We were cruising south over the eastern coastline, leaving bouncy fair weather in New England, merging with a system of low ceilings over Virginia and North Carolina. Massively wonderful tailwinds scooted us rapidly over the huge distance of the barrier beaches. Well, in our Cessna 182 the push was massive. It’s not a very swift plane. We were flying a window in the bad weather forecast, eyes on passing airports – just in case.
Each year on Dec 17th, the anniversary of First Flight, the day in 1903 that the Wright Brothers made their historic virgin flight on that desolate beach, the First Flight Society puts together a superb event. The tongue-in-cheek “Man Will Never Fly” Society holds a dinner of comedy speeches and great joviality, the night before. The motto embroidered on their badge says “Birds Fly, Men Drink,” a rousingly funny apothegm… the first time you hear it. Well – we still like it, even if it’s a little tired.
Manteo is the preferred arrival airport, a short hop over to Kill Devil Hills – we had tracked the ADF for surest guidance since we were getting into snockely mist, doing the IFR approach. But no dramas – the airport materialized through decent visibility. Some of our Aero Club group had scrapped the trip, sure that the weather wouldn’t work. Our morning research forecasted better. We patted ourselves on the back, pleased that all the plan B airstrips had disappeared behind us. A cheerful line guy greeted us and helped with parking. He was having a busy day, but we got a slot.
Nearby beach motels perch on dunes, peering at the Atlantic over a large protective ridge of sand. The sea would encroach if it could – sometimes it does. In the hot Carolina summer the warm sands are crawling with kids and distracted parents. Being December now, it was off-season with lovely empty beaches.
But that night it poured chilly rain, making for lively puddle-hopping in and out of our banquet building. An event where the main speaker was from Australia, touting the aerodynamics of the boomerang, with balsa handouts for the crowd to hurl. Stand-up humor had us wiping tears of laughter – a comedienne popular on dinner circuits and wife of one of the pilots. The farthest distance fly-in (Alaska) got a rousing cheer from the room, and a plaque. (Our trek from Massachusetts didn’t even make the finals.) People flew in from Canada, Mexico – everywhere.
The buffet food was… ho-hum blah. Who cared?
The next day dawned clear and bright. Good thing, because a kettle of us hawks intended to circle the Landing Place in our planes, before landing and going through the history museum of information and displays. Did you know that for the small population who lived along that coast, that gangly contraption of the Wright’s was the first ever motor vehicle they had ever even seen? No cars, down there. They saw an airplane before a car.
The festivities continued, a gathering of aviation aficionados filling bleachers, waiting to see, and possibly meet, modern icons of aviation. They came to make a few short speeches, take a bow, and mix with the crowd. And show off new inventions.
It’s such an American thing – not exotic or foreign, not hot-spice show biz. But it’s wonderful. Oh – they drive in, too. It’s a pilgrimage, a worthy trek of the faithful, the devotees of aviation. Or just the admirers. If it’s not on your to-do list, it could be.
You would never regret it.
The young dragon lady looked up officiously, coolly – challengingly? – from her seat of authority. “You will have to bring your bags in here to have them inspected,” she haughtily pronounced.
“Of course,” I smilingly responded. “We have six bags – I will need a worker and a cart to do that.” She glared at me. Her superior, a good-looking mustached man, thick eyebrows and pleasant face, tapped her shoulder and bent down to speak to her, quietly. She looked up and quite melted, even cowering a bit. He turned to us… “You may push the traffic light button over there on the post,” he said, “and if the light is green you may pass through.” I laughed and exclaimed… “It’s a lottery!” I chirped gaily, smiling at him. I like to weave a pleasant tapestry with the Mexicans – they have a wonderful sense of humor and gaiety. “Yes! Exactly!” he exclaimed, and we all crossed our fingers as I timidly reached to push that button. “Yay!” I sang out, as it shone a lovely steady green. And we all clapped. (I think he might have rigged it.)
