The Roaring Twenties, the era of flappers and sheiks, bathtub gin and silent movies, of Rudolph Valentino and jazz, always fascinated me. And I grew up on some firsthand stories of the era from my paternal grandparents, especially my Granny who loved to weave a tale.
Guy’s Angel is born out of the old stories, birthed out of the vintage streets of the old’ hood, and inspired by my own love of flight. The story is fiction but the setting is very real or was. My grandparents brought it to life for me in their tales and I hope I did the same for readers.
My grandmothers came from two different generations, my Granny who came of age in the late 1910’s and 1920’s, and my Grandma who was more part of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Granny was my caregiver, my babysitter while my parents worked. Granny and Pop reared me as if I’d been their child so I’ve always been out of sync with my own generation. And they both told stories, many tales. The 1920’s were their heyday and my Granny lived in what I like to think of as the “old” family neighborhood, part of the same area of town but a different section. My grandparents lived there at one time, my dad grew up there, my mom was born (at home) in a house there, and in my childhood I still had relatives who lived there. One of my uncles had the area as his postal route.
The places in the story are real enough. Wyeth Hill remains a bluff top park overlooking the Missouri River and over into Kansas where Rosecrans Airport is located today. The streets are actual streets and the places my characters visit were real in 1925 in St. Joseph. Krug Park remains a beautiful place today and the doctor they visited (you’ll have to read the book to find out why) existed. My family bought the house from a family of doctors, first non-related folks to own it, and in 1925, the doctor had his office in his home. In the early drafts, I let a few relatives read it and they loved the way I brought the old neighborhood to life.
In writing Guy’s Angel I put together many elements from my past, my hometown, the stories I grew up hearing from my grandparents and other older relatives, my own appreciation for flight, early women aviators like Amelia Earhart who grew up just down river from me in Atchison, Kansas, some romance, and a little more. Add some seasoning and flavor from the real St. Joe circa 1925, toss in a few mythological Valkyries, add Boss Tom Pendergast in a cameo appearance, and you’ve got it – Guy’s Angel.
Here’s the blurb:
When a young woman really believes the sky is the limit, amazing things can happen…
Lorraine Ryan wants to fly airplanes so she heads for the local airstrip in 1925 to make her dream come true. Most of the flyboys think she’s cute but a woman’s place is in the home, not the cockpit. When Guy Richter steps up and offers to teach her to fly, she’s captivated with both Guy and flight. He nicknames her “Angel” and takes her up into that wild blue yonder. Before long, they’re deep in love.
Love, however, isn’t always enough……
Guy, a former World War I flying ace, is haunted by his past. His demons include his war service, the death of his only brother in an accident the previous year, and the Valkyries that he evaded in France who trail him in the hopes that they can complete his destiny. But his dreams lie with Angel and as they grow closer and closer, he soon realizes that if anyone can save him, it’s his Angel.
The brown leather jacket swallowed up her thin figure and the boots dwarfed her small feet so she looked like a little girl playing dress-up in clothing purloined from her father’s closet. Even the trousers, though cinched at the waist for a tighter fit, diminished her. Before she put on the gloves, the leather helmet, and the goggles, she still retained her femininity but with the last of the gear in place, she must resemble a flying child or an oversized insect.
When she first showed up out at Rosecrans field, however, on that Monday afternoon in early May most of the flying aces, the would-be aviators, and the curious onlookers stared. Maybe it was the way the dimity dress she wore hugged her figure or the way she let her black curls tumble loose down her back unbound. She figured they thought she must be lost, the way they stared, as if she was out of place. Before she reached the hanger, they began calling to her, teasing and flirting as if she was a catch they might be able to reel in from the adjacent Missouri River.
“Whose kid sister are you?”
She ignored the first salvo, as she sidled across the open field in French Bottoms as if she were window-shopping downtown.
Another took a shot. “Come to call somebody home to supper?”
She tossed back her head and the curls rippled in the sunshine.
“I came to fly.”
