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Aunt Betsy the WASP
By the Checkered Demon

She died the other day at 96, with a Daughter, in the house her Husband built on Martha's Vineyard Island back in the 1950s. She was the oldest of four Kentucky Berry sisters, and when WW2 fired off she became a Women's Air Service Pilot. It was the only way a girl could fly military aircraft in those days, and she flew several types. All over, from the factory to the deployment areas. That and towing targets for anti-aircraft artillery practice. Pick-up duty that freed men for combat. Walt Disney designed their mascot, Fifinella.

After the war she was in New York working as a secretary for Dashiell Hammett, of all people, then met a free Polish veteran studying sculpture. They married and moved to the island where Braunie Lesnikovski became a carpenter, building a lot of the quirkier old houses you'll see around there. Their own house incorporated the salvaged cedar water tank from the old island airport for three floors, like a castle keep, then other wings radiating out. A half glass, half wood carpenter's shop jutted out over the water of the bay, above a dry boat house with its stones lapped by bay waters. They raised three children there.

I met her in the 1990s, visiting my wife's favorite Aunty. She'd started smoking at 70, and would bum cigars. Her husband had smoked them, and she'd missed the smell. We'd fire up stogies and drink Makers Mark bourbon, watching the light changes out on the bay with the wind. She was always the most excellent of company. A truly sparky woman, and a blessing to speak with. Women capable of wrangling multi-engine war birds are a cut above most women, sea-story wise.

During the reign of Boracho the Benighted, the surviving WASPS went to Washington for a gold Congressional medal and a handshake. There weren't many left, and they wore ball caps and shades, canes and walkers, grandchildren and Nieces giving an arm. Another group from another time and country where we heard great things had occurred. Aunt Betsy slipped her Fifinella enamel pin into my Wife's hand, and she wore it the day Betsy passed, the day we sabered six Champagne bottles in her memory.

All four of the sisters had library degrees, for the family loved books. Betsy became the island librarian, and I own many slightly tattered books that bear the island mark because of her. I'd sleep out in the wood shop on a summer night, the moon's light glinting off the tool edges and streaking the water, with a gentle surf chuckling against the stones. Examine the Asian saws that cut on the draw. Listen to radio out of Rhode Island. It would have almost been worth being a Yankee dog and living there, but lobster rolls and clam digging only went so far. And the Atlantic was always there, and you existed at the mercy of it and the ferry.



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ShepMarch 20, 2018 6:32 PM UTC

Cool story, well told.

Bravo Zulu, Aunt Betsy!