Autobiography of the famous flyer which describes her own ambitions to become a pilot and offers advice to others.
"Miss Earhart knows a great deal about aviation, especially as arts and business and her pages are full of experiences, the information, the little things and the big things the public likes to know about."
— New York Times
"... an account of the vibrant aviator's childhood, her fascination with aviation, and her life through her 1932 flight across the Atlantic." — Booklist
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The Fun of It
Random Records of My Own Flying and of Women in Aviation
By Amelia Earhart
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 1932 Amelia Earhart Putnam
All rights reserved.
THE FUN OF IT
GROWING UP HERE AND THERE
WHENEVER anyone asks me about my work in aviation I know that sooner or later I shall hear, "And, of course, you were mechanical when you were a girl, weren't you?" As a matter of fact, in a small way, I was — witness the trap I made to catch the chickens that strayed into our yard. My girlhood was much like that of many another American girl who was growing up at the time I was, with just the kind of fun and good times we all had then.
Looking back now, however, I can see certain threads in what I did that were fully as important in leading me to aviation as being mechanical perhaps was. There is the thread of my father's being a railroad man and the many trips we had together — by which I discovered the fascination of new people and new places. There is the thread of liking all kinds of sports and games and of not being afraid to try those that some of my elders in those days looked upon as being only for boys. There is the thread of liking to experiment — perhaps this thread is the same as the one I have just mentioned — and of the something inside me that has always liked to try new things. There they all are, weaving in and out and here and there through the years before aviation and I got together.
But to begin at the beginning.
Among the best stories my mother told were those of her own girlhood. My sister and I always spoke of that mysterious and far away period as "thousands of years ago when Mother was little". Looking back on my own infant days I seem to feel a new significance in that childish quotation. So I think I'll begin this sketchy history of me by using it.
Well, then, thousands of years ago, I was born in Atchison, Kansas. My parents did not live there at the time, but my grandparents did. My grandfather was a judge of the district court, though he had retired from that office and others he held long before he became a relative of mine. My grandmother was a Philadelphian, having come out from that city after the war. Her family were Quakers, and she had lived within sight of old Christ Church in a house which stands today. I think inside she never quite got used to the west, for now and then something came popping out which made me feel Philadelphia must be quite superior to Atchison (this point, of course, has never been proved).
She arrived when Kansas was really wild. Great piles of buffalo bones lined the newly built railroad tracks when she came and Indians in blankets were always to be seen in the town. I remember her telling me of their crowding about her when, as a young housewife, she went to market. They lifted the lid of her basket and peered within, and felt the fabric of her dress, until she was quite terrified, mistaking their native curiosity for some kind of sinister threats.
There were no Indians around when I arrived, though I hoped for many a day some would turn up. And the nearest I got to buffaloes was the discovery of an old fur robe rotting away in the barn. Truly the Kansas I knew had lost some of its wool-liness.
Before I return to my beginnings, I should mention that I had two more grandparents. My father's father was a Lutheran minister, he and his wife both coming from Pennsylvania. I barely remember him as a tall, slight man with very thin hands, and she was not living when I was born.
I went to school in Atchison in a private college preparatory until I was ready for high school. I was named for my grandmother and was lent her for company during the winter months. I am sure I was a horrid little girl, and I do not see how she put up with me, even part time. Like many horrid children, I loved school, though I never qualified as teacher's pet. Perhaps the fact that I was exceedingly fond of reading made me endurable. With a large library to browse in, I spent many hours not bothering anyone, after I once learned to read. Scott, Dickens, George Eliot, Thackeray, Harper's Magazine for Young People, and The Youth's Companion of a generation past fell before my onslaught, as well as forgotten books like Dr. Syntax. On the crowded shelves I also found waiting for me the so-called children's books of fifty years ago, where very good little boys and girls always emerged triumphant over very bad little boys and girls.
I go back now to few of the books I read as a child since without a feeling of disappointment. Whether this is in the books, or in me, I do not know. I suppose mine is a repetition of the experience of the elderly gentleman who returned to his native country after many years abroad to taste the cherries he was so fond of as a boy. Of course, he found that they were no better than those he had been eating regularly in other parts of the world. And everyone over thirty understands this. Note: This point is not important enough to wish to be thirty to understand.
Books have meant much to me. Not only did I myself read considerably, but Mother read aloud to my sister and me, early and late. So fundamental became the habit that on occasions when we girls had to do housework, instead of both pitching in and doing it together, one was selected to read aloud and the other to work.
At one time I thought that my father must have read everything and, of course, therefore, knew everything. He could define the hardest words as well as the dictionary and we used to try to trip him and he to bewilder us. I still have a letter he wrote me beginning, "Dear parallelepipedon", which sent me scurrying for a definition.
