For the month of February, I will be posting to my blog excerpts from my young person's novel "Norma's Revenge" as I work on character development. Your comments, critiques, and suggestions are welcome. Today, the pilot Heinrich Forster.
Chapter Eight – The Mighty Atlantic
Loredana and Lucien helped prepared Eduardo for the big trip across the Atlantic. Eduardo’s age didn’t diminish his enthusiasm for the adventure, but difficulties abounded as Loredana saw to the details for the return trip to America. Since Eduardo had written his letter to Loredana, the great Wall Street crash of 1929 had taken place and the United States was in an economic tailspin that would lead to what would be remembered as the Great Depression. Heinrich Forster was one of the lucky ones as the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company’s airships were based on contracts with the United States military. Heinrich was conservative with his investments, and so the Forster family found themselves relatively secure when hundreds of thousands of people found themselves out of work and out of money. Across the Atlantic, Italy was inching ever nearer to another war, becoming an ally of Germany. Tensions were high and resources were low, and the rules were constantly changing. The transatlantic journey required upfront payment. Loredana and her father spent weeks making arrangements through the inefficient Italian banking system. Finally, their journey back to the States was confirmed for SS Conte Grande departing from Genoa, Italy to New York. It was a winter crossing and the journey was rough and frigid. Eduardo helped pass the time by playing his violin for Loredana and Lucien. Lucien was inseparable with his Grandfather and was able to handle the rolling of the ocean by humming the melodies that sprang from Eduardo’s violin. Their fellow passengers gathered to hear the soulful music of Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, and Bellini; grasping onto the notes to hold fast to the Italy they had left and would probably never see again.
Heinrich Forster met the train at the station and looked expectantly for Loredana and his young son Lucien. They had been gone for three months and his heart ached at their separation. Lucien had barely stepped off the train onto the platform when he saw his father and ran into his arms. For three months he had only communicated in Italian and Heinrich was perplexed when Lucien tried to describe his recent adventures.
“Papa, Nonno è venuto a America di fare la musica! We came here on a nave grande and the train!” Heinrich looked to Loredana who was walking arm in arm with her father, Eduardo. Eduardo’s other hand was clutching his violin case. Heinrich reached out his hand in welcome. Eduardo studied the man that had swept his youngest daughter away and only saw kindness and eagerness in his face. With a nod he let go of Loredana’s arm and thrust his hand into Heinrich’s strong grip. No longer were they an Italian and German coming to terms, but they were son and father-in-law united in the land of opportunity.
“Welcome to your new home.” Heinrich relied on Loredana to translate as they made their way to gather their trunks and belongings. Heinrich had borrowed a delivery vehicle from the Goodyear plant, loaded their traveling trunks and began making their way to the Forster residence. Eduardo gazed out of the window as he surveyed the landscape. Nowhere in sight was there a sign of mountains or lake. The terrain was mostly flat and once outside of the train station, the houses became spaced further apart until they found themselves in the heart of rural farmland.
Heinrich and Loredana had settled 10 miles from the Goodyear Akron Airdock in a small community of Cuyahoga Falls. They were attracted to its quaintness and its river and waterfalls. It was the town center for surrounding farms, and the Cuyahoga River was the site of many manufacturing enterprises. Even amidst the hardship elsewhere in the country, Cuyahoga Falls still offered a thriving haven for those lucky to have work through the plant or one of the many emerging manufacturers. The Forster home was a modest three bedroom white colonial style home, but Loredana’s touch had made it welcoming and inviting. Although the bedrooms were located up a narrow staircase, Heinrich had converted a small study on the main floor into a room for Eduardo with a sliding passageway into the front parlor. Lucien excitedly showed his grandfather to his room and grabbed his hand to take him on a tour of his new home. The weather was beginning to turn icy and the thin covering of snow had turned sharp and uninviting. Lucien led his grandfather into the parlor and stopped in front of a handsome wood cabinet set atop a parlor table.
“Nonno, la musica!” Lucien pointed and Eduardo looked at the square box quizzically. Loredana entered the room and smiled, understanding Lucien’s motive. She reached to the shelf under the table and pulled a twelve-inch disk out of a brown thin carton. Upon opening the lid of the cabinet, she placed the disk carefully onto a green felt turntable. Lucien waited for his mother’s nod and he reached for the hand crank affixed to the side of the cabinet and used both hands to turn the handle until a perceptible click was heard. Eduardo peered over Loredana’s shoulder and as she released the lever and placed the shiny metal arm onto the disk, the music of the opera came floating into the room. Lucien clapped his hands and looked to Eduardo expectantly.
