I was excited about flying into Dayton. I would see Madeline for the first time since we had been students in Thailand together, 18 years earlier. And the pilot reported that it was snowing. I’d never been in falling snow, never seen real snow, that is, snow that didn’t disappear by midday the following day, snow that didn’t fall overnight, snow that wasn’t only on the mountains or skifields.
But on arrival in the airport, I was aware of some strange conflicting emotions too. My friend was involved in planning the celebrations commemorating 100 Years of Flight, as the Wright Brothers were from Dayton. But I was from South Canterbury, home of Richard Pearse, who flew 8 months before the Wright Brothers, and was never really acknowledged as an early flight pioneer. So the Dayton Airport, which trumpeted the Wright Brothers’ success, was slightly irritating. The next day I toured the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop and then saw the mansion where they lived after they received fame and wealth, and thought of Richard’s humble life. I did so with interest and good grace … well, most of the time …
Dayton is not a tourist mecca. That must be the understatement of the century. But for me it was wonderful, renewing a friendship and discovering life in the Mid-West in the middle of winter. One of the joys of visiting friends who live overseas is to get a taste of what it must be to live there. I prefer that to a fancy hotel any day.
Everything about it was exotic to me, though not entirely unfamiliar thanks to countless TV shows and movies. The house was typical with a big front porch. I imagined sitting there in the summer with a long cool drink. But in February the snow was everywhere, and the icicles dripping from the houses were so pretty. Nothing could grow or survive under that snow, so I think I know why Americans say “backyard” – which to us means a bare barren functional area – rather than “garden” or “lawn” which are lush and green all year round.
Madeline took me for a drive. Every time we turned a corner or drove up a hill, I expected to see the snow stop. But it always surprised me – its constancy, the fact it went on as far as I could see, even when I flew out of Dayton.
We went to a local Farmers’ Market, parking in a semi-paved lot, to shop for dinner. I watched in surprise as elderly shoppers would totter across the treacherous icy ground to and from their cars, clutching shopping bags. Later, when Madeline’s parents and sister arrived for dinner (spaghetti of course), I saw them walk precariously from the car across the slippery path to the house. I wondered what the rates for broken bones would be compared with those in New Zealand? Or if the rates increased dramatically in winter? Hearing her father (originally from Indonesia) talk about immigrating to America, all I could think was “why would you choose Dayton? Coming from the equator and ending up in this frozen landscape?”
The next morning, Madeline announced that the temperature outside was 17°F below zero. I could not imagine such a temperature. As a child I had grown up in the south of New Zealand, and knew about frosts and frozen pipes when the overnight temperature went below freezing. But 17 below? This was ridiculous! “I’m going for a walk” I declared, determined to experience February cold. Madeline and her family looked at me in amazement, laughed, and sent me on my way. I managed to go around one block, nose and ears freezing (despite my thick coat, hat, gloves, scarf). I resisted the strong temptation to stop the Sunday morning joggers passing me – their breath like vapour trails behind them – and ask simply “WHY??????”
But of course the houses are warm, and the welcome was warmer. I’d like to see Dayton in the summer, sit on the porch, watch Rob grill in the backyard and the children run about and play on the grass. The very fact that I can contemplate doing this is, I reluctantly admit, thanks to the Wright brothers.