IF MY HEART HAD WINGS – Book Excerpt #2 – Chapter 1 “Beginnings”

In the Prologue, 13-year-old Nadine stumbles upon a wedding photo of her mother and learns she was once married to a pilot  killed in in WWII. Nothing more was said about this stunning revelation until two years later…

Bored and antsy while Mom pulled and pinned the dress that she was fitting on me, I decided to amuse myself by asking her a bold question, just to see how she’d answer it.

“So what was your first husband’s name?”

Mom was concentrating so intently it seemed like she barely heard me.

“Hmpf?”  she grunted, through the pins.

“You know, your first husband. What was his name?”

She shot me a surprised and annoyed look.

“What brought that on?” she asked through lips tightly clamped around the pins.

“I don’t know,” I said nonchalantly. “Just curious.”

She pulled a pin from between her lips and used it to secure a tuck in the fabric, then stood back to survey the effect.

“It was Lyndon,” she said distractedly, continuing to analyze her work. “Lyndon Raff.”

She frowned and tugged again, shaking her head.

“Raff?” I chortled, hoping to keep the conversation going. “Now there’s a weird name! Never heard of that one.”

She ignored me, picked up another pin and deepened the shoulder seam.

I wasn’t going to be put off that easily.

“So did you meet him at a dance, or what?”

She sighed, put in that second pin and said irritably, “You’re pretty darn nosy! Why do you want to know, anyway?”

“I don’t know, just curious. You’re the one who’s always telling me that family history is so important and I should know my roots.”

This was usually a pretty good way to get to her. We come from a long line of family historians who wrote down not only names and dates, but actual stories about themselves and their ancestors.

“Well, this has nothing to do with your roots,” she said airily. “It’s part of my life, not yours.”

I couldn’t see why she had to be so standoffish. Maybe appealing to her vanity would be a better route.

“Well, I like hearing about your life, especially back in the olden days. What’s the difference if it doesn’t involve me? It’s still you, and I think you’re interesting.”

She looked at me dubiously, and something between a chuckle and a snort erupted from the back of her throat. That’s what she did when she thought something was bunk.

She was right not to be taken in, of course; it wasn’t just family history I was after. What I really wanted was to hear everything I could on the subject of romance. In particular, I was searching for answers to questions like: How do people find each other and get together? What do you say to a boy to make him really like you? And what’s expected of you after that? It was all a great mystery to me.

But there was another reason I wanted to hear about Mom’s hidden romance. I was enormously curious about what she had been like when she was my age. (Well, okay, maybe just a little older than me.) It was so hard for me to picture my practical, non-romantic, stay-at-home Mom in the throes of some passionate love affair. Who was she back then?

I knew, of course, that she had been glamorous; I’d seen the old pictures. In one, she was as dazzling as a movie star, all done up in a fur coat with huge shoulder pads, a black cartwheel hat and plenty of ruby red lipstick. She certainly wasn’t glamorous now. Not that she was ugly or even un-pretty; she was just plain, an average-looking middle-aged woman with no makeup and short dark hair brushed back from her face.

After implanting one final pin into that troublesome shoulder seam, Mom grunted, “Okay, take this thing off and let me  get to work on it.”

I pulled the dress over my head and handed it over.

“So anyway, are you gonna tell me how you met him?” I asked insistently, pulling on my shorts and top, then flopping on my fluffy yellow bed.

“Oh, Dene,” she said, shaking her head and smiling a little. “You slay me.”

It was one of the corny things she liked to say when she thought I was silly yet lovable. I think that’s what it meant, anyway.

Mom settled into a chair, pinned a few skirt sections together and tossed the pinned-up garment over to me.

“Here. Make yourself useful and baste these seams together.”

Then she turned her attention to basting the sleeves into the armholes — a much more intricate task than the one she’d just assigned to me.

“Okay,” she said resignedly. “What do you want to know?”

Ha — I won.

“Well, how did you meet him?”

“At camp. Church camp.”

Camp? How old was he, anyway?”

“Twenty-one.”

Twenty-one! In my book, camp was for kids or young teenagers, not people who were old enough to drink.

“Bizarre. How old were you?”

“Almost eighteen. It wasn’t like the camp you’ve gone to. It was a camp for college kids and young adults. My mother signed me up because we’d just moved to St. Paul and she thought it would be a good way to meet people.”

She continued with her stitching.

“Okay, so then what happened? No wait, let me guess.”

I mustered my most romantic voice and cooed, “There you were, sitting around the campfire, when suddenly your eyes met and you realized this was the one you’d been waiting for …”

I looked over to see how that was sitting, and got her “C’mon now, get serious” look for my efforts.

“So was that what it was like?” I asked hopefully.

“No,” she said flatly. “Actually, I was smacking some balls around on the tennis court with another girl when these two guys came by and started cheering us on. And pretty soon we got so self-conscious that we gave up and started talking to them. One of them was really handsome. And that was Lyndon.”

Lyndon, age 21 1939

She indicated the sewing that was lying unattended in my lap.

“So how’s that basting coming along?”

I made a big show of knotting my thread and taking a tentative stitch or two. I hated basting.

“So what did you say to him?” I asked, desperate to find out what I could say that would make some cute guy like me.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said irritably. “Who can remember? We’re talking 30 years ago.”

I waited to see if she would go on. She did.

“I’m sure it came up that I was new in town and about to start Hamline in the fall. And he probably said he lived right across the street from there. And then I probably said I lived in the same general area.”

“Okay. Then what?”

“And then I left.”

“You left?”

“Yes.”

“But I thought you liked him!”

“I did like him, but I didn’t want him to think I was too eager. So I just smiled, picked up my tennis racket, said, ‘See you around,’ and went back to my cabin.”

I didn’t get it. Why would she walk away from a cute guy who wanted to talk to her?

“You’ve got to give these guys enough rope to hang themselves,” she explained patiently. “They don’t like it if you’re too interested.”

Oh.

“Anyway,” she said, “enough of that kind of stuff. Finish that basting and then you can clean up this room while I get dinner together.”

And that was it. Discussion ended.

I never did find out the details of how the two of them connected, other than the tennis game. But I’d gone to camp myself, so I had some idea of how it might have happened.

I could picture them taking a nature hike and getting so wrapped up in talking to each other that they didn’t see anything around them. I could imagine them splashing each other during canoe races and laughing their heads off, holding on to each other’s waists and falling down during three-legged races, sitting a little too close while they toasted marshmallows on a stick, and doing all the other corny, ridiculously fun things that campers do. And somehow, somewhere, while they were gliding across a lake, or singing in front of a campfire, or just sitting on a tree stump talking about what they wanted to do in the fall, a spark was struck. And that spark became a flame.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, you’ll love If My Heart Had Wings: A World War II Love Story — the true story of the life and death of a WWII pilot and the tumultuous life of the young widow he left behind. Click below to buy it today!