The Hansen women have always flown at night, even in bad weather. Aunt Eva actually prefers storms. She says she makes better time that way. Though often she ends up on the east end of town and has to walk back along the railroad bed if the wind isn't blowing in her favor.
Flying is something we do at night when everyone is asleep. Twice around the meadow or once over the ridge to clear our heads before settling in for the evening.
My aunt Suki stayed out all night once when she was sixteen. She went to the county line at Madison. She wanted to see how far she could go.
"That's the danger with young fliers," Mama says. "They don't know when to turn back." Suki was in bed for two days after with a fever and cramps.
It's not an easy thing to do. Flying. Not like you'd think. There are wind currents and air pockets, and birds. Don't ever underestimate birds. It can be difficult to see a swallow coming in at dusk. And even though owls have excellent night vision, there have been collisions, and they aren't pretty.
"It's best to stay close to home when you're starting," Mama says. "It's best not to take too many chances."
The first woman in our family to fly was Louisa Hansen, my great-great-great-grandmother. She came to America from Albania more than one hundred years ago. A dark, wiry woman full of Gypsy blood. They say it was her broken heart that propelled her to flight, her grief that sent her soaring out over the sea.
Louisa lost her husband and little boy in a shipwreck off the coast of Newfoundland in 1884. She survived along with seven others, rescued by a fishing schooner. She eventually married one of the fishermen aboard, Jonathan Hansen, and went to live with him in his house by the ocean. They say she started flying in her sleep out over the cliffs, searching for her lost loved ones, returning in the early hours of the morning drenched in sea spray.
Since that time, every Hansen woman has flown. Aunt Eva says it's like a family full of acrobats or mountain climbers. Once one generation believes they can fly, it makes it possible for the next to believe too. The only thing that's unique about our family is that we haven't forgotten. We still believe.
As far as I know, we are the only family of fliers in Hawthorne. There are perhaps hundreds, thousands of women in the world who fly, but it's hard to know who they are. You can never tell just by looking at someone. Most fliers lead rather ordinary lives.
Aunt Eva believes any woman can fly regardless of body shape or weight. It is only those who believe they can, who feel it with no doubt, who succeed. You can never let doubt creep in. Not even into the smallest corner of your mind, or you'll fall right out of the sky.
Like all the women in my family, I have been flying since the day I was born. My aunt Eva was the one chosen to take me up the first time. She is my godmother and the strongest flier. She has the arms of a swimmer. Arms that never give up. She's been known to fly for five or six hours without landing.
I know why Mama chose Eva to take me. She wanted me to feel Eva's confidence. When I was strapped to my aunt's chest, the feeling of flight went deep into my bones, and it has never gone away.
Three generations of Hansen women live in our house. We're out on the county road as far as you can go. It's a rambling old Victorian that belonged to my great-grandmother Isadora Cooney Hansen. She painted the entire house blue in 1928. Inside and out. It was her favorite color. The kitchen is teal blue and the third floor is sky meadow blue and the outside is periwinkle with navy trim. Over the years, my aunts have painted their own rooms rose and cream, and the pantry is no longer sea green but a mellow yellow. Everything else is still blue, though, including the insides of all the closets.
Excerpted from Night Flying by Rita Murphy Copyright© 2000 by Rita Murphy. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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