Besides words, a specialty of his was reading aloud books like Pickwick Papers and making them very funny. Then he told exciting continued stories which ran for weeks. They were mostly Western thrillers in which he played the leading role. Thus,
* * *
From behind the low hill came a shot. My companion stood ready with gun in hand.
"We're surrounded," he said.
"Look yonder," I exclaimed, "the sheriff's posse are coming along the trail. We must try to hold out till they get here."
Just then another shot rang out and I dropped to the ground.
"They've got me, Mac," I groaned.
Gasps from someone in the audience.
"Did they really shoot you, Mr. Earhart?"
"Did they? I was killed", answered my father seriously. "I lived just long enough to find out whether the posse arrived in time to save the others — but that's the next chapter."
My father's occasional death or his losing an arm or leg was apt to disconcert literal minded neighbor children who happened to be listening.
Sometimes he translated his tales into action and on Saturdays played Indian with any of the neighborhood who wished to join in the games. He was Chief Indian or Chief Scout and the battles which ensued were endlessly exciting. He bore on his nose the marks of one raid, after some chasee, during the heat of the battle, had tried to push shut the sliding door to the hayloft just as the Chief Indian had poked his head through the opening.
The barn in Des Moines which was the scene of the Indian Wars and that of my grandmother were the only ones I knew. Being a city child, I was lucky to have any.
Unfortunately I lived at a time when girls were still girls. Though reading was considered proper, many of my outdoor exercises were not. I was fond of basketball, bicycling, tennis, and I tried any and all strenuous games. With no instruction in any sport, I wasn't good enough in myself to excel later. I wish that the vogue of teaching youngsters to learn correct form in athletics had been as universal then as it is now. With the intense pleasure exercise gave me, I might have attained more skill and more grace than I did. As it was, I just played exultingly, and built up all kinds of wrong habits.
For instance, my horse experience is typical. My sister and I spirited lumps of sugar and confections to a neighbor's animal. He was too sleek and too tall for us to manage to get on his back. However, the desire to do so obsessed me to such a point that when a fat delivery animal stopped in front of the house one day I couldn't resist the temptation to get on his back. The curb and the shafts of the wagon harness enabled me to mount. Though I had to be lifted down, I lived for the next experience of the kind. It came through my making the acquaintance of two girls whose father had a butcher shop. Occasionally, when deliveries were not pressing, the girls were allowed to ride the horses who pulled the wagons. They were slightly antique and not exactly the type one would choose in saddle horses. However, there was one heavy-footed sorrel who had evidently had a youth for he bucked with delightful determination for no reason at all. This horse opened vistas of pleasure for me.
Why grandmother didn't wish me to ride I don't know, as my mother had been a beautiful and enthusiastic horsewoman. Perhaps the anxiety and grey hairs she had caused spoiled my chances. Anyway, all my arguments about good stalls going to waste in the barn (except the one occupied by a fierce black and white cow) got me nowhere. Instead, for animals I had to be content, officially at least, with the two cast-iron dogs which sat in the front yard and were patient.
Like many middle western families, we trundled off to a lake (and ours happened to be in Minnesota) for the summer. There another horse entered my life. He was an Indian pony of probably twelve years, but still spry. He could be bribed by cookies to do almost anything. No saddle was available, so half the time my sister's and my riding consisted of walking home. She bears the scars yet of being scraped off his back by an apple tree. It was not until many years later that I had proper riding instruction and I consider that system the reverse of what it should be.
There has been much more attention paid to boys' athletics than to girls'. So much, in fact, that many boys have easy access to coaching in various games as well as track subjects, and most girls do not. Consequently, often little incentive is provided for girls to try to develop athletically and, also, little opportunity, when they do wish to. Usually it is not until girls reach college that any comparative attention is paid to them.
Of course there is more than the mere lack of facilities and teaching to consider. Feminine clothing consisting of skirts, and high heels (after one begins to grow up) certainly make more difficult natural freedom of movement. Then, dresses are much more fragile than masculine garments, so the wearers are usually hampered by being on guard against tearing them.
Tradition hampers just as much as clothing. From the period when girls were not supposed to be able to do anything comes a natural doubt whenever they attempt new or different activities. Whether or not they are fitted to do what men do physically remains to be seen. Tennis, riding, golf and other sports seem not to be harming individuals who are fit, despite dire predictions to the contrary.
I know that I worried my grandmother considerably by running home from school and jumping over the fence which surrounded her house.
"You don't realize", she said to me one day, "that when I was a small girl I did nothing more strenuous than roll my hoop in the public square."