They all laughed every one of them. Heat flared enough to make her blush but she wouldn’t go away. It took too much bravado to come in the first place.
“Beat it, doll.” The oldest of the gathered males stepped forward as he spoke. “Scram. Flying ain’t for gals. Go and learn the Charleston or something.”
Her rosebud mouth, pinker than nature ever painted it, pursed into a pout but her dark blue eyes flared with fire.
“I don’t wanna dance,” she said. “I want to take to the sky and fly.”
Another burst of laughter flamed her cheeks pinker but she stood her ground, fists balled tight as she glared at them. Despite her anger, tears flirted with her eyes until one of them felt some sympathy for the kid, parted the crowd and put an arm around her shoulders.
“Dry up and let her alone,” he said, walking her away from the others. “Hey, Angel, cheer up. If you want to fly so bad, I’ll teach you.”
She didn’t mind his arm around her and she liked the way he shut the others up for her sake.
“Do you mean it? That’s nifty. When can we start?”
He looked her up and down, shook his head at the white dimity dress decorated with red and blue polka dots, and sighed.
“How old are you, Angel?”
“I’m eighteen.” She told the truth but didn’t mention how recently she reached the age.
He shot her a skeptical glance but asked, “Yeah? You still go to school?”
“Nope,” she said. “I quit and went to work two years ago. I work at the dime store, Kresge’s, you know, downtown.”
He turned her so he could study her face and she stood still, sensing scrutiny might make or break her chances to fly.
“All right, then,” he said, after the pause. “Come back on Saturday morning, leave the glad rags at home and I’ll take you up. If you still want to learn after that, I’ll give you a few lessons. My name’s Guy, Guy Richter. Be here at seven, Angel.”
Her lips shifted into a smile and she nodded.
“Okay! I’ll be here with bells on.”
As she started back across the field, mincing a little in her patent leather shoes, she heard one of the fellows rag her new friend.
“Hey, Guy, what did you want to do that for? This dumb Dora won’t learn how to fly.”
She paused, marked his name and listened for the answer. When it came, she grinned all the more.
“The kid deserves a fair chance. Angel’s going to show up all the rest of you, just wait and see.”
With those simple words, he baptized her “Angel” and she knew it was who she would be with them, forever. She liked it very much.
Because they could no longer see her face, she let the grin she’d been hiding stretch across her mouth and once out of sight, she ran like a kid going home from school. To get to where she lived on Poulin Street with her mother and brother, she had to wind through long blocks no matter which way she took but when she climbed the hill to the small house near the top of the river bluffs, she paused long enough to pull back her hair and smooth her dress down.
“Is it you, Lorraine?” her mother called from the kitchen at the rear.
“Yes, Mama,” she said, schooling her face to innocence. Her mother didn’t understand her fascination with airplanes and the men who flew them. She also didn’t like the fact Lorraine painted her lips and sometimes her face. As a widow, she worked baking cakes and other sweet treats at the Federal Bakery in downtown St. Joseph. “What’s for supper?”
“Hamburg steaks,” Mama replied. “You’re late. Did you work over?”
“Nah,” she said, hating to lie more than she must. “I stopped to talk with some friends of mine and lost track of the time.”
Mama, always tired since Lorraine’s father died, sighed as she removed the hamburger steaks from the skillet and filled a bowl with fried potatoes. “Go wash up, then, and tell Frank to come to the table.”
As she washed her hands with Ivory soap and splashed her face with cool water, Lorraine looked at her own reflection to see if her inner excitement could be seen. Her face appeared normal, even placid so she stuck her head into the tiny back bedroom and told her brother,
“Supper’s ready so c’mon.”
Frank, fifteen, bolted for the kitchen after putting aside the library book he read. Unlike Lorraine, he still went to classes over at the new high school, first named North High, now called Lafayette.
“Where you been?” he asked as he passed her like a whirlwind.
“None of your business,” she answered.
“I saw you heading out toward French Bottoms after school.”
“So, you want to tell me?”
