Housefly image

I remember this like it was yesterday. In the mid-1960s, I was sitting in geography class at Pequea Valley High School, bored out of my mind, and something caught my eye to my left. I was sitting on the window side of the room and I noticed a huge fly trying to get out, crashing into the glass over and over. That’s all it took, and my mind was suddenly far away from whatever the teacher was droning on about.

I quickly hatched a plan to catch the fly and tie a thread onto him. He was so big, he had little hairs all over him, and I knew if I could do this, the results would be amazing. This fly should really be able to carry a payload.

I reached down to my sock and pulled a single 4-inch thread from the top edge and tore it loose. Next, I made small “granny” knot at the one end, leaving a 1/4-inch loop.

Suddenly the teacher began writing on the board. I dashed to the window, scooped the unsuspecting fly into my cupped hand, and he was mine.

I worked feverishly until I pulled the loop tight on a leg. Now it was time for a short test flight. I released him very briefly, and he began to fly. It worked! He was climbing, pulling the 4-inch thread aloft. With the added weight of the thread, the fly was cruising very slowly, and it was easy to retrieve him.

I admired what I had done, but then thought, this is a rare situation. An ordinary thread being towed through the air is nothing. Just maybe I could have the fly tow a very small sign. He would look like a New Jersey banner plane, towing an advertisement over the beach. I quickly found a postage stamp-sized piece of paper and poked a tiny hole in it. I tied the loose end of the thread to the tiny “banner.” I then released the fly, but he slowly flew downward, unable to lift the load or hold any altitude. I chopped the thread down to 2 inches and tore the paper to a quarter of its original size.

I released the fly with the scaled-down payload. There he was, holding altitude, and he actually, slowly climbed. The teacher was oblivious to what I was doing; my work was shielded by a large student in front of me. Now, to finish the job, I had to actually write some sort of message on the very small banner. I chose a very sharp pencil and carefully wrote these words on the square of paper:“EAT AT JOE’S.”

I released the fly, and off he flew toward the front of the class, towing the tiny banner. It only took seconds, and half the class was following his progress, slowly cruising towards the front of the room. As my fly got closer to the front, I looked at the teacher. He saw everyone’s eyes following something.

He stopped teaching and said, “OK, class, what’s going on?” A girl pointed up the aisle at the fly still climbing, towing his “banner.” The teacher put down his chalk then saw my fly and his banner climbing slowly toward him.

His mouth opened and he gasped, “What in the world?” He quickly walked around his desk and intercepted the fly. I knew Mr. Groff and liked him. I knew he wasn’t going to send me to the office if he learned that I was the kid that did this. He grabbed the thread and tiny sign and started to laugh. Now I knew it was going to be OK.

I called out, “Read his banner!” He read out loud the words, “Eat at Joe’s.” The whole class roared with laughter. The teacher was laughing so hard he almost fell over. He said, something like, “If I hadn’t just seen this, I never would have believed this was possible.” He asked me if I was the one who did this. I sheepishly nodded yes, and he said, “I should have known.” For years, my classmates talked about “the fly pulling a banner in geography class.”

Now, fast forward to our 50th high school reunion at the Revere Tavern in Paradise. After our meal, classmates began to tell funny stories about the Class of 1969. One student stood up and began to tell this very story. They actually remembered.

The author lives in East Petersburg.

n If you know an interesting story, please write it in 600 words or less and send it to Mary Ellen Wright, LNP editorial department, P.O. Box 1328, Lancaster, PA, 17608-1328,  email it to features@lnpnews. com. Please include your phone number and the name of the town you live in

What to Read Next