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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Meadowlark Reader: Headwinds, A Memoir by Edna Bell-Pearson

Each Wednesday we will share an excerpt from a Meadowlark book. Sign up at Feed Burner to receive Meadowlark updates by email. 

Copyright © 2019 Edna Bell-Pearson
ISBN: 978-1-7322410-6-0
After Training

The airbase was the biggest thing our lackadaisical prairie town had ever seen. Whereas conversations once consisted of discussions about the weather, wheat crops, and how the coyotes were playing havoc with the livestock, they now included “airplane talk” and news about the war. All any of us knew about the B-24 Liberator was that it was doing a wonderful job in this war in which we were involved.
     Carl was only one of approximately seven thousand members of the United States Air Corps stationed at the Liberal Air Base. When we met he was into week three of his nine-week training period. Knowing that our time together would be short, we began seeing each other on a regular basis, spending every minute together that our schedules allowed.
     Between late nights out and long workdays, the next few weeks were a veritable whirlwind, and my hours flying with Bonnie dropped off drastically. I’m sure my work at the studio suffered as well, but Mr. Arganbright didn’t complain. On the contrary, he seemed to enjoy hearing about my new social life.
     Marie and Ted were also dating. As a foursome, we attended parties, dances at the officers’ club, went on picnics, and participated in Carl’s favorite outdoor recreations—fishing and hunting.
     In the same class, Carl and Ted would complete their training the last of October. Men and planes were badly needed in combat areas, so there was no doubt they would be assigned to overseas duty.
     I dreaded to see him go. I’d grown quite fond of my tall, handsome airman. We’d had a lot of fun together.
     When the day for orders to be issued arrived, I left the studio early to make dinner for the boys one last time.
     After straightening up the house, I took a bath and dressed, then started preparing the chicken we’d been lucky to buy from a farmer on our last hunting trip.

     I was feeling depressed when Carl arrived, a little before five. He looked awfully cheerful, I thought, for a man about to head overseas for combat duty.
     “I looked for you down at the studio,” he said. “I left Ted at Marie’s office.” He sauntered into the kitchen, mixed two drinks, handed me one and raised his glass. “To the future,” he toasted.     “Oh?” I said in the way he always teased me about.
     He set his drink down on the counter and took a sheet of paper from his shirt pocket.

     “See this?”
     I nodded. His orders. I couldn’t speak.
     “Want to know what it says?”
     Without waiting for me to reply, he continued.
     “It says here—ahem—that Carl Ungerer is hereby assigned to permanent duty at the Liberal, Kansas Air Base as B-24 Flight Instructor!”
     He looked up and laughed. It must have been the expression on my face because he leaned over and kissed me.
     “Ted, too!” he said.
     I put the chicken back in the refrigerator, changed into my best dress, and we went down town to meet Ted and Marie for a real celebration.
     Carl decided that as long as he was going to be in Liberal for a while, he should have an airplane of his own. The government was auctioning single engine, war-surplus planes; he thought he could pick one up for around a thousand dollars. He and Ted flew to Wichita to look over the planes being offered. He placed a bid and, in less than a month, was the proud owner of a silver, blue, and red Taylorcraft.
     The day after he and Ted flew to Wichita to bring the plane back to Liberal, he made another important announcement: As long as he was going to be around for a while, he and I might as well get married!
     It wasn’t exactly the kind of proposal I’d hoped for, but my acceptance was a foregone conclusion. I’d known for some time that Carl Ungerer never did things in a conventional manner, so when I said “all right” that was good enough as far as he was concerned.
     To celebrate our engagement, Carl took me for a ride in his new airplane.
     “It’s a 1942 Army liaison plane,” he explained. “It’s called an L-2.”
     A Taylorcraft DC065, it boasted a 65 horsepower Continental engine, was stick controlled, two-passenger, tandem seating, and was built for service—not comfort. The cockpit was enclosed by a Plexiglas bubble.
     Thus enclosed, it was well air-conditioned from cracks where the windows and doors didn’t quite fit, and it was as noisy on the inside as it was on the out. One could see in all directions, and—although the view was somewhat distorted by waves in the Plexiglas, that had obviously not been a problem for the navigator, who rode in the back seat and faced the rear during reconnaissance—his equipment was laid out on the built-in table before him. The space beneath the table was used to store supplies.
     In civilian life, the seat faced forward, and the table made a handy place to deposit purses, cushions, and maps. Unless traveling some distance, the baggage compartment remained unoccupied.
Unlike many of the current models at that time, the pilot could fly solo from the front seat without throwing the airplane out of balance, a distinct advantage for the simple reason that, from the front seat, it was easier to see where you were going.
     Accompanied by Marie and Ted, we drove to Garden City one clear, crisp January day, and Carl and I exchanged vows before a Justice of the Peace.

Copyright © 2019 Edna Bell-Pearson
Headwinds, a Memoir

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