Earl Lee Riser by Gigi DeVault
E. -- I didn’t envy Haakon Nielsen at all. But the one thing that he did that I wanted to do – more than anything - was fly in an airplane. Haakon told me about his journey to England. Most of it I didn’t believe –-the kids all seemed to lie to hide things they didn’t want you to know about, things they were ashamed of. Or they would make up grand stories to impress the people who adopted them during the war. But Mum told me it was all true. That was not what I wanted to hear.
H. -- I was an early riser like Farfar. First thing in the morning – when we could no longer ignore the endless light of a summer day –we would go to the fountain in the park to sail my little wooden boat. I had to leave my sailboat with Farfar in Ebsjerg. I left my bike with the bell, too. When I got to Chatburn, where I met Earl, there was so much room to run on the downs. It was like being back in Ebsjerg, where the wind from the sea would take my kites high up into the sky.
“Until you couldn’t see it on the end of the string.”
H. --Earl and I made our own kites.
“Because of the war. You made all your own toys.”
E. -- Haakon had been living in the port of Grays. Everyone felt that it would soon be bombed and preparations were made. Mrs. Nielsen wanted to be far away from the reach of the Lufthansa. So she and Haakon took the train to Chatburn. There were dozens of children on the train, sent alone from the slums of the cities and the seaside villages, to live on English farms and in villages. Haakon was lucky to be with his mother.
H. -- I liked being outdoors. When I was in Grays Thurrock, we had to tape the windows to keep any light from showing. And we put chicken wire on the insides of the windows to keep the glass from flying into the house.”
“When the bombs fell.”
H. -- The bombs fell in Chatburn, too. But only once. I was in school when we heard the single plane circling and circling. Our little village could not be an important target. There was only one mill and nothing else. I was more brave and more foolish than I should have been because I had personally experienced being in the Blitz. I stood at the window and watched the plane circle. I could even see the pilot in the cockpit. I had studied the black silhouettes of enemy planes on the handbills posted in Grays. I recognized it as a Heinkel 111. I felt pretty smug about that knowledge until I realized the plane was coming toward the school.
“Then Miss Tussely said, “Get under your desk, Haakon!”
E. -- I would always hurry to finish my school work. After our papers were turned in, Miss Tussely would let us draw. I always drew airplanes. Sometimes the planes I drew were bombers. I would draw the bombs falling from the plane, too. Miss Tussely would say, “Earl, your work is so detailed.”
“She didn’t like the bombs.”
E. -- I decorated the kites, too, because that did make Miss Tussely happy. And then I would get a treat from Mum for getting a good report. I liked to draw faces on the kites. And the faces would inspire names. So our kites would have names. Names like big ships that were being launched. Or a string of names, like royalty. Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax. Or George Montagu, fifth son of the 1st Earl of Manchester.
“Viscount or Baronet or Earl.”
E. -- It was a joke between us. When Haakon and I first met, he thought my name Earl meant that I was an actual Earl, like a Danish Baron. I liked that very much and never told him the truth myself. I can thank Miss Tussely for the explanation that got me punched in the nose. Haakon was very angry. And said he had more noble blood than I did.
“In Danish, Haakon means ‘of high birth.’”
H. -- I liked to draw the Fockenwulf that brought me to England and to Earl’s family. It was a two-engine plane with big propellers. In those days, if a plane had only civilians on board, it was painted orange to show that it was a neutral plane. The plane had to be refueled, so from Kastrup airport in Copenhagen, we were to fly to Rotterdam in Holland.
H. -- Then over the English Channel to Croden Aerodome, south of London. As the plane rose over Jutland, I heard a sound over the noise of the engines.
“Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.”
H. -- When our flight came to an end, the pilot showed mother and me an even line of holes along the side of the plane.
“You’d been strafed.”
H. -- The Germans were invading Jutland as we took off and flew away toward the Netherlands.
E. -- Mrs. Nielsen read children’s books aloud to us. She was practicing her English. I remember thinking that Haakon and I were too old for Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys. Mum said the picture book was written by two Germans. I didn’t like it when I heard that. But then Mum said they were German Jews who escaped the Nazis by going to Paris and then to Brazil. That was odd to hear. The giraffe and the monkeys in the story had to leave their homes, too.
“Read the story about the monkey and the kite tomorrow, Grandpa Earl. Please!”
E. -- Okay. I’ll put Curious George Flies a Kite right here on the bed stand so we don’t forget where we left off.
“You never forget, Farfar Haakon.”
H. -- I never forget Curious George._______________________________________
Let me digress before I begin to announce the winner. This painting will not be in the show but the story will be in the catalog. The gallery does not want to show this painting because they are a little nervous that it’s too fragile because of the dangling spool and the paper kite.
Now about the stories.
Two transitive properties seem to be present in the four Earl Lee Riser stories. Each one had the quality of being a character study or vignette and each seemed to be based on authentic experiences. In a way I wish that I knew each author a little bit more personally to see if my fantasies about each story/author are true.
Gigi DeVault’s story was the winner and was a wonderful reminiscence that reminded me of the couples in the movie “Reds.” Many of her stories have an international world travelling kind of quality. Gigi seems like a repatriated expat. Is Gigi a world traveler and a bit of a culture vulture historian? I keep imaging her as the Diane Keaton character from Reds.
Kermit Hayes’ (who I do know) story sounds like it was written convincingly from the point of a G Man from the thirties or forties. Kermit is actually an excop and it sound like a discussion he and I would have had while drinking Jameson’s at his home in Chicago.
Royce Ratterman’s “Reflections in Black & White”, is a memoir that has a very authentic tone. I liked the fact that it was based in the Bay Area and the truisms throughout sounded as if they came from life experiences. (I know that Royce is from the Bay Area but lives abroad now.)
“Was Kilroy Here?” by Helen Chapman dialog and voice was authentic but probably the most authentic was the reference to Kilroy! I love the end punch. I envision her as an older person who could have lived through the Depression.
Read them all here:
More competitions on my website: