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Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Rolls Royce and the Hayling Brothers

A Rolls on a Vineyard summer day

         I had an unexpected privilege yesterday.  I was neither hoping for it, nor expecting it, but I met two remarkable brothers. Recently, my friend, George Colt, wrote a rather magnificent book about the undeniable strength and pull of fraternal bonds. Whether they are in tact, frayed or divided, those bonds serve to propel men on to their destinies. Never was this as clear to me until yesterday when I met the Hayling brothers.
This story started with George Colt’s reading of a passage in his book at a book signing in Northampton, MA. He had written about Thoreau and his brother. It was the first time I had thought of Thoreau in a way that didn’t include a caption such as “Author, Civil Disobedience” or “Philosopher, Naturalist and author of Walden.” George’s account of Thoreau spurred me on to Amazon.com, where I bought Thoreau’s book, Letters to a Spiritual Seeker.  After ordering it, I found myself checking my mailbox on Martha’s Vineyard with keen alacrity. When I opened my mailbox yesterday, I found a yellow slip indicating that I had a package. I called at the General Delivery window. In seconds, I had the book in my hands.At least, I supposed it was the book.
          I couldn’t open the mailer in which it was sent. It was virtually tear-proof. I had no scissors and brute strength seemed to matter little. I suspected my arthritic hands were part of the problem. Jamming the envelope into my beach bag, I headed to my favorite spot on State Beach.  As I drove, I found myself remembering words of praise about the book. By the time I arrived at the beach and had parked the car, I was determined, absolutely resolved, to open that mailer.  I told myself that I would not allow myself to get settled on the shore with the waves licking at my feet until I had that book in hand.  Just as I set off toward the wooden walkway that wends through the sand dunes, I saw two gentlemen pull up in a convertible. I had them in my sights in seconds flat.  They looked strong, they looked fit. Maybe they could open the mailer?
After a brief introduction and explanation, I recruited their help. With a minimum of effort, the envelope was opened.  The men and I exchanged first names and started to walk down the ramp to the beach.  We chatted. I learned they were brothers and long time/part-time residents of Oak Bluffs.  I commented on the cap one was wearing. It reminded me of my father’s Navy vessel cap from the Korean War era. Curious, I asked my new friend, Les about it.  I was blown away by his answer.  He had served in World War II. He was the youngest Tuskegee Airmen recruited. ( He went on to tell me that 200 young men had been identified as candidates for flight school. They took the required tests, and only six of them made it. He was one.) The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in the U.S. Armed Forces.  I read about their history extensively when I was researching my novel, A Growing Season, which was set primarily in 1944.  I wanted to hear more about Les’s experiences, but his brother, Bill, jumped in. It turns out that his older brother (by one year) actually served in the Korean War because he was in Medical School during World War II.  He had completed most of his training when he was called up to be a Battalion doctor during the Korean War.  When the war was over, he returned to the States to finish his medical training.  Bill became an ob-gyn.  Over the course of his career, he calculated that he has delivered as many as 8000 children.  
These men were intelligent, charming raconteurs.  I would have liked to chat for an hour.  However, after a few hot-footed moments on the hot, sandy beach, we went our separate ways. I couldn’t help noticing with what enthusiasm and speed they dove into the Vineyard Sound.    I dove into Spiritual Letters instead.  It was easy to lose myself in Thoreau’s words.  It is the kind of reading that is dense and meaty and deeply satisfying. So enraptured was I, that I did not hear Les’s approach. He came over to ask for my contact information. He had some material he would use when he gave public speeches about his experiences during Black History month, and he wanted to send them to me. I promised that I would leave my business card in his car before I left.
After a couple hours of sun, surf and Thoreau, I was ready to head home. Remembering my pledge, I dug my last business card from my purse.  I wrote a brief note on the backside and walked over to their convertible to leave the card on the car’s console.  It wasn’t until this return trip to their car that I noticed that it was a walloping beauty of a Rolls Royce.  My esteem for 86 and 87 year old Bill and Les Hayling rose yet another notch. They were living life large and enjoying all it had to give them. 
Remembering my camera was slung over my shoulder, I held it up to my eye, took careful aim, and shot. I hoped to capture the hood ornament, the Spirit of Ecstasy. 
The Rolls Royce Spirit of Ecstasy
It was a hard photo to take with the sun glittering and dancing on the highly polished surface of their car.  These brothers, both individually and together, were part of our American history. I stood a little taller and felt a little prouder that men such as these brothers had crossed paths with me.

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