Always brings a bit of angst, flying into a Mexican border crossing. The language, the paperwork… You better have your papers in order – you can never know for sure, what to expect. Rigid adherence and exaggerated insistence on fine details (your insurance form is almost out of date…)? Or a laissez-faire attitude. It will depend on the heat, the numbers crossing, the mood. The officials are usually courteous and amiable, even helpful. But don’t let that fool you. They take their work very seriously. Often one must process through five desks with five officials – officials that staff their posts with helpful but no-nonsense attitudes (each desk often tiresomely found in different buildings) .
The Mexican government is a huge employer of the Mexicans. In the USA, airports are arranged for the convenience of its pilots – their customers. In Mexico – all is arranged for the convenience of the employee – a shock to the US pilot. And the government, being the government, has an innate passion for paperwork, and whoops it up with rules and paper stamping. The Mexicans love to stamp papers. You’re not important unless you are the wielder of a rubber stamp. Thud, slap, thud, slap, thud, slap… uh-oh you missed a desk? Go back to that other building, find it, get that paper stamped by that other official. One of those fine, tiresome details. Quixotically, things change randomly. For the workers, that can be a huffy ego thing. Having been blind-sided by a rule change, they must pretend to know what’s correct. For the pilot, it’s exasperating.
And oh, yes, they do indeed use a pseudo traffic light to decide if you get inspected or not! Press a button – red means unload and open the bags, green means you get a pass. Everyone hopes for green, even the wokers. Nobody likes hoisting and dragging in the heat. I was mighty glad to have passed.
BROTHER MATTHEW FLIES AGAIN
The Abbey rose among the swelling green hills of central Massachusetts, a handsome sprawling stone compound echoing medieval Europe, a beautifully mystical place of monks chanting in the dimly lit chapel their morning lauds and matins, the afternoon none, evening vespers. There were also tolling bells calling contemplatives to prayers, ringing sweetly out through the halls and over the walls. Lay people were invited to attend these chanted prayers, and come they did – sitting silently in a chamber off to the side of the Abbey chapel. The Abbey itself was off-limits to the public. Think Mont Saint Michel, and you wouldn’t be far off.
Matt was a monk, a Benedictine brother. I met him at the Abbey’s store when I was browsing through their delicious Trappist jams and jellies, goodies they simmered up in huge vats in their great kitchens, items to sell to support themselves – my favorite, a strawberry-rhubarb walnut delight. (Today, they also produce a top-notch beer made in the manner of their oldest traditions.) Also, I was searching for a reader-friendly book on meditation. He was a kindly fellow who worked doing errands and maintenance for the plant – yes, a plant, this very large Abbey.
The brothers and fathers were members of a contemplative order that maintains silence for a good part of the day, a part dedicated to prayer and meditation – hours when our brother went off in a truck on errands – first shedding his monk’s robe for workman’s blue jeans and shirt. Brother Matthew, interestingly enough, had been introduced to the heavens on an earthly plane – literally. He’d taken flying lessons when he was a teenager, and had never gotten over it. Personally, I saw no reason he should have gotten over it. This predilection, however, stood in the way of a priesthood for Matthew – he had earthly attachments he couldn’t give up, at least not in his heart. In practicality he had. But as you know, to dedicate one’s life to the priesthood, the heart and mind must be free and ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit – not taken up by any aching for man’s heaven with wings.
Through conversations – mostly irritating ones about how I should dump the jam, eat only small portions of fruit and raw vegetables, and not drink water while eating (a cultish point of view that quite put me off) he divined that I was a glider tow pilot at an airport not far from his supply route. And so he showed up, during the Fathers’ hours of silence, while out scouring for Abbey supplies. One day he rolled up in the pickup – and hel-looo… there he was. “Was he looking for a ride?” you ask. Danged straight he was, and into the back of the tow plane he hopped at my grinned invitation. Wiry guy, rank with whiffy BO from sweaty labors, he clambered in. And so began a friendship that lasted for years, years of cheerful flights (my talisman?) and occasional stop-offs at our house. Usually for a drink of water. Remember, his mantra was “No water with food,” and so he got thirsty.
