Finding Amelia

the real-life childhood of an American icon

“Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it.” -Amelia Earhart


         “Is it time yet, Meelie?” five-year-old Muriel asked.

         “Not quite, Pidge.”

         Eight-year-old Amelia surveyed her homemade go-cart track. It looked okay to her, but then again, Amelia had never been one to care about precision. She just wanted to make sure the ride would be fun.

         Up on the top of the tool shed the wooden box stood ready for its inaugural run. It gleamed a bright yellow, painted by the two girls, and the words “The Canary” were printed in jaunty letters on the side.

         Amelia boosted Muriel up onto the roof and gave her the task of passing the tacks to her while she applied the long, wooden tracks to the underside of the box.

         “What are those for?” Muriel asked.

         “These are the tracks, of course.”

         “Of course,” Muriel said, nodding happily. “Meelie?”

         “What, Pidge?”

         “What are tracks for?”

         Amelia sighed. “The whole contraption runs on tracks so that it will glide faster on the course!”

         When she had hammered tight the last sliver of wood, she passed the final task to her sister. “Okay, grease them up,” she said.

         Amelia jumped back down and traced the rest of the course. That little turn at the bottom would provide some excitement. Then there was the bump over the log at the edge of the yard. She was most proud of that part. But would the cart have enough speed left to get up the small hill she’d designed there?

         “Put some more grease there, there, and—there,” Amelia instructed. “We have to make sure we have enough speed to finish the course.”

         “Are you sure Grandma said we could use all her lard?” Muriel asked.

         “Certainly,” Amelia lied.

         “Okay,” said Muriel, who applied the slippery stuff liberally to the tracks her sister had designed.

         She gave her course one last quick inspection. It looked, she thought, good enough.There’s only one way to tell for sure.

         “Okay, Pidge,” she said. “It’s time.”

         The two girls climbed back onto the roof of the shed. “I go in front, because I’m the driver,” Amelia said, helping her sister climb into their makeshift cart.

         “How do you drive a box?” Muriel asked.

         Amelia looked at the cart. She hadn’t considered that fact, herself. “By being in front!” she said.

         She stood, one foot in the box, licked her finger and stuck it in the air.

         “Why did you do that?” Muriel asked.

         “I’m testing the wind.”

         “Is it good?”

         Amelia gave a slight shrug. Her hair billowed in the wind, the bow her grandmother had made her put in her hair every day barely hanging on. “I guess. Strong. Blustery. That should help us achieve maximum speed. I think.”

         She got ready to launch their craft down the steep hill and along her self-fashioned tracks. She looked back to her sister. “Ready?”

         “Ready,” Muriel said. She pulled her leather aviator’s cap tightly down on her head.

         “Welcome, one and all,” she announced to the neighborhood, though only Ralphie was watching, “to the 1904 World’s Fair.”

         She looked down menacingly at Ralphie. His eyes grew wide, then he clapped vigorously.

         “May I introduce to you, high atop the tool shed, The Mighty Earharts, masters of mayhem, daunters of disaster. Watch them make a fist at gravity and go full chisel around the length of the fair on their own homemade Mighty Roller Coaster!” She looked down, and Ralphie clapped some more.

         “Pidge. Are. You. Ready?” she announced.

         Muriel nodded.

         “One,” the girls said together, “two… three!”

         Amelia pushed with her foot and jumped into the cart in front of Muriel. The cart shot down the first hill, and Amelia recognized that it was much steeper than she thought it was. The cart careened down the track and made the first turn on one rail. Amelia instinctively leaned to the inside of the turn to keep the cart from overturning, but could barely hold onto the sides to keep from falling out entirely. It was all going much faster than she had expected. Once the cart had righted itself, sort of, Amelia saw the hill over the fallen log coming up, and then she knew. “Hold on,” she shouted to her sister, but Muriel was already doing that with all her might.

         The cart reached the hill at a speed Amelia had never thought they would achieve, and it was instantly launched into the air.