Wednesday, May 6, 2009


When I was around five years old, my sainted grandmother gave me a Golden Book that was about Icarus, the god who tried to fly to the sun with waxed wings. Being a kind of know-it-all, he didn't listen about flying too close to the sun and he subsequently crashed to earth.

I became obsessed with that story. (Can a five-year-old be obsessed?) I thought about flying. I just had to. I would fly with waxed wings, just not too close to the sun. It was so simple. Why wasn't everyone flying? All I needed were some waxed wings. Hmmm... I studied the drawings in the book. And suddenly I had a plan.

My father was in the process of building a stick home and I had hung around him and watched with rapt interest. When he feeling generous, he'd let me pound nails into bits of scrap wood. If I pestered him enough he'd give the occasional approving nod and I'd happily go about pounding more nails.

With the model of Icarus's wings in my mind, I dragged out sawhorses, hammer, and nails. Using leftover wooden slats I nailed together two triangular frames. I stood back to survey my progress. The ends were cross-hatched; the triangles misshapen. I wrinkled my nose in distaste, then decided: irrelevant detail. What really mattered was the lace and wax.

My mother had an old rags bag, and in the bottom of it I remembered there were old lace curtains. Mother was napping on the couch and I stealthily crept past her into her bedroom. The bag was thrown carelessly in a corner and I opened it. I plowed through her fabric odds and ends and found the curtains, held them up. Perfect!

Next the wax. I climbed a chair and got into the top cabinet to retrieve a box of paraffin wax she used to make jellies. I found her big jelly pot, put it on the burner, turned the gas on low so that the wax could slowly melt, (just as I had seen her do) and then stuffed the curtains into the pot to saturate them. Everything was going just as I imagined. Mother still soundly napped.

I took the hot pot of wax and curtains outside. The wax burned my fingers and I had to blow on them to cool them, but I didn't care. I was so close. Carefully, I stretched and nailed the curtains onto the wooden frames. I stood back and surveyed my wings. The curtains were too long and too wide for the frame, hanging sloppily over the sides. Now that wouldn't do.

Once again, I had to sneak past my sleeping mother. Her sewing and button box, an old cookie tin, was on the floor beside her. I pried the cover off with my short fat fingers, and found her pinking scissors. Ha! I took them outside and hacked away at the offending lace overhang. Better, but not perfect. A shrug. What really mattered was the middle part of the frame, where the lace was taut, stiffened with wax, ready for flight. The scissors, no longer needed, were left on the sawhorses, their blades open.

I carried one wing under each armpit, tripping, trudging, stumbling to what seemed like a huge cliff that I had found one day while wandering in our woods. I looked down; it seemed like such a looong way down, but the blue sky was such a loooong way up!! And up was the direction I wanted.

I clumsily raised my wings to the sky. I imagined the the sensation of flight and I felt my spirit rise to the clouds above. Yes! Fearlessly I jumped. With wild determination I flapped my lacy wings. I felt the air, I felt the sun on my face, I felt elated.

I hung in midair for a moment, felt the pull of gravity and the sting of surprise. The wings must have been on a downward flap; they now were like crutches under my arms as I teetered precariously before being unceremoniously dumped to my feet. This wasn't supposed to happen! I tried again. I was grounded. The wings broke at their joints; the ragged lace held the misshapen and twisted frame.

I am not a quitter. I continued to dream of flying. Perhaps it was the wings; maybe I just needed to flap my arms, the way birds flapped their wings! I jumped off the roof of my grandmother's garage. I jumped from the roof of my father's Ford. I jumped from stairs from the porch stairs. Grounded. Always grounded.

So maybe the waxed wings and bare arms weren't a good idea. However, since then, I have seen a most fascinating contraption. It's a bicycle with wings and propellers. Now if I could only just peddle fast enough I know I could fly.

I just won't fly too close to the sun.


  1. HA....go for it! I am just waiting to hear what happens with that bicycle! Just don't let Leonardo know if you succeed.

  2. It's tempting, really. I've seen demonstrations of this particular flying machine on science shows and it does bump along. The whole idea just intrigues me to no end.