Both of my parents have been dead for a long time. I still think of them often. Sometimes a picture, an object or a piece of jewelry reminds me of them. Sometimes it’s a story or a song. I miss them, but it’s rare now that I have a specific situation that makes me think, “I wish they were alive to see this.”
Right now, with the announcement that Beyond the Stars; Unimagined Realms, will be going to the moon, I wish my dad were alive so I could tell him.
My dad grew up rough. He not only came out of an abusive home situation but endured extreme poverty as a child, first in Oklahoma, then in California’s central valley where he was mocked as an “Okie.” He told stories of his stepfather, who he described as “mean.” It was years later before I figured out that he was more than mean, he was abusive, and the entire household was dysfunctional. (This probably explained why both my aunt and uncle struggled with alcoholism.) My dad was taken out of school at the end of eighth grade because he was needed to work on the farm. He left home, dragging his half-brother, my uncle, with him, at sixteen. As he left, his stepfather said, “You come back and I’ll kill you.”
My dad enlisted. Basically, the army educated my dad and probably saved him.
My dad was smart, one of the smartest people I knew, but he confused education with intelligence, and always thought of himself as stupid. The army introduced him to radios and communication technology, and he found something he loved—but he was interested in a lot of things. He took meteorology night courses at the local junior college when I was growing up, and some science classes. He was a ham radio enthusiast and loved to show his QSL cards from all over the world. Before he retired, he was building a home computer, just to see if he could. (He could.) And he loved outer space.
We did not watch TV during meals. That hard and fast rule was relaxed immediately whenever a space launch happened during mealtime. Dad would pull our black-and-white TV out of the living room–stretched to the end of its cord–and position it in the kitchen doorway while the rockets launched, or re-entered the earth’s atmosphere.
I remember the moon landing. I don’t remember it well, but I remember my dad’s breathless voice, just above a whisper, alternating, “My God,” and “I can’t believe it,” with “Will you look at that?”
My dad’s childhood and his war experiences didn’t lead him toward optimism, but space exploration did. He believed this was the best of us. He wasn’t interested in colonizing other planets or abandoning this one (although we both read enough science fiction with those themes). Back then there wasn’t casual talk of mining asteroids or anything. It was the exploration—it was reaching deep into a mystery, far beyond the confines of our wonderful world. That was what got him.
I wish he was alive, so I could call him at his little house on Orcas Island. I’d say, “Dad, guess what?”
And he’d say, “What?”
And I’d say, “One of my stories is going to the moon.”
And maybe he’d say, “My God. I can’t believe it. Will you look at that?”