In those days the high school marked the eastern edge of town. That was before they built the new football field or the Applebee’s or the Walmart and strip mall. Back then, past the high school was flat farmland; green corn forever to the horizon.
You could hear him in the sky, the flat drone changing to a high pitched howl as he dove his biplane low over the field, swooping up and up at the end of the run. He turned sharply, standing the little yellow machine on its wing as he completed the turn and started the next dive in one motion, hitting the spray as soon as he leveled out over the field.
I jumped on my red stingray bike and pedaled the block or so to the high school. I skidded my fat tires to a stop in the gravel lot behind the enormous gym. Now it seemed the dirty yellow plane was turning just above my head.
Climb, swoop, dive, spray, climb. Repeat and repeat. I watched in fascination as the pilot smoothly guided his machine. At the end of one run, the engine made a cough. I looked up to see the pilot give me a little wave. I was ecstatic. I waved my skinny arm vigorously as he rose into the sky and headed towards the airport west of town beside the factories.
I would like to tell you that brief non-encounter engendered a love of flying, a romantic notion that inspired me to take to the skies as I grew older. It didn’t. The truth be known, all nine year-old mini Walter Middy me could see was a biplane flying over a field. In my imagination it was not a cornfield in rural Indiana, but the shelled and pockmarked destruction over the Western Front no-mans land in WWI France. Our hero crop duster pilot had just fought the Hun to a stalemate.
Yes, I was even a history nerd as a child.