I felt extremely unladylike, and went around by the gate for several days in succession. Probably if I'd been a boy, such a short cut would have been entirely natural. I am not suggesting that girls jump out of their cribs and begin training, but only that the pleasure from exercise might be enhanced if they knew how to do correctly all the things they can now do without injuring themselves or giving a shock to their elders.
Of course, I admit some elders have to be shocked for everybody's good now and then. Doing so, sometimes is a little hard on the shockers, however. I know this for my sister and I had the first gymnasium suits in town. We wore them Saturdays to play in, and though we felt terribly "free and athletic", we also felt somewhat as outcasts among the little girls who fluttered about us in their skirts. No one who wasn't style conscious twenty-five years ago can realize how doubtfully daring we were.
Along with bloomers, coasting while lying flat on the sled was considered rough for girls. Such absurdities, when I looked back on them, make meseem incredibly old. However, that condemned tomboy method of sledding once saved my life.
I was zipping down one of the really steep hills in town when a junk man's cart, pulled by a horse with enormous blinders, came out from a side road. The hill was so icy that I couldn't turn and the junk man didn't hear the squeals of warning. In a second my sled had slipped between the front and back legs of the horse and got clear, before either he or I knew what had happened. Had I been sitting up, either my head or the horse's ribs would have suffered in contact — probably the horse's ribs.
A Christmas letter to my father about this time began somewhat as follows:
Muriel and I would like footballs this year, please. We need them specially, as we have plenty of baseballs, bats, etc...."
Christmas came, and so did the footballs. Sister also triumphantly produced a little .22 popgun, which she had wheedled on her own. But what chances we had to use our new playthings were often spoiled by the realization our activities were frowned upon by those whom we cared for most among grown ups.
As for the gun, after a few short days of popping bottles off the back fence, it mysteriously disappeared. When it was hauled out of a secret hiding place some time later, the explanation that little girls should not go around shooting was given as sufficient reason for its seizure.
As soon as my sister regained possession, she used it for shooting rats in a particularly well inhabited barn. So far, that is the biggest game either of us has ever hunted.
I did trap some though, come to think of it — at the age of six. The trap used was my own invention, too. It consisted of an empty orange crate with a hinged lid. This lay on its side with the lid sticking out like an awning and propped open with a stick. To the stick was tied a long string with me on the other end, hiding behind a tree. When I pulled the string the stick flew out and the lid slammed shut and stayed shut against considerable pressure because of the heavy rubber bands laboriously attached.
What was my game? Nothing more or less than a chicken called by my sister and me in our private terminology a "domineecrips".
Some neighbor's hens occasionally escaped and invaded a special flower bed of ours. Parental remonstrance did no good, so I thought I could solve the problem by catching the invaders one by one. By sprinkling some breadcrumbs around and inside the box, one specimen was lured near enough to be trapped. What a squawking and how the feathers flew, as the surprised bird churned about inside! I was terrified and elated and know how a big game hunter feels after he has captured a charging elephant.
I raced to the house.
"Mother, mother", I panted, "I've caught one of those chickens. What shall we do with it?"
"Why", said my mother, after hearing my brave tale, "give it back, of course. I'm sure you understand that to keep it would be stealing."
What a blow! The adventure ended dismally there, except for a glowing memory.
Throughout the grade school period, which was mostly spent in Atchison, I remember having a very good time. There were regular games and school and mud-ball fights, picnics, and exploring raids up and down the bluffs of the Missouri River. The few sandstone caves in that part of the country added so much to our fervor that exploring became a rage.
A small band of adventurers worried how to keep exclusive some especially desirable caves.
"Let's put up a sign to scare people", suggested someone.
"'BEWARE' — that sounds dangerous", said another.
"How do you spell it?"
"I think it's B-e-w-a-r-e".
"But bear is spelled b-e-a-r".
"Well, let's put it one way on some and the other way on the others", suggested the arbiter in the crowd.
How terrifying those signs must have been!
The river itself was always exciting. There usually were large and dangerous looking whirlpools to be seen in its yellow depths, and the banks were forever washing away. Not that any of us ever got very near the banks but — a few of us remembered dimly the floods of 1903 when the water crept up to the gutters of buildings and swept away bridges and spread out over the lowlands as far as eye could see.
One of the particularly entrancing made-up games was called Bogie. It was played in my grandmother's barn and consisted of taking imaginary journeys in an old abandoned carriage. Fortunately next door lived two understanding cousins who were always bursting with ideas. Together we traveled far and wide through hair-raising adventures without ever leaving the barn.
Excerpted from The Fun of It by Amelia Earhart. Copyright © 1932 Amelia Earhart Putnam. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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