A while back, I wrote a post called Write What You Know. In it, I mentioned watching Columbia launch and that I needed to tell that story. Here it is.
My dad was an avid astronomy fan. He had a 4 inch Unitron refractor that his dad built from a kit. Great for planetary viewing. The thing is probably six feet long and its tripod weighs a ton, but I would still sometimes lug it outside at five o’clock in the morning before heading to High School. I would look at Mars or the rings of Saturn or try to see Jupiter’s red spot. He taught me to love the stars early.
We lived in Florida when Columbia launched—close to the coast right across from Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island. Dad woke us up super-early that day. Usually, he’d already be off at work and mom would get us out of bed, so we knew something super-special was going on. Dad missing work? Keeping us home from school? Madness! I remember being upset because I wanted to sleep in longer.
They drove us down a strip of road along the coast and pulled over in a spot that was nothing but scrubby grass trying to cling to sand. And cars. Lots and lots of cars.
I didn’t understand why so many people had gathered in an empty space. Dad led us to a row of trees that lined the road and grew right down into the water. The strangeness of the day escalated. The trees were full of grown-ups—as far as I could see. They were hanging in them, leaning out while holding onto the branches, everyone staring across the water. It was one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. I remember wondering if everyone had decided to live like great apes again and was kind of excited at the thought of learning how to brachiate (I was really young, but already quite eccentric).
My dad lifted me into a tree, despite my mom protesting. He held on and told me to watch across the water. I remember the white billowing cloud, the tiny shuttle hurtling up, up, up. I marveled at the astronauts’ courage and wondered if I would ever make it to the stars myself.
I remember my dad had tears in his eyes as he tried to explain to us how special what we had just seen was—how fortunate we were to be alive in a time when something so incredible was happening. I remember feeling awe and gratitude.
For being alive in this amazing time and for the memory he gave me, I’m still grateful to this day.
Do you have any childhood memories that you’re grateful for? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!