sally responded, “Yes’m. I done packed my bag and packed my mind.” It doesn’t get clearer than that.
And maybe those early words “fly-time” echoed in my dreams as the years spun out. I can yet hear the faint zip-up sound of my daddy’s B4 bag in that predawn darkness, down the hallway. It was wartime, and he was quietly leaving us in the cozy warmth of our safe beds to ready himself and others for air-to-air combat, the fight to possible death for our cherished freedoms. That part was meaningless to me, a 4-year-old – But I understood about flying. My first words were “airplane” and “Hello world.” Each day before breakfast he would carry me from my bed to the window, point to the outdoors and call out “Hello world.” What a sweet way to learn, no?
He once took me down way off behind Wright Field’s flight line to see a friend who came in with a Flying Tiger, something the gown ups spoke of in hushed tones of respect, even awe. The plane and pilot’s presence seemed to be a secret Daddy was sharing with me. I stood rigid under the viciously painted nose and peered up at it. It was huge, ugly, and certainly evilly unfriendly – it was a sight made to terrify the enemy’s attack aircraft. I remember how I felt. Overwhelmed – and wary. So those lurid fangs at least terrified small children. Anyway, my dad was clearly crestfallen that his busy little tree-climber was made timid by that bloody shark – and by his friend. Daddy, of course, found it thrillingly magnificent. Funny – I still remember the young face of his pilot friend, oddly dressed in civvies. Years afterward I found out what heroes those volunteers of Claire Chennault’s had been.
The Flying Tigers, P-40s, were flown out of China where they were repaired as needed, manned by men mostly gleaned from the United States Army Air Corps. What ever was this one doing in Ohio? “Why” was never shared. But my father clearly wanted me to see it – and to remember. No other children were taken to that hidden place tucked in behind other parked airplanes, on the backside of the hangars. I was told not to mention it. My mother had not wanted him to show me, and she also told me not to speak of it.
So I didn’t.