by DiVoran Lites
Aldon’s letter to Ellie’s Family
Dear Mr. Cameron, Mrs. Cameron, and Mrs. Morgan
How do you do? It’s good to meet Ellie’s family. I hope all of you are in good health and prospering. You have a fine daughter and granddaughter in Ellie, who has certainly made a place for herself here. This morning, she asked me to write you about my wartime adventures. She thought her grandfather, particularly, might be interested in them. There isn’t much to tell, but I’m happy to tell what there is.
I flew a Nieuport Bebe in France. It was retrofitted with camera equipment so we could get photographs of what the enemy was doing. By the time the war ended, I was twenty-five. That was considered an old man by the flyers and photographers because not many of us survived to that age.
We were billeted in a small chateau in a pear orchard away from the front. It was spring, and my window framed clusters of white blossoms on the trees. My room had a linoleum floor, a chifforobe for clothes, a table and chair, and an electric light. The bed was lumpy, but the feather quilt (they called it a duvet) came in handy for cold nights. We slept whenever we got the chance. The doc said that was the way we got our energy back after being in danger for such long hours.
I did wish they had a horse or two around there. I could have ridden or spent some time working with them. By that time, they’d all been eaten. I understand the French still eat horse meat. I guess you’d have to develop a taste for it, and forget you’d had several best friends who happened to be horses.
I missed my family while I was gone, but they wrote and sent packages when they could. Ma and my Aunt Molly knit a lot of socks and what they called balaclavas for the soldiers, and I got my share of those. I guess about everybody knows what a balaclava is, but in case you don’t, it’s a warm cap that comes down over your ears and up onto your chin.. In case you’re wondering what I did with them all, I passed them around. A good, thick balaclava can come in handy in the wintertime.
Ma and Molly also sent a homemade cake packed in popcorn. By the time we opened the package, the popcorn had worked its way into the cake. We ate it anyhow and the boys went crazy over it. I’ll bet they never get another one like it.
Many pilots started out as photographers. I hear tell that the Red Baron fellow started out as a photographer before he became an ace fighter pilot. Most of us had only seen a camera once or twice – when the school photographer, or the man with the goat cart came around. We had a lot to learn, but our lack of knowledge didn’t count against us. They constantly changed out the equipment and we had to figure out how to use it.
When I became a pilot they kept me in surveillance. In Belgium, my passerger could hardly find anything to take pictures of. The countryside was desolate as far as you could see. Once in a while you might catch the stump of a burned tree or a bombed out building, but most of the landscape was just wet mud or dried mud – not much variety in that.
I’m thinking the following is the story Ellie wanted me to tell. If it was a school essay, I suppose I’d entitle it, “My Closest Call.” It happened while the photographer and I were flying behind the lines. The place hadn’t been destroyed yet, but the Huns were doing their worst. Our engine started sputtering, so I shut it off and looked for a place to land. It was quiet then — just us and the wind whistling past our ears. We lost altitude fast, so I decided to set down in a field. That all went fine until the bus picked a downhill slope and flipped when it landed. We were upside down with two wings broken by the time we stopped sliding. Fortunately, the bus did not blow up — probably because Somebody reminded me to turn off the gas. A group of resistance folk saw us coming down and got us out of the airplane and into a barn tuit de suite as they say in France, toot sweet. The next thing I knew, the Bebe was hidden under a sort of haystack. They didn’t have much vegetation, but they put canvas and branches over it so no one could spot it from the air.
They brought us stew with plenty of turnips and not much meat and were we ever glad for it. They got word to our side right away. A crew came in a big truck and hauled us and the Bebe back to base. I kept on flying and even taught a few pilots until the war ended. That’s it for now.
Come on out to Colorado and see us. Come in the fall if you can, the quaking aspen is most colorful at round-up time.
DiVoran’s Promise Posters, Paintings from Go West as well as other art can be purchased as note cards and framable art