Afternoon at the Airshow

I was startled one morning by the rumble of a large, four-propeller plane overhead. That afternoon, I went to Truax Field to see the display of World War II aircraft that had been advertised on the radio. It was a chilly day for summer, a fall jacket kind of day, yet a large crowd turned out for the event.

The centerpiece of the show was a B-17 Flying Fortress. The tour guide explained that the huge bomber was essential to the Allied war effort. We visitors were invited to climb up a narrow metal ladder into the plane’s flight deck where the pilot and co-pilot would have been seated.

Next, moving aft through the fuselage, we maneuvered our way along a narrow catwalk in the bomb bay. Even smaller than average people like me had trouble moving through those cramped spaces. 

Then came the radio compartment and the waist-gunners’ stations. Looking down, I could see the metal dome that served as an entrance to the ball-turret suspended beneath the plane. The airman at that station could swivel the turret around and fire machine guns at enemy fighters, while he must have been especially vulnerable himself. 

Exiting by another metal ladder at the tail end of the plane, I was greeted by a small, white-haired man standing on the tarmac. He directed me to the underside of the plane where the ball-turret was attached like a metal scrotum. The space inside was so minimal it was hard to imagine anyone squeezing in. I recalled Randall Jarrell’s vivid description of an unlucky gunner being “washed….out of the turret with a hose.”

I turned back to the white-haired usher, and commented that only a small crewman could fit in that turret. The usher, who stood about the same 5’ 4” as me, nodded. 

“You and I would have worked that position.”

Revised version copyright 2021 by Brian Dean Powers
Photos by Greg M.

How I Came to Live in a Palace

Kaisersaal
In my fourth-year high school German class, the teacher decided 
it wasn't enough just to learn a language. She wanted her students 
to know something about the people and culture that employ it. 

She assigned us to write a one-page theme about a specific 
person or place. I remembered a color photograph in an art 
history book from another class. It was a picture of the Kaisersaal,   

an eighteenth century palace ballroom. The floor is an oval chessboard 
of shiny tiles, bordered by twenty carved marble columns spaced
around rose-gray walls. Between the various pillars 

are wooden doors; a fireplace; tall, arched windows; paintings 
and statues in wall niches. The teacher praised my description. 
It was so real to her in its details, she wondered 

if I had actually visited the hall. The vaulted ceiling, with its huge 
glass chandeliers, is painted in white and pastels with gold filigree 
seemingly flung from a Tilt-A-Whirl. Frescos top the dome with blue sky 

that seems to release us into the open air. Flags wave, angels 
and cherubs hover before sunlit clouds, warriors and gods 
gaze thoughtfully upon us. Kings and queens conceal their bodies

in layers of ornate fabrics, even as Apollo proudly displays 
his muscular bare chest. Fifty years later, I've forgotten most 
of my German. I remember that lavish ballroom only by revisiting 

the art book colorplate. Its extravagance still grates against 
my preference for the plain and simple. Fifty years later 
I remember that essay as an invitation to the palace

of the imagination. For an immature, inept kid who was 
uncomfortable and ridiculed in the social world, it offered 
the rich and vaulting universe where I have lived ever since.

Copyright 2019 by Brian Dean Powers
Photo by the author