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Patterns: Tales of Flying and of Life
Bette Bach Fineman
Editorial & Aviation Services Ltd
2007
$20 from bettebachfineman.com

What am I doing up here?”

That’s how author Bette Bach Fineman begins her memoirs. It's the early 1970s and she's on a cross-country flying trip with her husband and a couple of friends - she in her own plane, her husband in his, and the couple in a third. They've landed in a farmer's field, she's making her approach. This is in the days when

the mid-west [was] still a bit naďve…there was still a lot of country there that no one cared if you used, as long as you didn’t abuse it.

Bette Fineman had been wife to a pilot for over a decade, and co-pilot to him for many of those years, before he encouraged her to get a plane of her own. Over those years she’s also given birth to five children, and there's another on the way.

It’s not long, however, before Bette realizes why she’s up in the sky, pilot instead of co-pilot.

I was finding [out] how many people live in the same body beside my latest child. Thinking and doing, I was testing myself to see how a learned skill is applied, how problems are faced and tests passed…tests far removed from the familiar kitchen sink, the hospital delivery room, the pile of diapers, the budget that gave me a headache, the grocery store. What I was doing was living my own life for once. It was different not sharing the joys and challenges of flight with my best friend in the seat beside me. I missed that, but I didn’t know then what a great gift I had been given.

Bette Bach was married to the pilot/novelist Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull) for 16 years, from 1957 to 1973, and thought she had the perfect life. He was her best friend, mentor and husband. She was his inspiration, not to mention the editor of his books.

Then, one day, he left her.

Devastated, Bette set about putting the pieces of her life back together, and creating a new one. In Patterns: Tales of flying...and of life she recounts how she did it.

Out at the airport was the one sanctuary. No one dared say a word to me about Dick. They knew he was gone. They had seen him buy all new maps of the eastern states, pay his hangar bill, take the Swift and go. ...

So I flew the Champ, fooling around a lot on Saturdays, often crying during the flight. I realized I couldn't sell it, I loved it too much, it was my freedom. It was the only thing that was mine. So if I kept the airplane, I would have to get my private license. I couldn't give the children rides without it. I enrolled in the newly-advertised aviation ground school course, two nights a week. ...

Both pilots and non-pilots will enjoy these stories of Bette Bach's forays into her new world - supporting herself and her children through her knowledge of aviation - from obtaining a position as a ground school instructor, to administrative manager for a female flight instructor's school.

She also continues to fly for the sheer love of it, in a restored World War II Tiger Moth biplane.

I believed that some people fly because they just like to, and some fly because they must. In which category did I fall. Airplanes had always been there and my husband and I always traveled that way, or we flew without going anywhere at all.

...

I realized that I didn't fly because my husband did...I needed to fly.

Bette Bach Fineman recounts vignettes from her life in engagingly well-written prose, full of interesting "characters" around the country that you just couldn't make up. Patterns will keep your interest from the time you pick it up until you finally put it to bed for the night.

Minor flaws
There are a few flaws, but they are minor.

First and foremost...it's a memoir. I found the author's life so interesting, her interactions with the aviation community so entertaining, that I really wished for a full-scale biography! (In addition to aviation, she also made a career out of illustration and editing, but this part of her life is only touched on.) She doesn't really concentrate on dates, either, which I think is a pity. I like to know the exact month, day and year on which events happened, as that gives a "grounding" to the story. All we know is that time is passing...

There are no photos, except on the dust jacket, and only one illustration. However, there is a photo gallery at her website, so check that out.

Finally, there's no index, (which I regard as a must in a non-fiction book), as over the course of many years she came into contact with dozens of the "rich and famous," not only actors but also aviation.

There's insights into the character of her ex-husband Richard Bach (recounted without bitterness), and into the great aviation writer Ernest K. Gann. There's a brief anecdote about Tom Watson, CEO of IBM at the time, and his buddy Skitch Henderson.

She mentions the film people she met - Cliff Robertson, Tony Bill (producer of The Sting) as well as aviators Lloyd Stearman, Benny Howard, Pancho Barnes, and Bud Gurney. She gives some insight into the fatal crash of stunt pilot Ed Mahler.

The aviation world is a small and intimate one, and in reading this book you'll be introduced to it - or recognize old friends if you're a pilot yourself. I recommend this book highly, for anyone with an interest in how a life is lived fully and well.

.

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