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Story SummaryMolly is excited to arrive at the Culver farm for her yearly visit in August. Her grandfather mentions that the ruts on the incoming road are worse than ever and that Grammy has been after him to smooth them, but he figures they keep out trouble; Molly smiles as he says this every time. Molly is taking the trip alone; normally her whole family would come, but everyone is otherwise occupied. Dad is still in England in the army; Mom is working for the Red Cross; Jill is a volunteer at the Veteran's Hospital; Ricky has a job mowing laws, and Brad is at day camp. The many changes have left Molly spinning, so the lack of change at the farm feels reassuring, peaceful, and unchanging. While Granpa no longer grows crops, there are still animals and a vegetable garden.
When the truck stops in front of the farmhouse, Molly jumps out and heads straight to the kitchen where Grammy is, hugging and greeting her. The kitchen is full of familiar smells; Dad had said that he could be blindfolded and fly the world, and still know the smell of the Culvers' kitchen. The cookie jar in its usual place as well. Molly asks where Aunt Eleanor is, and Grammy says she's away. Granpa fusses about this being as usual, and Grammy shakes her head and frowns at him. Molly is disappointed and wonder what Granpa means because Aunt Eleanor has always been there to welcome her. Granpa changes the topic by asking Molly to help him pick a melon for supper, and Molly goes with him.
Aunt Eleanor is in the kitchen helping set the table. She swoops Molly into a hug and greets her the way she always does: by saying "What's up, Doc," to which Molly replies "Not much, Dutch!" Grammy directs them to wash up for supper. As Molly is eating her second piece of melon, she bets that she will swing higher that Eleanor on the rope swing at the swimming hole tomorrow. Eleanor clears her throat and says that she won't be able to swim tomorrow. Molly protests that they always go swimming the first day and that they do the same thing every year. Granpa, sounding cross, tell Eleanor that she should tell Molly that this year won't be the same as other years, and Gramma fusses at him before suggesting that Molly and Eleanor go to the barn, get the star chart, and count shooting stars, which is a tradition after supper.When they arrive, they flop down on a stack of hay, and Molly scans for the North Star, glad to see it at the end of the Little Dipper; it has taken on importance because Dad told her to look for it every night. She is about to explain this to Eleanor when she interrupts, and asks if Molly misses her dad a lot. Molly says yes and is about to explain again when Eleanor sighs deeply. Molly asks if Granpa is mad at her, and Eleanor says it feels like that. When Molly asks why, Eleanor says that she's applied to join the W.A.S.P's. Molly is alarmed and asks if she is going to be in the war. Eleanor explains that WASPs test planes, train pilots, and transport planes to help the Air Force do its job. If she's accepted, she would have to leave immediately. Molly feels like the dumb war is changing everything in her family—first her father, and now her aunt. She asks what her her grandparents say. Eleanor says that nothing has been said. Granpa hates change. He says the ruts keep trouble out but he really means that it keeps change out, and he likes being cut off from the world and likes to act as if there is no war, so doesn't talk to her about flying. She then asks Molly's thoughts. Molly says she doesn't know, but she does; she hates the idea of Eleanor leaving and it makes her angry at the war, the world, and a little bit at her aunt. Eleanor gets up and dusts her pants, saying that the stars are staying put so they should go back inside.
