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The past comes in bits and pieces from Granny. My family doesn't linger too long on the past, and the continual march forward takes up most of our time. Once in a while, when I sat in her immaculate basement apartment with its deep blue couch and Queen Anne legs, after watching Wheel of Fortune and then Jeopardy!, puzzling out the canned puzzles of the day with her, she would drop into a tale from the past. Concrete, filled with pure memory and shorthand references we both knew. "You know how he was, the hothead." Her soft Scotch accent peppered the conversations, adding an air of wispy recollection and accenting the smile of a master storyteller. She spoils me to this day, and I know she loves to tell her tales to her "Wee Jimmy", a childhood term of endearment. They are not always nice stories, but they never change. They are the tales of her life.

Here is the Spitfire story as I have heard it many times before:

During the war, my gran had just become a teenager. Living on her family's modest farm in Ayrshire, Scotland, she helped her mother raise her 12 siblings while her father toiled in fields of barley and raised racing greyhounds for the local track. He grew quite famous for his hounds. Since the war started, he worked growing hemp for ropes, as dictated by the local Materials board. His older sons joined the Army and went off to war. Gran says he looked extra ragged when his boys left. Sad on a deep fatherly level. The farm was far enough from the next town to keep them relatively out of the action. The exception was the local airstrip, a small quickly produced afterthought of a place that held the pride of the RAF for quick action against German bombers. The Battle of Britain raged in the south of England, and children at school told tales from the radio. Her father wouldn't let them read the newspaper after her brothers left. The farm stood in the shadow of the Luftwaffe's favorite path to Glasgow and the airfield bristled with AAA and fighters to drive them off.

During the Glasgow blitz, she didn't have to go to school for a few weeks, and they spent time inside with blackout drapes pulled tight on the windows. No bombs fell near her farm but a warehouse in town was blasted flat in an ammunition shipment accident. Her friends buzzed with news when she went to town for rations. She said that she heard them once, when she slipped out to the barn to check on the plowhorses on a clear night. They droned like distant bees, and a tinny pop pop came from the far off airfield. They didn't use many searchlights outside of the cities.

Her worst memory of the war came during this time out of school. She was growing restless and her mother suggested that she take her father's lunch out to the barn for him. She was carrying a mug of tea and a meager plate of toast and baked beans out the back path to the barn when her father came running out to meet her, panicked. He was swearing for her to drop the plate and run when he scooped her up in his arms as he ran past. It was only then that she heard the thundering roar of the aircraft engines just across the field. A smoking Spitfire blistered across the top of the barn and cleared the house by feet. Her father fell bodily on top of her and she cried when her wrist broke. As fast as the plane had come, it had gone. The pilot had just teased the smoking plane up from its terminal dive when he crossed the path of another green painted fighter. They smashed together like paper and dropped heavily from the sky, falling in the far field of hemp across the gravel road. They landed between her father's field and the back of the neighbor's sheep pasture. The burning heap exploded and roiled with black smoke. Everything after that happened in a rush of memory. Father took her in the house and rushed out to the wreck. Firefighters came from town. The doctor came and wrapped her wrist. Men from the RAF came and talked with Father and the neighbors. The big green trucks hauled the twisted burnt frames away. The pilots came away in white sheets. The hemp grew in the rutted ruined field. Father kissed her and apologized for yelling. "Didn't want to lose my wee Nell" he said.

Seems that two young pilots, sleep deprived from the night before, had been sent up to chase the Nazi bombers returning early in the morning from their deadly work in the city. They chased them and one pilot had caught some flak in his engine or had a major mechanical failure. The pair was limping back to the nearby airfield when the plane started to fail. His wingman had followed his descent and crossed into his path as he pulled out of his brutal dive towards the farm. They tangled up and had no chance to parachute being so close to the ground. They buried them in the town cemetery with a full ceremony. My gran never went out in that particular field again.

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