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Short Story

The Transformation of Plain Jane

Here’s another story based on a photograph.  The starter photo is of the aviatrix.  I’m not sure who she is, but there’s something exciting and romantic about everyone(that is, men) telling women what they couldn’t do… and then one by one the ladies go out and prove everyone wrong.

The Transformation of Plain Jane

“If they could just see me now,” Jane thought.  The wind bit at her exposed cheeks beneath her goggles.

“Mind the trees!” her instructor called from the back seat of the Tiger Moth.  Had Jane Hawkins been logical and cool and objective she would never have gotten into the plane.  The cowling around the 4-cylinder in-line 120 horsepower engine had darkened from the original bright yellow to something of a dark streaked tan, the sure sign of oil blow-by.  The canvas covering the wings sported numerous patches.  The control wires connecting the stick to the control surfaces had too much slack in them and put the craft on the border of unsafe.

Jane yanked back on the control stick.  The g-forces pushing her body forward in the straps.  She couldn’t see the trees only the floor of the cockpit, but she knew they’d cleared them.  Easing the stick forward until they were level, a slim smile broke beneath her goggles.  She was nearly a pilot!  And to think it might have never happened.

Weeks earlier her guidance counselor at Springfield Central High School had other ideas.

“Jane, maybe you should look at these.”  Mr. Harper, handed her a trio of pamphlets: Mrs. Hawthorne’s Secretarial School, The Reading Nursing Academy, and Homemaking for the Modern Woman.  Jane’s heart sank.  The counselor could see her slumped shoulders.

“What do you want to do, Jane?”

“I want to see the world,” Jane spoke in nearly a whisper.  Her nickname was “Plain Jane.”  She wasn’t much to look at.  Slight as many were in these lean days, with homespun clothes, and her long hair done up in a simple bun at the back Jane was hardly mistaken for Jean Harlow.

As a high school senior, class of ’36, the opportunities were few.  The Depression was still applying its crushing pressure across the globe.  So many were out of work.  Her own father, once a professor of History at Clark County Community College, had been forced to take a janitorial job at her high school. Budget cutbacks by the school because of dropping enrollment had put Mr. John Hawkins, Ph.D., on the dole for a time.

“Your teachers speak well of you, Jane, but how do you imagine you will support yourself?  You can’t just go galavanting around the place with no concern.”  The words leapt across Mr. Harper’s desk with devastating force.  Jane knew it was the truth.

She had it bad.  Wanderlust.  She’d found a definition of it in the dictionary.  From the German, a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.  Springfield, Ohio was a nice enough place, but Jane wanted to see all those places she’d read about in her father’s library.  The Parthenon in Athens, the Pacific Ocean from the Golden Gate in San Francisco, Big Ben in London and a thousand other stops along the way.

“Jane?  Jane!” Mr. Harper snapped his fingers.  She was daydreaming again.

“Yes, Mr. Harper?”

“Why don’t you set your sights on something a bit closer to home?  I happen to know Mrs. Hawthorne and could get you-” He stopped short as Jane rose from her seat.  Almost as if in a trance she crossed the office to a side table.  She picked up an old copy of The Saturday Evening Post.

“I know what I’ll do, Mr. Harper.”  Jane turned to face him the magazine held tight against her wool sweater.

“Oh?”  On the cover of the August 7, 1937 issue was the right engine, propeller and wing of a silver airplane.


About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...


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