When he could spring loose, Brother Matthew came to our Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners. He wisely learned to leave me alone about the strawberry rhubarb jam – for me, a staple to any feast.
And water with food.
Do I fly over, under, or around…???
That morning had dawned “severe clear,” right up to Flight Level God. We were happily, confidently, on our way from Alamos to Tucson. But suddenly it wasn’t so clear any more. We had drawn out the departure – and now up the road, things were “building.”
Our usual airport departure routine: underwing prayers with the charismatic preacher-airport-manager, then climb in and lift off. It was splendid weather. We waved adios to our helper hombres from home. A half hour later we slipped into Cd. Obregon to document departing the country. It was such tiresome government paperwork.
An hour after that, we were two-thirds of the way to Tucson, beyond the point of no return.
As forecasted, pretty piles of cumulo-nimbus were popping up ahead, hints and promises of storms on a grand scale. So far they seemed innocuous – but we had to get beyond them before that changed. Still nothing on the “fright finder” – the sensor on the panel that registers data on electrical storms up to 200 miles ahead. But this was the monsoon season, and we knew it was only time before they soared high to burst their crackling fury.
I had planned to stay the course, deviating just a bit to go between build-ups, and proceed directly to ARVEY intersection, on route to TUS. My favorite cockpit mate, said “Hmmm, why don’t you just go below those, you’ll be able to see the mountains – the highest is only 5500’ in this sector.” I mused, decided no, it would be bumpy underneath. But the impatient suggestions kept coming to “Just go below.” Those played with my head.
So I pulled on the speed brakes, added some flaps, took off some power – and started down. Then I waffled, thinking better of it. On with the power and up with the air brakes, leveling off. Let’s just stay at this altitude, I muttered. But the clouds were piling higher and thicker. Nuts.
Into the descent profile again. Nose down, power back, flaps to angle the forward view better – and speed brakes going up on top of the inner wing, spoiling a bit of lift and slowing us down.
I was being a danged yo-yo, I muttered to myself. Stupid.
And down, and down, and down…. still not below the ceiling. Ooof. This was not working out.
Peering through the windscreen, I noted large purplish shadows hiding sharp lumpy ridges – and serious rain billowing down from slate-bottomed cloud bases. Thick, mean, curtains of rain. Nope – not going under there. So much for suggestions. But sometimes you don’t know till you take a look.
A course change.
Looking off to the west, I could see my way clear to a run up the valley to Nogales. Cranking ninety degrees left, off we shot westward. Once around the buildups on a mere ten-mile jog, a sharp right turn around that menacing pile of energy put us back on course.
A jagged bolt ripped cloud to ground, off to our left. Immediately off the right wing appeared the deep misty blue of heavy rain. A lovely grand thunderstorm; the one we had just circumnavigated while it was building – it had grown fast. Those can blossom upwards by thousands of feet per minute, and this one had. Ok, not lovely. Frightening.
By now I’m with Tucson approach, who is advising us of bad weather. We said oh we knew, cells were in sight – but from where we were, we practically could see him through good visibility. Just bad in the cells. The smile was in his voice when he asked “What are your observations, zero-five-alpha?” I reported cloud bases at 8,000’ and dropping, and where there was precipitation, zero visibility. He cleared me down to 4’000 direct to the airport. Soon we were on the ground taxiing to customs – and scampering into the office before the rain came.
But it was a drenching that didn’t come. That one stayed in the foothills. Later on came monsoon misery to poor Tucson, with microbursts and floods. There are days when you’re glad to be on the ground inside something strong. And your wings nicely hangared.
