On Thursday, February 25th, I held the first copies of Red Sky, Black Death in my hands. My friend Elizabeth Brock (who helped immensely with funding my conference trip and helped sponsor four Russian women pilots to attend) jumped up and down with me as we opened the box of 35 beautiful books. And when our four Russian friends, Khalide and Valentina (Pres. and VP of Aviatrissa, the Moscow women pilots’ club), Galina and Alexandra (glider pilot and parachutist) got a load of the books, they jumped up and down with us all over again.
There wasn’t time for too much celebration. On Friday, we unveiled the book at the WAI Author’s Table. I shared space with a wonderful author named Liz Moscrop, who wrote “The 100 Greatest Women in Aviation,” and we made fast friends, talking up each other’s work and exchanging books.
In an hour and a half, RSBD sold out, and Elizabeth and I started handing out cards to people who wanted to order one. Liz and I cooked up plans to do more such trips. (The 99s conference in Chicago this summer, and maybe EAA in Oshkosh!)
On Friday night the Russian ladies, translator and future military pilot Fidan Thornberg, and I did a brief presentation on the book for many dozens of fabulous young women in flight suits at a
reception hosted by WMA, the Women’s Military Association. After a quick talk about Anna Yegorova’s life, the pilots surrounded our Russian friends, thrilled to shake their hands and pepper them with questions about the Russian combat veterans. Two of the WASP–our own famous American WWII veteran ferry pilots–swapped pins with Khalide, posed for photos, and ordered the next available copies of RSBD.
Saturday night, Khalide represented Anna Yegorova as she was inducted into the WAI Hall of Fame at the conference awards banquet. I was thrilled to escort her as she stood to accept Ms. Yegorova’s plaque and a bouquet of roses.
We then retired to the room, utterly exhausted from the week, to pack up our “bardak” (Russian for “chaos”) and share a red wine toast. Khalide presented me with a large marine-themed snow globe, a rather odd and impossibly heavy gift given to conference attendees by one of the sponsors. “This is a gift to you straight from the depths of my soul,” she deadpanned, parodying the famous Russian gift for effusive toasts and gift-giving. “It is like tearing away a part of myself to part with this.”
We laughed and talked until far too late and exchanged a number of actual hearfelt gifts, including a marvelous book of photos and articles detailing the history of the Aviatrissa club. Elizabeth and I even found a few pictures of ourselves in there. And at the end of the night, they also presented me with the perfect Russian gift–medicine, known to Americans as “vodka,” in a cylindrical container made to look like a birch tree. “This is for your book event in Nashville,” they told me solemnly. The birch tree is a ubiquitous presence in and a symbol of Russia, and it was Anna Yegorova’s call sign when she flew–the original Russian title of RSBD is, “I am ‘Birch Tree.’ How do you hear me?”
After no sleep whatsoever, Elizabeth and I dropped off the Russian ladies at the airport on Sunday morning, in abysmal weather, and hit the snowy road, We barely beat the icy front that was assaulting the East Coast–one last gift from the Russians. Somehow, we made it home, slept a little, and prepared ourselves for the big event in Nashville the following day…