In her mind’s eye, Mother is on the back porch of the small house in Cedar Bluff, looking west at the evening, at the cornfield spreading like a hand from the back yard, at Dad’s landing strip, which traverses the field as a tendon from wrist to middle finger. Mother has finished the dinner dishes and her body is completely still but for her hands. Her face is placid; her lips are calm; she stands without leaning or shifting. She is drying her hands on her apron but she is also wringing the soft, worn, yellow-flowered fabric. Margaret is not afraid to go wrap her arms around Mother’s legs or to slip under those hands, yet still she watches instead of going to her. The sun is setting. Yellow light pours over the top of the cornstalks, pooling in the front yard and streaming through the white latticework beneath the porch. It is summer, always summer in this image, and the crickets have started but the combines and tractors and Dad’s plane are at rest. The radio is on somewhere inside the house; Dad and John are listening to the baseball game.
Alternately, Margaret thinks of bedtime and being tucked in. She’ll say, “Tell me something while I close my eyes” and Mother, with her smooth, soap-smelling hands pushes the hair off the child’s forehead. She begins, “Once upon a time airplane wings were completely flat.” And when it’s so cold outside that the crawl under the covers together for a few minutes, Mother talks about the Jenny. “She rattled and shook like a tin shed in a hurricane and she could fall from the sky like a leaf in November. But there are still people like your father and myself who will always love the Jenny most of all because it was the first and the simplest.”
They had their own Jenny, or a Curtiss JN4D. She sat in the shadows behind the garage and by the time Margaret was ten, she had wild wheat growing up through her fabric belly and moss spreading over her wires. Dad gave up flying her after he nose-planted the poor girl landing during a storm when Margaret was a baby. Of her parents’ generation of flying people, the Jenny was the Model T. She was their first love. Life began there.