MVY pre AIR FORCE ONE
For years and years I logged flights into the Island, first in a little two-seater as a young mother in the 1970s, our baby battened down in the netting behind us. Coming to the Vineyard was always to visit Granny and Grandfather in Chilmark, in their hillside summer place “Quail Hill,” named for the neighborhood’s melodic birdcalls. It was idyllic (if isolated) looking out over the peaceful Elizabeth Islands. Hal and I watched the airport change from a small open facility set about with aging wartime barracks and free automobile parking, to one of hurricane fences, a fancy terminal building, and high security. In the old days, there wasn’t much in the way of air service to Martha’s Vineyard – a seaplane from New Bedford flown by pilot Gingras was one of the interesting options. Also Provincetown-Boston’s DC-3s… And eventually Air Force One made its inroads, closing the airport whenever it showed up – and irritating every pilot on the island.
Now there are many scheduled airlines to bring in vacationers – the rich and famous mostly come in their own jets – and lovely hangars have burgeoned to keep the higher priced aircraft out of the elements. In the old days the illuminati snuck in to keep a quiet, happy low profile, their escape away from the world of adulation – there used to be bumper stickers that said something like “Slow down, you’re not on the mainland any more.” Well, they’ve dumped those – now MV is practically a suburb of NYC, and traffic jams during the Season are nasty. The days of free car-parking near the tie-down and keeping it there for the winter are gone – we’d fly in, grab bags, step over the low fence to our old car while crossing fingers that the battery had held up – and head to town for a lobster roll, two for us and two for the elders. It was a tradition.
Now the elders are gone, as well as the easy parking. No more old car tires oozing life and gluing themselves to the ground, wheels rusting into place and needing a shove to snap loose. No more country mice wintering in the engine. Well – you can do still that, but not close to your plane. Facilities have grown, those hangars have popped up, and like any other nice thing, it grew to accommodate tourism. And year-round residents. There used to be a small handful of those – but with the advent of electronic connections, people can work anywhere in the world. Including on Martha’s Vineyard. I remember when the coffee shop was a mere lunch counter – now it’s a restaurant with a chef. Sort of.
The Tower controller is still friendly, and still tries to get you in before the fog covers more than half the airport. There have been summers when days and days passed without anyone being able to fly in, and ferry boats were filled to capacity. Getting a car onto the ferry has always been a struggle – reservations a must – so the private plane always seemed a perfect solution.
Perfect – except for the lovely, soft blinding fogs, turning roads and runways into mysteries. The closest I ever came to having to turn around and go back was finding the approach lights blur into sight just at the minimum descent altitude of 200’. Approaches to the runways are flat clear of obstacles; no matter how tempting, do not go below the minimum. You need to see the “runway environment” – the rule. The lights are environment. The safe arrival mark. And that night, all was clear under the deck.
In time, the children grew up, and the elders went up – to the Other Side. We fatigued of the noisome crowds, got too creaky to hike in traffic (old days had quiet country roads) so we left. It seemed to us that the halcyon Vineyard we loved had morphed into a terribly chic place where celebrities, home-grown and international, gathered to share their own light with each other. So, we left, so glad we had known it “Back When.” When it was a tranquil home to Islanders. Real Islanders.
The quail vanished from Quail Hill. Those summer homes built to capture that view? Houses that espoused the landscaping trend from thistle-and-beach-plum natural to suburban-style lawn landscaping – had no doubt pushed them out.
But the Vineyard life-style is super – quaint towns, great restaurants, beautiful gardens, eye-popping roadside organic vegetable markets, artists galleries, concerts – it’s all good. A beautiful Island of live and let live.
RIP, old Quail Hill.
On the wide South Australian desert horizon, flat and vague, slowly appeared low undulating mounds. Nothing spectacular – but the nearer we got, some appeared strangely, smoothly, cone-shaped. Mysterious piles like giant anthills – but not. As we descended to land, we saw that these regularly spaced cones had a black hole in the middle, just like an anthill. Coober Pedy was a mining town, and darned if they weren’t tailings.