She hesitated and then said, “I’ll tell you later if you promise not to tell Mama one word about it.”
He lifted his hand in the familiar gesture. “Scout’s honor.”
Mama’s voice shrilled from the kitchen, “Come on, it’s getting cold!”
“I’ll tell you later,” she hissed before she hurried back to the table.
They ate with little conversation, her mother staring off into space as she so often did these days, thinking about her late husband or wondering how she might pay the bills or worrying about her wild daughter. Lorraine thought it might be the latter but she wasn’t sure and with the chance to fly in her immediate future, she wasn’t going to do or say anything to cause a ruckus.
Lorraine didn’t share her plans with Frank until Wednesday night when Mama headed off to visit her sister and they stayed behind. Frank pleaded a heavy load of homework and she claimed to have “her time” so they were excused. As soon as she watched her mom trod down Poulin Street hill, she turned to her brother with a grin,
“I’m going flying on Saturday!” She dropped the piece of news with as much quiet confidence as she could summon. Like her, Frank loved to walk over to Wyeth Hill, the little park perched on top of the river bluffs where they could watch the planes take off from the airfield. Both brother and sister spent many hours watching the aircraft take off and soar into the skies over the Missouri River. Now Frank looked at his sister, open-mouthed.
“Applesauce!” he said. “Go on, you’re not.”
“I am! One of the aces told me he would take me up and if I like it, he said he’ll teach me to fly!”
“Jeepers! You ain’t serious, are you?”
“I am, Frankie,” Lorraine said. “And I need a favor, kid brother. I need to borrow a pair of your pants and some boots.”
“You got it!” Frank’s enthusiasm was real. “But if you learn to fly, you gotta take me for a ride, Sis.”
“Sure, you can count on it!”
The rest of the week crawled by so slow she thought it would never end. Most Saturdays, she worked all day at the dime store but she begged the morning off, pleading a mythical family event that she had to attend. Miss Balsamo, the supervisor over the cash registers, shook her head.
“I’ll let you off this time, Lorraine, but don’t ask me again. Saturday is our biggest day of the week and I need all my girls. Promise me you’ll be here at noon.”
“Sure, Miss Balsamo,” she said. “I owe you for this one.”
On Thursday, her shift ended at two so she went to the closest barber shop and asked them to chop off her long hair. She carried the severed braid home with her and when she walked in, shorn, her mother screamed with shock. Supper ended up being late that night and Lorraine cooked it because Mama took to her bed, muttering about flappers and jazz babies and the ruin of youth.
Friday came and she got paid, spending part of her money on new lipstick, some rouge, and a pack of Camel cigarettes. Although she smoked once in awhile, until now she filched the smokes from her Aunt Bessie in the South End or bummed one from another of the girls at the dime store. At home, she paid mama her weekly board and ate supper, quiet and daydreaming of what would come on Saturday.
At dawn, she couldn’t sleep any longer so she rose, washed up and dressed in her brother’s trousers. The pants felt strange on her legs and when she donned his boots, she felt very odd. Her small feet swam in them and so she padded the toes with some old socks. As she pulled on an old sailor style blouse, she dusted herself with lilac scented powder and then made up her face, using just a little rouge, lipstick and powder. Lorraine tousled her bobbed hair and grinned. No way could anyone think she looked like a boy, she thought, not even in pants and short hair.
She ate no breakfast, too excited to digest anything but a quick cup of coffee. Lorraine slipped out of the house just after her mother left very early. Saturday was the busiest day of the week at the bakery. As far as Mama knew, she would be at the dime store so she moved with quiet motions out the door.
Praying none of the neighbors would notice her or might at least mistake her for Frank, she hurried through the streets and through more than one alley to head out toward French bottoms. When she got in sight of the airfield, she slowed her fast pace to a casual walk, plastered a lit Camel to her lip, and sauntered toward the hanger, eager and with more anticipation than she ever remembered having at Christmas.