The next few days are long, hot, and dull; Eleanor leaves early in the morning before Molly is up and isn't back until supper. Molly does the things she normally loved—collecting eggs from the chickens, visiting the cows, picking vegetables, spending time in the hayloft, wading in the brook, and swinging over the swimming hole. She even makes ice cream with Granpa. But it's not as fun without her siblings or her aunt. One night, Eleanor isn't even home when Molly goes to bed. It's a hot and sticky night, and Molly is unable to sleep. She looks out the open window at the North Star, thinking about her dad. She hopes for a breeze but there is nothing but the sound of crickets. Molly kicks off the sheets, thinking that this year's visit is ruined, and it's all her aunt's fault. A moment later Eleanor arrives and whispers to see if Molly is still up. Molly replies, fluffing her pillow to prop herself up, and asks where Eleanor has been. Eleanor replies that she has been at the airfield to get as many hours practicing as she can. Molly fusses that it feels like Eleanor has been practicing a million hours, and that she saw two shooting stars that Eleanor missed. Eleanor tries to apologize but Molly snaps back that Eleanor doesn't card about Molly, Grammy, Granpa, or the farm, just flying. She doesn't have to leave and be a WASP, but she wants to and will leave like Dad did, leaving Molly to worry all the time and not see her anymore. She stops when Eleanor looks like she's going to cry. Eleanor tries to hug her but Molly jerks away. Eleanor stays still before she whispers good night and leaves.That morning, Eleanor wakes Molly up so early there are still stars out, asking her to get dressed because she has a surprise. Molly dresses and makes it to the kitchen, where Eleanor hands her a piece of toast and takes her to her car. Molly asks where they are headed and Eleanor says she'll see. They eventually arrive at the airfield; Molly thinks the hangars look eerie and the planes look like dragonflies. Eleanor parks the car and Molly follows her to one of the smaller planes; Eleanor explains that she flies that plane, a PT-19. She pats it like a horse before giving Molly a helmet to wear and saying they're going flying. Molly is startled, but Eleanor helps her into the plane, saying she's practiced a lot—a "million hours", as Molly put it. Molly buckles in and looks out the windshield to see the sky starting to turn blue. Aunt Eleanor speaks over a radio and gets permission to take off. The plane is noisy and the runway seems bumpy; Molly grips the seat as the plane goes faster and lifts off the ground and into the air. Molly feels a rush of exhilaration, like when she let go of the tire swing and was in the air; she understands why Eleanor likes flying. She can see out the side window at the ground below: neat fields, the river, and silos and buildings. Molly says she had never seen the world like this and how pretty it is. Eleanor smiles, tilts the plane to one side and shows Molly the farm, and that it's the prettiest spot of all. Molly agrees.
Aunt Eleanor flies back to the airfield to land the plane. As Molly climbs out, Eleanor asks if Molly liked flying. Molly says she loved it and Aunt Eleanor happily says she knew she would. On the way back home, Molly apologizes for what she said the previous night out of anger; but she now understands her love of flying and still loves the farm. Eleanor explains that the farm is her home and she'll always return. She also says that what Molly said made her think about how her parents must feel with her leaving them to do nothing but worry. They hit a rut in the road and Molly is jounced off her seat; Molly says her grandparents have something else to do.
Molly's grandparents are waiting on the porch. Grammy asked where they went and Molly explains that she went flying. Grandpa starts to scold Eleanor for taking Molly up in "that contraption," but Molly says they flew over the farm, describes its beauty, and that it was Eleanor's North Star. Granpa sounds surprised, and asks what that means as Grammy and Eleanor look at her. Molly explains that before Dad left, she was sad; then he took her out one night and pointed out the North Star. He had explained that sailors used the North Star to guide them because they could always find it at the end of the Little Dipper. She continues to explain that Dad had said that everyone needs something they can find when they're lost, or be the same no matter where they wander. To Dad, his family was his North Star while he was off to the war; even if he couldn't see them, knowing they were waiting would make him never feel lost. Aunt Eleanor squeezes Molly's shoulders and says that she is right, then asks Grammy and Granpa to be her North Star. Grammy's eyes fill with tears, and Granpa says they'd rather Eleanor not go, but they can tell she's determined, so she should do what she feels she must, and they would be proud to stay there and be her North Star if it will help her come back safe post-war.Aunt Eleanor hugs and thanks her parents, then turns to Molly and tells her she was glad she took her flying today. Grandpa announces that he's thinking it's time to finally fix the ruts in the driveway, and asks who wants to go on one last bumpy ride while he goes into town to get some gravel. Molly, Aunt Eleanor and Grammy all laugh, and Molly offers to go with her Grandpa; the two climb into the noisy old truck together.
Meet The Author
Valerie Tripp talks about how her father liked to sail, and how he taught her about stars.
Looking Back: Flying in 1944
Discusses the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Topics covered:
- How women, children, and men helped the war effort
- The formation of WASP in 1942 under the directorship of Jacqueline Cochran
- The use of men's coveralls for flight training, nicknamed "zoot suits" by female pilots due to the lack of uniforms for women
- Fifinella patches given to women who passed their training in WASP
- Women pilots' role in training male pilots during airborne target practice and the involved risks due to the use of real guns
- Sexism women pilots faced against male pilots in flying military aircraft
- The P-39 Airacobra, a wartime plane nicknamed "the flying coffin" due to its high rate of accidents among male pilots
- Women pilots' success with the P-39, disproving the plane's nickname and inability to serve in combat
- Recreational activities of WASPs
- The lack of recognition women pilots got for their duties during the war until 1977
Activity: Make a Stargazer
Instructions on how to make a personal stargazer with an oatmeal container.