Tailings? Tailings from coal mines we’d seen… discards from underground excavations. Huge hills of black. But these were tiny, whitish, and surreal. Like ants, workers digging below ground had hoisted the earth out and up a shaft to the surface, where each shovelful made an ever-growing, symmetrical hill. Our curiosity was hugely piqued… We peered with interest at the rough edges of this mining town as we circled over it.
Since back in 1915, when as they were out walking an explorer and his boy spotted colorful rocks gleaming in the sun, Coober Pedy has been the home of the world’s best supply of opals. Opals are splendid gemstones containing a wee but critical percentage of water – gems of shimmering rainbows, so fragile they don’t last very well. You mustn’t let them dry out, or they’ll crack and splinter, fade and lose their beautiful color.
I wanted one.
Whirring our wheels down onto the hot macadam, we taxied to parking, there scooped up by our hotel rep. Oh, the famous underground hotel. The desert heat of Coober Pedy was hell-fire hot, but folks had long since figured out a way to beat that – they burrowed like rabbits beneath the surface, making cozy, earth-cooled homes. (Soldiers returning from war to work, back in 1916, brought the concept of dugouts to the new town, which morphed into underground living.) There was even a lovely below ground chapel for Sunday worshipping. And similarly, in time, they had carved out a terrific cavern of a hotel, full of handsome wandering tunnels chiseled out of rock, leading to cool well-appointed cave bedrooms. Sometimes, if you squinted closely, you could spy a speck of opal in a tunnel wall.
Ah, opals. To find them one had to stroll about town (yes, there were buildings on the surface with a grid of streets) checking out opal salons, following signs touting bargains of finest quality gems. But walking about “on top” outside the main drag with cameras to the ready, tourist-like, poking around the curious mounds – was vehemently discouraged. There were abandoned holes, de facto traps for the unwary. We had a guide; we did the right things. No traps for us. (Except for our wallets.)
We happened to be in this unique desert town on ANZAC Day… as important a day to the Australians and their war veterans as our Memorial Day is to us Americans. ANZAC. The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, those who fought in the horrendous bloody battle of Gallipoli. We watched from a shady restaurant porch as a wiry little handful of aged soldiers strode in the morning down the middle of the street, proudly marching to a brass band. It was so poignant. The straggling little parade evoked the universally felt pain and compassion for the failures of the human race to be peaceful. And an ache for the wreckage of lives brought by this failing.
In later years a song was written about this 1915 battle, called “And the Band Played Waltzin’ Matilda.” Please find it on YouTube, and listen. It is powerful.
It was an interesting stopover, with the chance to purchase the coveted opal. Got one, love it, never wear it. Afraid of its drying out. Bah. Such is a woman’s life.
So. I signed up for flying lessons, got an instructor (old cigarette-breath baggy-eyes), and eventually struck a neat deal with the flight school. They had a “discount club” that got you scrip to use for payments, instead of real money. All were encouraged to join. $80 bought $100 in scrip; play money, we called it. The guys who’d been around a while pointed out to me that when the bills were due for the company – once a month – the boss would do anything to get more cash – including giving “club members” a better scrip swap for dollars. Naturally we waited till the moment when he was scampering desperately down the back stairs to avoid creditors coming up the front ones – and there snagged him for a better deal. I got 100 scrip for 50 real. Not bad.
This company CEO was a round, bowling-pin -shaped fellow. Short, with feet that pointed outward like a penguin, and wore coke bottle thick glasses. Those enlarged his eyeballs like bulbous fish eyes. But they also enabled him to fly, with a waiver. He could settle a plane on the runway just like thistledown. Not seeing well, he did it like this… First he slowly descended almost to the end of the runway, just a 100 hundred feet up so he could see the big runway numbers, then fully extended the flaps and slowed the plane to a walk – and peering out over the panel he cut the power, sank gently to the concrete – and tip-toed it on. I can still see him leaning forward, pointing his nose with those thick glasses on them, to see through the windscreen and down onto the runway.
