Suddenly an ear-shocking sound swooped low overhead, rattling our house, and bringing us to our feet. We ran outside in time to see an airplane drop out of the clouds and land on our muddy field. Few airplanes came our way. Never before had we seen one on the ground. Staying a safe distance from this one, we stared at the two men sitting in the open cockpits.
One of them climbed down and shouted, “Where are we?” in an accent strange to us. He looked rosy-cheeked, young, and well fed. So did the other man when he joined us. They were brothers, Frank and Stanley, from Illinois, with an unpronounceable last name. They were on their way to Florida when their fuel ran low.
The other one, who looked to be younger, added, “And now we’ve got no money and no gas and have no way to get any unless you can help us.”
“Well,” Daddy said. “We’ll see.” We children were silent. We knew there was no money in the house and had no idea where Daddy could get any.
The brothers ate with a good appetite having trouble only with the com pone. They didn’t understand that you didn’t take a whole pone but you broke off however much you wanted. By the time the platter got around to the last two of us, no com pone was left. Mama noticed and slipped us her piece keeping only a segment for herself. The fried apple pies, made from apples we’d dried back in the summer, were a big hit with the guests.
It took Daddy several days to scrape up the money for their gas. During that time we were well entertained by their differentness. We heard about ice skating, sailing on lakes, museums in Chicago, and restaurants. Daddy drove them to town in our topless Model T to buy enough gas to get them to their destination. A week after landing they roared off from our field and were gone. How we missed them!
At Christmas we were delighted to receive a greeting card with a picture of their plane, a box of candy, and money to repay Daddy. We relived their time with us, with no hope of ever seeing them again.
“Hello, Mrs. Kilgore,” we heard one of them say. “Do you remember me?”
Mama looked him over. “Noooo. I don’t believe I do.”
“I’m Stanley, one of those boys who landed in your field some years ago,” he said. “And this is my friend Kenneth.”
We gathered around them to hear their news. They invited my sisters, who were now young ladies, to go sightseeing in Tuscaloosa. Meanwhile the rest of us prepared food, went to the spring for water, and readied their room. At supper my sisters regaled us with their trip to town (Jane got to ride in the rumble seat!) and the movie they saw.
Stanley talked about life in their hometown and their flying adventures. We still had trouble pronouncing his last name. Kenneth made us laugh when he said just sneeze and you pronounced it. We girls were impressed to learn that Kenneth sang and played the organ on his own radio program. Before bedtime he played his harmonica. The tune that thrilled us, yet made us sad, was “When I Grow too Old to Dream.” Next morning they drove us to school--how the other students stared to see us getting out of that red convertible!
We said goodbye and watched them drive away.
The Great Depression tightened its grip, squeezing the laughter out of my daddy’s heart and making my mother bitter. Over the years we had a letter or two from the fellows. As WWII loomed, Kenneth was in the navy stationed on an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific. Stanley had gone to Canada to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Though we never saw them again we never forgot them. I’m now ninety-five, not yet too old to dream and I still think of the time we took in strangers and shared with them what we had and they opened up the world to us.
Tuscaloosa County native Aileen Kilgore Henderson is an educator and award-winning author of children's literature. In addition to her novels for young readers, Henderson has published two memoirs. She won literary awards for The Summer of the Bonepile Monster and Hard Times for Jake. Her most recent publications are essays, "In the Shadow of the Long Leaf Pines" (University of Missouri New Letters) and "Two Old Ladies and One Big Snake" (University of Tampa Review).