That First Airplane Ride
An indulgent uncle and a love of adventure gave Lucille Cravens wings back when people weren’t supposed to fly
Mother is looking through a stack of old Smithsonian magazines I have. She’s found one that features vintage airplanes, and among the photos is a picture of The Spirit of Saint Louis.
“I went up in the first airplane,” she tells me. “Do you remember that?”
Mom will be 92 years old in October. She scoots along slowly with the help of a walker; she does everything slowly. I wonder if we purposefully go at a gentler pace as time starts to race by.
She shows me the photograph of Lindberg’s plane. “I went up in the first airplane,” she says again.
My husband says, “Not in that airplane, you didn’t. They only made one Spirit of St. Louis.”
“I know that!” she continues, “The plane I flew in had two wings, one on top of the other, and an open cockpit—my hair blew all around.”
The event took place in a farmer’s field in Oregon, and Uncle Pete took Mom and Auntie Vi, motoring in his open yellow sports car. They saw the airplane, and the pilot, who was young and dashing and brave. What were these brash young pilots called in those days? Darned Fools? Brave Heroes? Young Idiots? People weren’t supposed to fly, for if God meant for us to fly, he’d have given us wings!
“A PENNY A POUND,” the sign read. Rides on the biplane were a penny a pound. Little kids circled the plane, but no adults.
“You want a ride?” Uncle Pete asked Mom and Auntie Vi.
“No,” Violet demurred. She wouldn’t fly; after all she was three years older than Mom, and had a great deal more sense.
“Oh, yes, please.” Mom was jumping up and down, grabbing Uncle Pete’s hand, rushing him toward the pilot. “Yes, I want to fly.”
The pilot helped her climb onto the wing and into the back seat, then he climbed into the front. The prop was turned, and they were off the ground. Mom grabbed her long dark hair, holding it off her face and the engine roared and the wind whistled, and she was flying.
“As soon as we got started, you couldn’t hear anything. It wasn’t a long ride, we just went up a little ways, over the trees and buildings. It was strange and funny looking down on the tree tops and roofs. We circled once and came back down.”
I asked if she waved to the people looking up at her flying.
“No people were there,” she tells me. “Just kids. People didn’t believe in flying... we’re not supposed to fly.” She looks at me. “They were afraid.”
Most of the gawking kids didn’t have indulgent uncles, so they watched Mom fly and imagined what it was like to be up in the sky with the birds.
But Mom had Uncle Pete, and she flew way back when airplanes were new, and just the daring ventured into the sky.
“I flew in the first airplane,” she says.
I smile. She was a kid, she dreamed and she believed.