Home > The Aviator's Wife(3)

The Aviator's Wife(3)
Melanie Benjamin

Con began to giggle helplessly, and I suppressed a smile.

“It’s the Spirit of St. Louis,” I corrected her, and my mother met my gaze with a bemused expression in her downward-slanted eyes. I felt myself blush, knowing what she was thinking. Anne? Swooning for the dashing young hero, just like all the other girls? Who could have imagined?

“Yes, of course, the Spirit of St. Louis. And the colonel has agreed to spend the holidays with us in the embassy. Your father is beside himself. Mr. Henry Ford has even sent a plane to fetch the colonel’s mother, and she’ll be here, as well. At dinner, Elisabeth will take special care of him—oh, and you, too, dear, you must help. To tell the truth, I find the colonel to be rather shy.”

“He’s ridiculously shy,” Con agreed, with another giggle. “I don’t think he’s ever really talked to girls before!”

“Con, now, please. The colonel’s our guest. We must make him feel at home,” Mother admonished.

I listened in dismay as I followed her into the second car; Daddy, Dwight, and Elisabeth roared off in the first. The colonel—a total stranger—would be part of our family Christmas? I certainly hadn’t bargained on that, and couldn’t help but feel that it was rude of a stranger to insinuate himself in this way. Yet at the mere mention of his name my heart began to beat faster, my mind began to race with the implications of this unexpected stroke of what the rest of the world would call enormous good luck. Oh, how the girls back at Smith would scream once they found out! How envious they all would be!

Before I could sort out my tangled thoughts, we were being whisked away to the embassy at such a clip I didn’t have time to take in the strange, exotic landscape of Mexico City. My only impression was a blur of multicolored lights in the gathering shadows of late afternoon, and bleached-out buildings punctuated by violent shocks of color. So delightful to think that there were wildflowers blooming in December!

“Is the colonel really as shy as all that?” It seemed impossible, that this extraordinary young man would suffer from such an ordinary affliction, just like me.

“Oh, yes. Talk to him about aviation—that’s really the only way you can get him to say more than ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘pass the salt,’ ” Mother said. Then she patted me on my knee. “Now, how was your last term? Aren’t you glad you listened to reason after all, when you thought you wanted to go to Vassar? Now you’re almost through, almost a Smith graduate, just like Elisabeth and me!”

I smiled, looked at my shoes—caked with the dust of travel—and nodded, although my mouth was set in a particular prickly way, my only outward sign of rebellion. After almost four years, I still wished I’d been allowed to go to Vassar, as I’d so desperately wanted.

But I swallowed my annoyance and dutifully recited grades and small academic triumphs, even as my mind raced ahead of the two sleek embassy cars. Colonel Lindbergh. I hadn’t counted on meeting him so soon—or at all, really. I’d thought his visit was merely an official stop on some grand tour of Latin America and that he’d be gone long before my vacation started. My palms grew clammy, and I wished I’d changed into a nicer frock on the train. I’d never met a hero before. I worried that one of us would be disappointed.

“I can’t wait for the colonel to meet Elisabeth,” Mother said, as if she could read my thoughts. “Oh, and you, too, dear.”

I nodded. But I knew what she meant. My older sister was a beauty—the beauty, in the parlance of the Morrow family, as if there could be room for only one. She had a porcelain complexion, blond curls, round blue eyes with thick black eyelashes, and a darling of a nose, the master brushstroke that finished off her portrait of a face. Whereas I was all nose, with slanty eyes like Mother’s, and dark hair; while I was shorter than Elisabeth, my figure was rounder. Too round, too busty and curvy, for the streamlined flapper fashions that were still all the rage this December of 1927.

“I’m sure I won’t be able to think of a thing to say to him. I’m sure I won’t be able to think of a thing to say to anyone. Oh, what a lot of bother this all is!” Gesturing at the plush red upholstery, the liveried driver, the twin flags—one of the United States, the other of Mexico—planted on the hood of the car, I allowed myself a rare outburst, meeting Mother’s disapproving frown without blinking. Christmas was special. The rest of the year we might all be flung about, like a game of Puss-in-the-Corner. But Christmas was home, was safe, was the idea of family that I carried around with me the rest of the year, even as I recognized it didn’t quite match up with reality. Already I missed my cozy room back home in Englewood, with my writing desk, my snug twin bed covered by the white chenille bedspread my grandmother had made as a bride, bookshelves full of childhood favorites—Anne of Green Gables, the Just So Stories, Kim. Stubbornly, I told myself that I would never get used to Daddy’s new life as a diplomat, his ability to attract dashing young aviators notwithstanding. I much preferred him as a staid banker.

“Anne, please. Don’t let your father hear you say this. He’s very fond of the young man, and wants to help him with all his new responsibilities. I gather Colonel Lindbergh doesn’t have much of a family, only his mother. It’s our duty to welcome him into our little family circle.”

I nodded, instantly vanquished; unable to explain to her how I felt. I never was able to explain—anything—to my mother. Elisabeth she understood; Dwight she entrusted to my father. Con was young and bubbly and simply a delight. I was—Anne. The shy one, the strange one. Only in letters did my mother and I have anything close to true communion. In person, we didn’t know what to do with each other.

And duty I understood all too well. If a history of our family was to be written, it could be summed up with that one word. Duty. Duty to others less fortunate, less happy, less educated; less. Although most of the time I thought there really couldn’t be anyone in this world less than me.

“Now, don’t worry yourself so, Anne,” Mother continued, almost sympathetically; at least she patted my arm. “The colonel is a mere mortal, despite what your father and all the newspapers say.”

“A handsome mere mortal,” Con said with a dreamy sigh, and I couldn’t help but laugh. When had my little sister started thinking of men as handsome?

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