On rainy winter nights when I was about 12 years old, if I wasn’t doing my homework or reading a book or staring at the ceiling or drawing cartoons or listening to the radio or playing cards with my grandmother or playing checkers with my grandfather, I sometimes could be found working on model airplanes. There was no such thing as a plastic model airplane kit. Making model airplanes was a labor of love that demanded a blueprint, diagrams, balsawood, carving knife, tissue paper, glue, sandpaper, paint, decals, thread, determination, sure hands and plenty of patience. I still remember fondly the exotic banana-smell of model airplane glue. My grandfather helped me to get started. I think I made five maybe six models total. Using fine thread, I hung the finished products from the ceiling of my room
I had two favorites:
One was the SPAD, of course—that tough little WWI fighter plane. It was always a machine set to stir the blood. Yet it always retained a sense of Gallic elegance and style. I decorated my model with Eddie Rickenbacker’s famed “Hat in the Ring” insignia.
My other favorite was the GB Sportster, that squat, stubby all-powerful, all-out air racer developed by the Granville brothers, Zantford and Tom. It had a brief, bloody but spectacular history. It took four firsts in the National Air Races. And in September, 1932, it established the world speed record when Jimmy Doolittle flew the GB over a three-mile course at 296.28 mph.
(This was the same Jimmy Doolittle who became a celebrated hero ten years later during WWII. April 18, 1942, during the early stages of the war when things were not going well for us in the Pacific and when American morale badly needed a boost, Lt. Colonel James H. Doolittle led a daring, seemingly impossible, one-way, low-level B-25 air raid over Tokyo that shocked the implacable Japanese.)
The GB Sportster looked like an angry, pugnacious bumble bee, with its fat, stubby 15-foot fuselage painted yellow and black. And that’s exactly the way I painted my model.
On opening day of the baseball season in ’34 or ’35, my dad introduced me to his latest girlfriend, a bubbly, effervescent 20-year-old brunette named Eleanor Brook. I liked her immediately. Her friendly face was pink and round as a pie. And when my dad introduced us, she enveloped me in a bear hug that darn near took my breath away.
The Portland Beavers were playing the San Francisco Seals—two arch rivals in the old Pacific Coast League. The rains had stopped. It was a bright, sunny spring day. And the three of us went out to the ball game.