This is a story from my older brother.

We lived in what was called the Wartime Housing Authority. Dozens of buildings built on vacant land to house the workers who were building Victory ships only miles away. They were cheap rent for two bedroom apartments, with excellent oak floors. The war was over, but we were still there renting.

Money was tight, not as bad as during the war, but there was still not a lot of money for extras. Even .50 cents went a long way to buy food.

At the local Golden Rule Market there was the twice a week shopping trip with Mother. Naturally I spent some time on the aisles that featured toys. I had fixed my attention on a package that contained a balsa airplane. It was a long flat package with some red plastic parts, and some wooden balsa parts that had Air Force markings painted on the wings. It had a price tag of .50 cents.

Each succeeding week I asked my mother if she could buy it. Priorities required that hamburger, pork chops, bread, milk and vegetables were handled first. There wasn’t much left in the budget for tiny aviation.

Then one week, it suddenly appeared at the checkout, and I took it home! I carefully opened the package to take out the various parts. The plastic pieces needed to break loose from the plastic tree. The wooden pieces needed to be punched loose from the die cut balsa.

The directions were simple, it had a nose piece that slipped over the front of a foot long plank that acted as the planes fuselage, there were blue plastic pieces glued to the side of the plank were the wings were slid into a curved groove. The wings were maybe 8 inches long, with the Air Force symbols painted on, and the blue plastic clip made the wings curve slightly to create lift for flying.

There were more balsa pieces for the tail structure that were placed in tight fitting slots in the “fuselage”. There was also two black plastic wheels on wires that were fitted on a bracket beneath the wings as landing gear.

Finally the was the large red plastic propellor fitted to the nose piece and a rubber band hooked to the tail of the fuselage.

The secret was to wind the propellor in the right direction until the rubber band developed “knots”. Then keep winding until the knots went the complete distance. If you were brave, and the rubber band was new, you could get a triple row of knots for a longer flight time.

With a triple wound rubber band the plane could take off from the ground with a standing start. For even more excitement you could launch the plane while standing up with just a little arm motion. If thrown too hard you risked dislodging the balsa wings stuck in their slots.

I had a great hour or two flying the plane from different positions, in different directions. Then I had the idea of launching it from the porch of the apartment in order to get more height. The plane was triple knotted so it climbed quickly and did a slow banking turn to come back towards the apartment. Unfortunately it veered to the side and hit the very tall bush growing next to building, near the top.

It was a dense bush, impossible to climb, very thick, and it was only with difficulty that I could where it was. I knew it was there because upon landing the bush had dislodged a wing from the groove, and it was now laying on the ground in front of me.

This was a disaster, unreachable plane, no more fun. And I had to tell Mom.

There were many options of the best attitude to solve this problem. The attitude I choose was for Mother to immediately get ready to go to the Golden Rule Market to purchase another plane. I probably would have been wiser to use a pleading voice, but somehow it came out as a pouting demanding voice. My mother was not amused.

She did go out to see if she reach the plane, she couldn’t. Then she calmly said that I should have been more careful, and “I’m not buying another”. I repeated my demand several times, my mother continued cooking in the kitchen.

Finally I sat on the couch within her sight, holding the wing in my hands, thinking about my next move. Slowly I turned the wing over and over, then I snapped the tip off with my right hand. Maybe the sound alerted my mother, in any case, she turned her head from the stove to watch me snap another piece, to fall,on the floor in front of me. “Stop that, you are just doing that to make me mad.”

Snap, again and again. The mound of balsa at my feet was growing larger. “I’m not going to buy you another one.”, she repeated. I snapped the last few bits of the wing, then went out on to the front porch.

I wasn’t crying, I’m not sure what I felt, but it wasn’t normal. I looked over the neighborhood remember how wonderful it was to fly my plane. The wind took it higher than I had ever gone. Even now the wind hit my face to remind me of what it was like for my plane.

The bush was also hit by the wind, and it brushed on the building also like a broom sweeping. I noticed movement to my left. I saw the rest of my plane being dislodged, floatng to the ground, the propellor still turning from the last few knots in the rubber band. It lay there upright, on it’s landing gear, perfect… except missing a right wing.

That was 72 years ago, and I remember it like yesterday.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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