Chapter 1: Babbington Needs Me
WAS BORN AND RAISED IN BABBINGTON, a small town situated on the South Shore
of Long Island, lying between the eastern border of Nassau County and the
western border of Suffolk County. (Actually, I was born in the hospital
in neighboring South Hargrove, since there was no hospital in Babbington,
but that made mine a birth so close to being born in Babbington as not
to matter.) My roots in the town reach a couple of generations down
into its sandy soil, deep roots for an American family. Babbington
formed me: I was a Babbington boy. I enjoyed my childhood there,
but, like many other small-town boys, I began to want to leave the place
in my adolescence. During junior year in high school, a friend of
mine, Matthew Barber, had the good fortune to win a scholarship to a summer
institute sponsored by the National Preparedness Foundation. It was
to be held at the New Mexico College of Agriculture, Technology, and Pharmacy,
in Corosso. Matthew’s winning the scholarship inspired in me a fierce
envy and an even fiercer determination to get to Corosso myself.
By giving me a destination, Matthew’s acceptance at the summer institute
justified my building an airplane, an undertaking that my father might
otherwise not have been willing to allow—certainly not in the family garage—and
by taking me such a distance from home, my trip to Corosso gave me the
taste of a wider world that I had come to crave.
While sampling that wider world, I was surprised to find how much I missed Babbington and how much I measured the rest of the world by the standards and peculiarities of my home town. Later in life, in college, and later still, during my brief experience of conventional work, the larger world made a further impression on me, but I persisted in interpreting it by translating it into the familiar terms of the small world of Babbington and my childhood experiences there. Late in my twenties, I returned to Babbington, with the intention of staying. My wife, Albertine, and I worked at one job and another to accumulate enough for a down payment on Small’s Hotel, and when a surprise bequest from the estate of an old bayman, “Cap’n” Andrew Leech, gave us the last bit that we lacked, we put our money down and bought it. For the next couple of decades we tried to make a success of Small’s, but in the end the sum of our success was that we were able to sell it, pay our debts, and escape with a small amount of equity. We moved to Manhattan, where we live now, with the intention that we would return to Babbington often. Albertine has relatives living in the neighboring towns, and for me the place has the draw of a spiritual home, the place where the heart lies. I fully expected that in Manhattan I would be homesick for Babbington, as I had been so often during my trip to New Mexico, but I was not. I kept intending to return, but my intention was inspired more by feelings of obligation than by desire. I felt that I ought to visit certain old friends and acquaintances, ought to see how the hotel was faring under the management of its new owners, ought to go clamming, just to keep my hand in, and yet, however much I felt that I ought to go, I never quite managed to get around to going.
Years passed. The Long Island Rail Road continued to run trains to Babbington at convenient hours daily, but I never took one, never attempted to go home again. In a very short time, Manhattan became my home, my playground, my seat of operations. I had been a Babbington boy, but I had become a man of Manhattan, a part of the great urban crowd.
Then, not long ago, I received a postcard from a woman who had lived in Babbington throughout her childhood and youth, as I had, a coeval named Cynthia, who had been called Cyn or Sin or even Sinful when she and I were classmates in elementary school and high school. During the critical formative years of our lives, we had been suckled on the culture of Babbington, in circumstances that were nearly identical. However, Cyn had remained in Babbington after high school, had married a Babbington boy, was still living in Babbington, and had no intention of leaving.
Her message was brief but unsettling.
Peter,Her words dealt me a stab of guilt, for they inspired within me the feeling that I had betrayed the town by leaving it. I would have to return. I would have to see what “they” were doing to the place. I would have to see what I could do to make things right.
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Copyright © 2006 by Eric Kraft
Taking Off is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
St. Martin’s Press will publish Taking Off in the summer of 2006.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail Kraft’s indefatigable agent, Alec “Nick” Rafter.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.