Some years ago I woke in the middle of the night with a story cooking in my head. I got up and began writing. What started as a first short story became a series of stories. As these stories emerged I was writing ten and twelve hours straight. For a confirmed reluctant writer who was convinced that a picture book — a thousand words — was all I could handle this was a strange turn.
Below is the opening of what grew into a novel length collection, as yet only read by a few brave souls. Along side are several drawings done long before I was writing anything, but the seeds of the novel are all there to see.
LITTLE — When we were little, once in awhile he would fly down on the weekend, and when they told us he was coming we would run out of the cottage, across the front lawn to the shore. All of us cousins scanning the late afternoon sky for him, “look there” we see a speck first, then getting bigger and bigger flying straight for us, right up the middle of the narrow lake valley, wings and body clear long before the faint hum of his engine. He came right at us till we could hear the roar as he swooped low wagging his wings, (just like they say he did in his fighter on his way to WWII.) we would wave and yell, turning fast as he went over us to see him disappear over the front peak of the cottage. Now the adults would rush around yelling and getting our shoes and chairs off the shale beach, and we’d go back to the shore to watch as he reappears coming back up the lake from the south to turn and make a south wind landing toward us again.
His sea plane is always a power boat magnet, as he gets low, boats come from all over, speeding toward him and half a mile north FLASH –he touches down, a shimmering tail of spray rising and those boats fall in and follow the weird bird boat, nose riding high, three wakes flying from it’s hull and wing pontoons. We especially like this part, the triumphant parade his plane and the big boats all coming to us, because we can’t have a motorboat. I bet we’re the only big cottage on the lake that doesn’t (unless you count my Dad’s Johnson three horse he clamps on the back of his sailboat to get to the races). Grandma won’t let us have a motorboat, because motorboats are loud and stink, (which is why we like em). His plane comes fast, cutting through the chop of more boats coming, the wing over the cockpit riding level and above it all is the one big blurred eye of the propeller. When he’s right out front, he throttles back and the plane settles heavy into the water and the power boats slide in around him, circling like obedient ducklings, men standing importantly now behind the wheels looking toward shore, to find out where this guy is going in.
They look and all they see is us, near a dozen cousins, barefoot, sunburned in our dirty swimsuits, standing out front of that old place on the point. Suddenly a secret door in the top of the wing flips open, and Uncle John pops up –a crew cut jack-in-the-box grinning, he waves a big wave. We wave back so everyone sees he means us because neighbors are out now. Then, Uncle John pulls the door down on his head and disappears. Now the plane surges forward and lines up facing our beach, and the moms yell and wave for all of us to get up on the porch. The plane slides in smooth as a canoe, but as the wheels hit bottom it hesitates, and then the propeller begins to rev hard shoving the nose wheel plowing up and out unto the shale beach. Now the engine starts roaring as the thing struggles to crawl out, it’s tail flapping to steer, water whipped behind to a sudden gale by the fierce prop wash. As the wing wheels slowly emerge the propeller groans under the strain, the blade shaking a deadly warning in the air so the little kids cover their ears and Aunt Jane cradles the screaming baby and we step back bumping porch chairs. Then the thing clears the shale and caught surges forward onto the lawn before it jerks to a halt, still roaring but suddenly awkward and ungainly out of the water now it chokes and coughs, and the propeller shudders to a stop and we all breathe again.
Then above the wing that top pops open once more, and a hand comes up to wave the okay, and Dad and Uncle Phil come forward, to push on the pontoons, and they shove the plane so it circles sideways to the water and then backward so it’s tail goes way under the big maple, out of the way so we can still play on the lawn. Now Uncle John climbs out and jumps down. He stands on the lawn smiling his big grin and turns to Aunt Ginny and says, “Hi Beautiful,” giving her a big kiss, and then all the adults gather talking till he raises his hand and says, “am I too late to get a Manhattan?” and the adults laugh. As they all turn to go up the wide steps under the arch of the front porch I see my Dad shake his head. We go rub the planes cold belly, the slippery skin with bumpy rivets at the seams still dripping on the grass. Then we all go back and sit out on the shale beach, cousins talking and skipping stones, so all the boats circling and rubbernecking can see us. And up across the lawn the parents, still in bathing suits, stand on the porch steps and the grandparents and the great aunts sit under the arched pillars and they all talk and sip their manhattans, celebrating the end of another perfect summer day.
And after awhile a new guest might step forward and gaze up the long lake valley and murmur,” what a view.” Perhaps it’s the light, or the first flush of the manhattan, but you can tell they’ve suddenly seen it, seen how the whole lake stretches away from our cottage, seen how from right here side hills rushing away from us seven miles up the lake, make a perfect natural symmetry, reaching out only to meet and touch enclosing the water at the center point on the far horizon. They will sigh, and you can tell they feel sorry they will have to go home. And you should see all the big boats cruise by, everybody sitting up, craning their necks, until dark they will come by making big wakes that pound the shale at our feet, come by to see who lives out here on the point, in that old place with no boat but a real sea plane on our lawn.