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She Danced the Skies on Laughter-Silvered Wings

The Story of A Young, Female Flying Phenom

By Donna ReneePublished about a year ago 7 min read
Top Story - April 2023
64

Dee smiled, joy spreading across her face and filling her soul, as she pulled the yellow nose of the Piper Cub higher and felt the familiar rush of air under her wings. Well, not her wings, the plane’s wings. Although, there really wasn’t much difference, now was there?

The young, daring, female flying phenom had learned to fly airplanes when she was only fifteen years old. She’d worked at the burger joint at the little local airport every weekend. At fifty cents an hour, it took a long time to earn the $8.00 that it cost for each precious half hour of flying lessons in the 1940s. Eventually, she learned to fly solo. Dee earned her pilot’s license and her place in the Civil Air Patrol long before she ever considered learning to drive a car. One of the first women pilots in West Virginia and still one of the youngest, the vivacious brunette was a maverick of the best kind.

Today though, Dee was a professional private pilot with a paying passenger. She’d nearly forgotten that for a moment and started singing “Don’t Fence Me In” as she usually did on her way to the clouds. That would have been a bit of a blow to the image she was trying to project at the moment. She pulled her shoulders back, readied her best professional shouting voice, and turned her head toward her passenger who was behind her in the tiny two-seater plane. They were so close to each other that their faces nearly touched when she turned her head.

“Alright sir, we’ll be over your land in just a bit. Sit tight and enjoy the views, okay?”

“Thanks, Dee! Beautiful day for flying, isn’t it?” her passenger leaned even closer and shouted over the sound of the engine and the wind rushing by.

Now that they were off the ground, she had to agree. The truth was though, that it hadn’t seemed like a beautiful day for flying at all when they’d first arrived at the airport. Dee had even suggested that they reschedule the flight but her passenger had protested so strongly that she’d relented. It wasn’t quite unsafe conditions but it also wasn’t ideal (and the tiny plane reacted differently when loaded with any more than just a slight of frame pilot on board). All’s well that ends well though! Takeoff had been a bit rocky but now that they were above the ground winds, things were indeed looking beautiful.

Arthur David, her fare for the day, was a property owner who needed to take some aerial photographs of his land. It wasn’t far from the town, just out by Lynn Lake. The Piper Cub was a slow flyer but it should still be a quick and easy trip out and back, provided the weather held. The only downside was that because she had a passenger today, she was crammed into the front of the plane rather than sitting comfortably in the rear seat, as Cub Pilots did when flying solo. It was a good thing she was a slender young woman, too, as her passenger was taking up most of the plane’s weight allowance (as well as the leg room).

Dee expertly wove the small yellow plane through the currents and the clouds, the sound and vibration of the engine like music to her. Oh shoot! She’d nearly started singing again! It wasn’t that she was a bad singer, it was just that she didn’t want to feed into the image of a silly female that so many seemed to assign to her.

It wasn’t easy being a young female pilot in the 1940s, especially a tall, and objectively very beautiful one. There had been an article in the local paper when she’d earned her pilot’s license that had noted that she’d make a fine commercial pilot one day, if she didn’t get waylaid by Cupid! She grimaced at the memory. She was constantly underestimated or patronized although other pilots did seem to really respect her after realizing that she was skilled and serious about the art of flying.

The airport had disappeared far behind them now as had the rest of the signs of real civilization. They were passing over Lake Lynn below, a lake so long and skinny that it might as well have just been an extension of the river. It wasn’t a real lake anyway, just a man made reservoir that fed the hydroelectric power plant. She glanced down at the map that her passenger had provided. Yes, they were getting close now.

“Okay, take a look out the side there,” Dee hollered behind her, “your land should be coming up on the right here in a minute!”

Her passenger readied his camera. The Piper Cub zoomed by the target area and circled back around.

“Dee, I can’t see anything from here. Get closer, will ya?” Arthur shouted with a twinge of annoyance in his voice.

She obliged, bringing the plane a bit lower to allow her passenger to take his photographs.

“Once more around, Dee! Lower!”

She pulled a face (he was behind her and couldn’t see) but did as he asked. He was the boss right now. Dee didn’t get many paying fares (few people wanted to fly with a woman pilot) and this one had said she’d been highly recommended by a friend. She really needed to impress today!

“Hon, this isn’t getting me what I need, okay? Lower, please!”

Arthur was really getting on her nerves now. He was the boss, yes, but she was the pilot. Dee was tempted to pull the plane higher into the sky and take her passenger for a loop to shake him back into his proper place! She decided to just bite her lip and do what he asked instead though.

The Piper Cub was responding like a dream today despite the heavier weight on board. Dee wished again that this was a solo flight where she could take it high and fly beautiful loops and dives and sing at the top of her lungs. Instead, she dipped the plane lower still and circled the verdant forest in the hills above the sparkling waters of the lake.

Then, out of the wild blue, her heart stopped. Well, the plane’s heart stopped. The beautiful West Virginia hills that she loved so dearly had betrayed her, causing unexpected patterns in the wind. The Cub had hit a downdraft and was plummeting towards the forest below as if someone had swatted it out of the sky.

She struggled with the controls against the power of the wind in vain. The nose of the plane was aiming right at the deadly ground below now and there was nothing Dee could do to save it, they were too close. She had flown too low. She had ignored her training and her instincts to try and please her passenger and now they were both going to pay with their lives.

As the forested ground rose quickly towards the Piper Cub, Dee began to whisper quickly, part her favorite poem and part desperate prayer.

I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, Oh please, God.”

Her passenger’s screams nearly drowned out the sound of the wind.

“...and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings, please save us!

The ground was so close now. She could see the branches of the trees swaying.

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace where never lark nor eagle flew, oh please!

