Knowing who I am, you might think I was born to fly. Probably there is something to that. If the yearning for flight is something you can inherit from your parents like blue eyes or a bad temper, then I suppose I come by it honestly enough. But if that is true, the it might just be the only honest pieces of my birthright.
Though it was years before we could talk about my father, Mama says that even as a little boy I sensed the truth, or at least part of it. She still speaks in hushed amazement of the night of my fourth birthday, the night she tucked me in under her present to me, a quilt of the Oklahoma night sky appliquéd with star points over a field of cobalt and midnight, stitched by hand with the three-strand thread that held Mama’s whole world together—imagination, determination, and secrets. There was so much we couldn’t, or didn’t, talk about.
And I wanted to know everything. Things about her. About me. About why, when she thought I wasn’t looking, she would fix her eyes on closed doors as though waiting for someone to open them. Who was she waiting for? I wanted to ask, but I didn’t. Somehow I sensed that if I pulled on the strand that stood for all secrets, all of us would unravel at the seams.
Maybe that’s why I made up the story I told her that night, about the father I’d imagined for myself, a father who’d died and flown a recon mission to Heaven, just to make sure the coast was clear for me. I knew he was an invention, but an invented father was better than a void. Mama’s eyes welled up when I told her my story, but they were happy tears, I could tell. Somehow I’d hit upon something right, something that caused a flickering light of hope to shine through her tears. I rolled my tale out as a bolt of whole cloth, woven with equal parts of plausibility and fabrication, and Mama did what she always did: she embellished it with explanations and appliquéd on a desire for things the way they should have been, and by the time I closed my eyes to sleep we’d stitched a story so sincere and inviting that it could nearly have passed for the truth. Nearly.
If the truth is to be told, I think the time has come, it wasn’t my heritage that drove me to the sky. It was the secrets. The first time I pulled the stick back and nosed my plane skyward, breaking through a bank of bleached muslin clouds into a field of edgeless blue, I realized I’d finally found the place I belonged, the only place where my skin didn’t feel as if it were bound too tight around my soul. The longing was always there, but how could I have known what it was I longed for? I was just trying to outrun the secrets.
The family history Mama and I patched together was warm and comfortable and tightly sewn; we wrapped it around ourselves as a shelter from the hard blows of life, but at the end of the day it was just a collection of lies.
There are no secrets in the sky. There is no need for them. When I see the heavens stretched before me, it does not matter where I came from, or where I am going, or who came before me. No one asks me questions, and I don’t ask them of myself. That moment isthe moment for me. There is no time and no regrets, nothing to weigh me down.
The closer you fly to earth, the more your craft will be rocked and battered by turbulence, and if the tumult is strong enough, it can throw you completely off course. But if you fly high enough, where there isn’t oxygen enough to sustain a lie, you’ll find bright skies and air so smooth you can cut through the clouds, slippery and free. That is where I live.
I am the eagle’s son.
When it came to quilt making, Mama was an artist. She made quilts that looked like paintings, and until the Depression was in full swing and cash was so scarce, people waited months and paid top dollar for the privilege of owning one of Mama’s creations. She had more orders than she could handle and was often weeks behind in her work, but those after-school chats were our special time together. She always had time to listen to me jabber away about school, my teachers, my friends, anything that might be on my mind. And the thing is, she didn’t just murmur absentmindedly, pretending to listen while rocking her needle up and down through the fabric, making those tiny, absolutely even stitches she was famous for. She truly listened. She asked just the right questions at the right moment. She made me feel important—as though whatever I had to say was worth listening to. Mama knew me inside and out. She wasn’t going to fall for any half-baked explanations about the source and nature of my injury. Papaw read the doubts on my face.
“Morgan, your mother is no fool. Deep in her heart, she’s going to know there is more to the story than you’re sharing, but she’s not going to press you about it. She can’t change the past. Not hers. Not yours. When you can’t fix a problem, sometimes it’s easier to pretend there isn’t one. Know what I mean?
I looked at him blankly.
“Nevemind. You’ll understand when you’re older. Your mother is a good woman, son. No matter what anyone says, your mother is a good woman.”
“I know that.” It was the closest we’d ever come to talking about my mother and, most importantly, my father. Suddenly it dawned on me that Papaw knew who he was—his name, what he looked like, maybe even where he lived and why he wasn’t here with me. Papaw knew everything, and I came that close to asking him. My mouth opened, and the question formed on my lips. “Papaw,” I began, but that was as far as I got. My grandfather could read the question in my eyes, knew what I wanted to ask before I could ask it, and in his eyes I could read, just as clearly, that he wouldn’t give me an answer. He couldn’t. That was Mama’s secret, and as long as she kept silent, we’d all have to.
Excerpted from ON WINGS OF THE MORNING © Copyright 2011 by Marie Bostwick. Reprinted with permission by Kensington. All rights reserved.