Just outside the single hanger, her old shyness reared up and tried to choke her but she pushed it away, swaggering in the boots to show a confidence she didn’t feel now. When she walked inside, just three fellas were there, the older one who first spoke to her, Guy, and another man.
“Good morning,” she called out, hoping her voice didn’t betray her nerves. Maybe Guy didn’t remember, she thought, maybe he changed his mind.
“Hi, Angel,” he said, relieving her worries. “Come meet the rest of the gang, the ones here, anyhow. In case you forgot, I’m Guy, Guy Richter. This here is Pete but we all call him “Pop” because he’s the old man around here and this other goof is Charlie.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Charlie said, standing up to greet her. “I like the duds, Angel.”
“Thanks, it’s nice to meet you too.”
In short order he introduced to some of the others, a kid too young to have been an ace in the war named Teddy, a fellow named Stan, who Guy called ‘Joe College’, and another man who ducked his head he said was Art. When Art turned on his heel, she noticed he was missing an eye and figured he might have lost it in the Army Air Corps. Two or three other young men hung around, kicking the dirt with their toes and staring at her as an awkward silence descended.
“She can’t fly like that,” the old man they called Pop growled. “She’d need goggles, a jacket, gloves, a leather helmet and she ain’t got any. Better go home, kiddo.”
She shook her head. “I ain’t going to scram. I’m here to fly.”
“Leave off her, old man,” Guy said but he didn’t sound angry despite the harsh words. “She’s all right. She looks to be close enough to Jimmie’s size she can wear his gear.”
“And I suppose you just happen to have all of it with you?” Pop growled.
“Yeah, I do,” Guy said. “I brought it with me just for her.”
“And you’ll let the dame wear your own dead brother’s stuff? Jesus Christ on a crutch!”
Angel – because here she sure didn’t want to be just Lorraine – looked from one man to the other, more than a little upset they appeared to argue about her.
“Mind your beeswax, Pop,” Guy said, sounding irate for the first time. “C’mon, Angel, let’s get you ready to fly.”
He beckoned her to follow so she trailed behind him out to a flivver where he lit a smoke before he dug out the flying gear.
“Did I do something wrong?” she asked. “I didn’t mean to make anybody sore.”
Guy blew out smoke and shook his head. “It ain’t you, honey, it’s just Pop. He's like a bear sometime, that’s all. Don’t get your knickers in a knot over what he said.”
“Okay, I won’t. Thanks, Guy.”
“Aw, don’t mention it,” he said as he reached into the car. “Here, try the jacket and see if it’s close enough to fit.”
The brown leather aviator jacket dwarfed her, much too large but she tugged it into place.
“What do you think?” she asked, pirouetting for him.
“It looks swell,” Guy said. “It’s big but you look better in it than Jimmie ever did.”
She looked down at the jacket. “Did it really belong to your brother?”
“Yeah, it did Angel.”
“What happened to him? Did he die in the war?”
Guy’s face darkened but he shook his head. “No, we both made through the war but he bought it down at Kansas City, at the motorcycle board track not long before it closed last year.”
Angel remembered reading about a terrible accident, one in which the motorcyclist lost control of his speeding bike and veered off the track into the crowd. He died on impact and so did three of the viewers. “I’m sorry.”
Guy shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t sweat it. He’d like a pretty girl to wear his gear. Here, get the helmet on and the goggles so we can fly.”
His casual compliment pleased her but she didn’t say anything about it. She managed to pull the tight fitting leather over her head and put the goggles in place. Now she felt like a giant insect and as she followed him out to the waiting plane, she figured she must look like one too. She had one more question, though, and she turned to Guy, lips parted to ask it.
“So you were in the war too?”
He hesitated but just for a moment before he nodded. “Yeah, I was but it was a long time ago and a long way off. Come on, Angel baby, if you want to fly, let’s fly.”
She wanted to say something more but she didn’t know what so she kept her mouth shut and followed him out to the Jenny waiting on the airstrip.
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Rebel Writer: Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy: http://leeannsontheimermurphy.blogspot