Penguin had high ambitions about a large flight school and charter business. To this end he had rounded up 12 aircraft, mostly single engine for training, most on lease-back (“buy this Cessna, Donnie – lease it back to me to use, and you can pay for it with the income from rental and lessons! Just put it on our flight line… Fly it whenever you want!”) – and thus he had a bunch parked behind the maintenance hangars. Apparently he overextended himself with promises, believing rentals and training would indeed pay their bills. That was Cessna’s leaseback sales mantra, and he believed. And they might have – had the aircraft continued to be airworthy. You know – a workable set of wings, usable propeller, nice upright tail. Well, in his eagerness, he took his eye off the ball. He gave orders for tie-downs – but he neglected to make sure that happened.
There is a reason to tie down an airplane. A strong wind, all by itself, will lift it right up – and not nicely. When disaster came, five were merely set with parking brakes, awaiting the ropes. You know how workers can be… You have to remind them, maybe be on their case. The Penguin wasn’t. He liked to analyze, give orders, sit back – and wheel and deal. It was summer, there were storms. One afternoon while he was leaning back in his office chair, ear to the phone with his mind on his dreams, a shocker of a squall line suddenly whapped through with 80-mph winds punching over everything upright. Buildings shuddered, people grabbed supports, cars wobbled.
From way off you could see it coming, the black clouds ferociously bucking in, with serious force. But he hadn’t been looking out of the window. Behind the hangars, those loose airplanes got flipped into total ruins. Baggy-eyes and I looked at the sad aftermath and clucked. What would he use for a trainer? That scrip was going to be useless. Poor Penguin.
An old wheeze from the field: “How to make a small fortune in aviation? Start with a big one.”
When people speak in awe of the vastness of the universe, of how the billions upon billions of stars, galaxies, and perhaps even other universes – make them feel insignificant – a mere speck in the cosmos – a nano-speck, if you will – I nod dumbly and say “right.” But that doesn’t mean that I myself feel that way. I feel like me, plain old me, and not a mere speck. I feel like a hot-blooded carnivore on a corrosive, interesting, beautiful planet, glad to be here most of the time and hoping we don’t all blow each other up any time soon. A member of an assertive, pugnacious species that often cannot get out of its own way. But I do not feel awed into oblivion by the size of the universe. It truly is awesome – but it’s supposed to be that size, and I’m supposed to be my size. QED. And God? Whatever he/she/it is – I have experienced his proddings, his guidance, his Mind tsk-tsk-ing my actions – usually too late for me to do anything about it. Because I had not been listening. You have to listen. You have been equipped by the Creator, God, Allah, the Force – take your pick – with an inner guidance system tuned to Its frequency. The inner voice, the quiet still voice in our head. Conscience. Instinct. We just don’t pay attention to it. We choose to be deafened by desires, by greed…by evil? You can name it. There are none so blind as the willfully blind. You will yourself not to hear, not to believe. It would be too hard, too inconvenient, to believe in the nudgings from common sense, from logic. Those messages perhaps sent from the Cosmos. We are lazy, we are foolish. We are assuredly selfish.
But we are not specks.
copyright 2015, Michelee Morgan Cabot
It’s just too easy to roll back the years, and be there. I’m back to eight years old. The images are strong – I’m there, digging my toes in the dirt and stirring it until it becomes a fine powder at least 8 inches deep, thus violating the rule to always wear shoes. That was to protect against whatever parasites were lurking in the loam. Ha. Although my shoes were a little girl’s dream, wooden platforms with banana trees carved and painted on the side, pale green straps criss-crossing over the toes – I was a barefoot kid. But I adored them, for they were, in fact – high heels. I mastered them instantly, being only eight years old and thrilled to the bone. They were just my size… Filipinos were a small people. We got them in the local town of Tarlac near our military post.