“Rossini – Guillaume Tell!” Eduardo’s eyes danced and he stared as the music of the orchestra floated from the mahogany cabinet and filled the room. He may have just arrived in a foreign country, but his music would never be far from his heart. As the music rose in tempo and dynamics, Lucien skipped around the parlor in sheer delight. As he did so, Eduardo quietly opened his violin case, pulled out his instrument and began to play. Lucien would remember this moment as one of pure enchantment and pleasure. It would be a feeling he would search to duplicate throughout the rest of his life.
From that point forward, Eduardo became an important part of Lucien’s childhood and upbringing. He taught his young grandson to read music and when Lucien’s arms grew long enough, he began teaching him to play the violin, using his own cherished instrument. Lucien would gain proficiency on the instrument, but he much preferred to listen to the music rather than make it. Heinrich was absorbed in the latest Goodyear project. With the building of a new hangar in Akron, they had begun to build and assemble a brand new airship. It was a commission for the United States Navy and it was a magnificent undertaking. The ship itself featured the latest aerodynamic innovations that allowed a rigid aluminum balloon span of 785 feet, hold 6.5 million cubic feet of helium with a weight of over 242 tons, and carry a crew of 80. So it was an incredible feat to see it float into the air, carrying with it on intricately engineered trapezes floating beneath the airship’s hangar, four “Sparrowhawk” fighter planes. The solid airship or “dirigible” could travel at speeds up to 83 miles per hour and stay in the air over 10,000 miles without refueling. Heinrich spent long hours at the plant during the construction of the ship, and Lucien occasionally accompanied his father on weekends to see the ship’s progress. The interior of the aluminum balloon included sleeping berths, a large mess room, a galley, and observation platforms at the nose and tail. Lucien accompanied his father, mother, and grandfather to the hangar on August 8, 1931, to witness the christening and “launch” of the airship. Dignitaries abounded as the ship was christened with its official name, and the ship floated off the hangar floor for the first time. In September, Heinrich brought Lucien along to accompany him along with the Secretary of the Navy on the USS Akron’s maiden voyage around the Cleveland area. Children were not allowed on any of the Goodyear flights, but Heinrich was in good standing with the Navy and it was the Secretary that insisted that Lucien come along. Lucien, now nine years old, put his trust in his father that day. Loredana was uneasy, but did not and would not stand in Heinrich’s way to share his love of the sky with his only son. She stood in awe as she watched the silvery missile-shaped airship lift silently in the air.
As the ship rose into the air, Heinrich positioned Lucien at one of the large picture windows in the control car. Lucien watched as they left the tethers of the hangar and expansive farmland diminished into postage stamp squares of gold, green and brown. Houses, barns and town diminished into small dots upon a colorful landscape. As they hovered and navigated, they followed the shores of Lake Erie, and its grandness was minimized into a refreshing blue pond, servicing the tiny world the inhabitants of the ship no longer found themselves part of. Lucien could see the excitement that filled his father and he stayed in his designated spot as he saw his father take charge and take pleasure in sharing his life’s work with the guests and the crew. Lucien’s stomach had butterflies, and he was light-headed as they joined the ranks of the flyers. Once they had reached a cruising speed Heinrich sat next to his son and pointed out landmarks below. In the distance, a flock of birds glided on the day’s breeze.
“Lucien, we are now like the birds.” Lucien looked at the effortless flight of the birds and looked around him taking in the manmade monstrosity it took to try and simulate that miracle.
“Papa, I think we are more like the balloon at the circus.” Heinrich laughed.
“Oh, the same balloon that has been lost from the grasp of its owner? I certainly hope not or we would just float higher and higher, carried out of sight by the wind. No, my Lucien, I hope we are more like the birds, where we can choose when to fly and when to put our feet on the ground.”
“But we have no wings.”
“Oh true, but we have propellers and controls. Thank goodness your Papa knows them well. Are you so ready to bring your feet back to the ground?”
“I think I am more like the boy at the circus . . .”
“And I am more like the bird.” Lucien thought he detected a bit of sadness in his father’s voice, but it soon disappeared with Heinrich’s adventurous grin.
“The way you feel when you hear your Mama’s and Nonno’s music is how I feel when I am here in the air piloting my ship.”
“Then Papa, you must feel very happy.”
 Translation: Grandpa is coming to America to make music!
Translation: big ship