My brother Charles is seven. I am five. We are playing with Tootsietoy cars on the fake Oriental rug in our summer rental home in Morgantown, West Virginia. Daddy is teaching at the university for six weeks. We love Morgantown, the fact that we can go down to the basement and down another long flight of stairs to reach the backyard. Once there, we can play catch with our tennis ball. But if we miss, the ball might roll to oblivion, down and down into an inaccessible gully. East Lansing, Michigan, our home, is mostly flat – far less intriguing than mountainous Morgantown.
Today, the Tootsietoy cars and trucks are traveling convoluted routes along rich-colored border strips which serve as highways. Fantastic floral designs line the highways, so lovely that we have to pull over into a stylized grove of giant flowers for a pretend picnic. We explore side roads and tiny lanes. Dead ends, mostly.
Back on the highway we honk and wave as we meet. Eventually, of course, we have a horrific head-on crash involving a huge miniature truck and a tiny, fragile family sedan. A Tootsietoy ambulance screams to the rescue, gathers the unseen wounded and heads for the hospital.
An art deco radio playing in the kitchen interrupts its program to make an announcement: Amelia Earhart has disappeared. Her around-the-world flight has possibly ended in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean.
We know who Amelia Earhart is. She has gotten famous for proving that women can do anything, same as men. Back in 1937 “same as men” was a term understood much more by some than by others.
Charles and I stop our cars. We sense that with that announcement, this morning has become different from any we’ve previously known. Something very big has happened. After this we, in a yet-unrealized way, will be a bit less sure of certain things.
But we know they will find her. As children, we believe in happy endings.
When Tootsietoys crash, help comes.
In the adult world, things are different. Seventy-some years later, what we’d like to know is the why of it. And sometimes there isn’t even that.
But they are still searching for Amelia.