It was in Tarlac that I learned humility. It was an epiphany – a pivotal moment in my life. Mother and I were shopping with her friends. A crowd of natives gathered to stare at us Americans, following us closely as we moved about. I was the first white child, and blonde to boot, that most had ever seen. I was a curiosity to be examined. Watched. I preened, I held my head high, I walked with dignity. I pictured myself a princess, above them all, in my own mind. I stayed close to my mother through the clothes market, peering at and examining clothes, acting interested and, I thought, oh so very grown up. I walked proudly in my shoes.
Then we wanted to cross the street. Cars were non-existent, except for the jeep that had brought us. The village was dirt roads and dirt-floored stores, the occasional wooden walkway mocked up in the aisles, and outside here and there to pass over deep mud puddles. Dogs trailed, chickens scattered, children peered, adults stared. I felt very superior in this sea of black hair and black eyes. The crowd parted for us to cross to another store. I lifted my head the way I thought a princess should, like out of one of my fairy tale books, nose up – not deigning to look down in front of me. A princess wouldn’t look down. And guess what… OH yessss…. There was a banana peel. SO classic. Whoop! Thud! – up my feet flew – and down I went. Big ouch!!! I dared not show pain, anything. I, the princess, had to carry this off, thought I to myself. Get up and smile, brush myself off. I did. Nobody smiled. They just stared.
I learned humility. My pride had shriveled. But my shoes had stayed on.
We were going home – to a home we didn’t know yet. What would it be like, on the other side of the world?
Behind a giant V-spray of water, for 21 days our MATS transport ship muscled the sea out of its way, leaving behind spouting whales – and sometimes, escorting flocks of flying fish. Finally, finally it settled into a thrumming drift towards the Manila dock. Arriving at the pier, impatient dependents crammed against the railing, calling out to joyful fathers and husbands. The dock below was a mass of men with grinning faces and waving arms. We excitedly spotted who we belonged to, pushed down the gangplank, did fierce whirling hugs – and then agonizingly waited to be processed. Stuff had to be offloaded from the cargo, slowly swinging on hooks and ropes.
That done, a government car picked us up and hauled us away to distant Clark Field. It was full dark by the time we got there. The road had been full of bumps and mysterious shadows, headlights briefly illuminating… something. I could see nothing outside. We eventually passed through Clark Field’s tall gates – formerly Fort Stotsenburg– a prewar post my mother had always spoken of in reverential tones. We pulled up to the commanding officer’s mansion. Here we would spend a few days until we traveled on to Daddy’s post. And new home. Plantation-style, these Clark Field commander’s quarters were grand. Second floor bedrooms had screened balconies and wide porches. Downstairs, too. Inside, the floors gleamed with overlapping circular patterns of wax. How fancy, I thought. How did they do that?
How? The next day I saw how – barefoot house boys swooped around on coconut halves, bending and skating in sweeping circles to bring back glow and shine, scuffed up by footfalls. Boy-powered waxing/buffing machines! Intrigued, my eyes followed their graceful moves, sometimes with a candle stub grinding under the coconut against the floor. “Missy do?” They grinned. “Oweeee!” I yipped… the hard coconut cups hurt my feet. I toppled off, giggling. As I walked around, my bare soles picked up a stiff layer of wax. (Shoes did too.) But the floors gleamed richly, in this commander’s showplace. Candle wax subbed for floor wax. We were in a land of make-do. Mama whispered “Yankee ingenuity.” “Mommy,” I said – “looks like Filipino ingenuity.” She sniffed.
Was our house going to be grand – like this? “No, no, buttercup…” said my daddy. “Our house is nice, but not a mansion. But it’s built on a concrete pad… You can even roller skate in it!” Oh boy – I could settle for that. Our new home would be just the best.