Dee closed her eyes, there was no point watching the end.

I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of spacehave mercy!

A gentle peace came over her. The sound of the screaming and the rushing wind fell to a hush.

She knew where she was going, and it was okay. Everything was okay.

“...put out my hand,” Dee smiled, “and touched the face of God.”

~

~

~

~

~

***Dee and her passenger somehow survived the crash. She healed and flew again, married, managed a business, had four kids, and many, many grandchildren, of which I am the favorite. Okay, sorry cousins, of which I am one of the favorites. Nana, as we call her, is still a maverick of the best kind. The bones of this story were recounted to me as a child. I have added some things that I imagine happened and have written this to the best of my interpretive abilities as her memory of the event has begun to fade. Her spirit, though? That never will. ***

***The title of this story was based on Nana’s favorite poem, “High Flight”, which enjoys pride of place alongside family photos in her home.

The sections quoted at the end of the story are also from this poem. “High Flight” was written while in flight by a pilot named John Gillespie Magee Jr.

This poem, which has a fascinating history, is in the public domain and can be seen in full at:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/157986/high-flight-627d3cfb1e9b7

Here is a lovely article on the history of the poem and its author.

https://fly.historicwings.com/2021/04/high-flight-the-untold-story-of-aviations-greatest-poem/

Nana's favorite ornament

Short StoryHistorical
64

About the Creator

Donna Renee

Hi! Thanks for reading! My hobbies include making coffee, drinking coffee, and starting to write a story and then rage-deleting it when I get the slightest bit frustrated.

Work in Progress: WOWH, cozy mystery (paranormal elements)

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Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  1. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  2. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  3. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  4. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  5. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

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Comments (43)

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  • Monnie M. 8 months ago

    Love this story

  • Novel Allenabout a year ago

    Amazing story, similar to Amelia's, I love female empowered stories. So well thought out. Great TS.

  • Hannah Mooreabout a year ago

    Wow, love the way you worked that ending.

  • K. C. Wexlarabout a year ago

    Great piece - touching the face of God was a great line :)

  • Mariann Carrollabout a year ago

    Congratulations, I felt like I was on the plane . Excellent story telling 🥰

  • Heather Hublerabout a year ago

    Beautifully crafted!! I was drawn in straight away and captivated til the end. I love that this was based on a true story. Congratulations on a well deserved Top Story!!

  • Gina C.about a year ago

    This is such a captivating story, Donna! 😍 I love, LOVE that it is about your grandma! Really great job with this - I love the way you write so much!!

  • Loryne Andaweyabout a year ago

    Oh wow! This had me feeling all sorts of rollercoaster emotions! Pride, elation, pique, fear. All beautifully rolled into one. And to learn it has its roots in your family history! You have given us something truly special. I cannot praise you and your work enough ❤

  • Deirdre St. Croixabout a year ago

    As always, your stories never disappoint. And the moving narration interspersed with some of that riveting poem’s most poignant lines — gave me goosebumps. Had to go and read the rest of the poem after reading this! (Beautiful poem, by the way...thanks for that.) To wrap up my comment here, just wanted to say...................you have one heck of a kickass grandma! She must surely have been a sensation in her own right. You have some phenomenal lineage, woman! I do declare!

  • Jazmin Fernandezabout a year ago

    Oh, that's a great story. Well done Donna!

  • Naomi Goldabout a year ago

    Donna, this is amazing. I was reading this thinking it was a fictional tale of some hometown hero you learned about in school, and blown away to find out it was your grandma. I like the way you ended it, but I was relieved by the note explaining she survived.

  • Testabout a year ago

    Fun and fascinating, Donna 💕🙂

  • Kelly Robertsonabout a year ago

    This is amazing, and so much more so that it's based on your grandmother!! I love the punchy narrative voice throughout. It captures her spirit beautifully. Well done!

  • Melissa Ingoldsbyabout a year ago

    Ohhh 😮 wasn’t expecting that!! And it’s true! Wow 🤩 ❤️ Congratulations on top story!

  • Gerald Holmesabout a year ago

    Just wow!! What great story telling. You pulled me out of my seat and put me in that plane with your words. Loved it. Congrats.

  • Gal Muxabout a year ago

    Oh wow! What w great story!

  • The Invisible Writerabout a year ago

    What a beautiful story loved the backdrop of WV

  • Nobodyabout a year ago

    Great story...

  • Awww, Dee's your Nana! I thought this was historical fiction but never did it cross my mind that it could be a true story! I'm so glad she survived the crash. If I was your Nana, when Arthur kept asking to go lower, I would have landed the plane and asked him "Low enough for ya?" Lol. Congratulations on your Top Story!

  • J. R. Loweabout a year ago

    Oh my gosh, I knew straight away that this was a good story, but I didn’t for one second expect it to also be a TRUE story 🤯. I loved the tiny details like the poetry and how much things cost in that era as well. Fantastic work as always, Donna!

  • Testabout a year ago

    Go Nana!!! Such a well-written story, Donna, and I love that it's based on the bones of truth. Congrats on yet another Top Story! You're smashing it!

  • JBazabout a year ago

    What a brilliantly told tale. exciting and fun and nerve wracking . I was a little upset when I thought is was over then the story continued with a happy ending. Congratualtions

  • Kristen Balyeatabout a year ago

    Oh my gosh, this was such a wonderful story, Donna! I absolutely loved it! Your writing is so beautiful- It just drips off the page. Always such a joy to read! Also, so amazed that this was about your Nana! What an awesome woman! Thanks for sharing this! Congrats on top story!

  • Nice story and Congratulations on Your Top Story🎉🎉🎉🎉❤️✨

  • Leslie Writesabout a year ago

    Congrats on your top story. Loved this one. Well deserved <3

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