My Many Interests

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Recollections of Challenger 35 Years Later

I don't know why I happened to be at home that day. It was my senior year and didn't have enough classes to go all day, I was usually home later in the afternoon. On this particular day, I had just gotten out of the shower and ran to the living room wearing only a towel to see the remains of a the fireball and wondered what had happened.

My love of space was kindled at an early age. I was born towards the end of the space race, just a year prior to the moon landing. In my first years I watched many an Apollo launch, the rise and fall of Skylab and the designing, testing and eventual launch of the first shuttle, Columbia, in April of 1981. Every article that my small town newspaper could publish found it's way into a scrapbook. I still have my original copy of THE SPACE SHUTTLE OPERATOR'S MANUAL published in October 1982, though it has definitely seen better days.

The space shuttle was my generation's spaceship. My love of the stars joined with the shuttle program and I made plans. I was going to join the Navy's Nuclear Power Program and get my degree in nuclear engineering and then go work for NASA building rocket engines. To me, there was nothing else. But after joining, plans changed over time and I lost sight of that dream.

Going back to that fateful day, though, I remember standing there, still damp from the shower and just staring at the TV. Just like millions around the world. Wondering what just happened. Surely, they're okay. Surely, we'll hear their voices in just a second. But those voices were never heard again. I don't think I got dressed until some time later. I don't remember a lot about the rest of that day, all I could remember was how that rope-like cloud of smoke just abruptly ended in a blue sky.

When Reagan spoke later that afternoon, I was still in a daze but the one thing that brought me out of it was towards the end of his speech. His speech writer was a lady named Peggy Noonan and in the speech she included an excerpt from a poem she remembered from seventh grade. Reagan's speech went like this - “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'” The poem "High Flight" that gave this sentence life was written by a 19 year old John Gillespie Magee who died in a mid-air collision during WWII. 

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of … 

I still get misty-eyed when I read this or the speech excerpt. I still get misty-eyed every year when I recall this event. It affected not only America, but the world. These were explorers and adventurers expanding our knowledge of the world and universe around us. Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Weekends were made for adventures

I got my love for road running from my Dad. It was nothing to pile up in the pick-up, back when you could ride in the back and not get side-eye from someone. He'd take us out towards Long Lonesome, a road that traversed through the Georgia Pacific Wildlife Management Area northwest of Bastrop, Louisiana, my hometown. A little over ten miles of gravel road that ran straight as an arrow for a good portion of it. We'd go just to see what wild life we could see and listen to the quiet of those pine trees.

My wife had a bit of the wanderlust, also. She ran with a group of folks that called themselves the We Be Trippin' group and they would all load up in Carroll's little Ford Explorer and go to the Jazz Fest in South Louisiana or anywhere they could pop a tent. Our thing was to take the roadmap and just hang a turn on whatever small road seemed to lead to nowhere. This once lead us to a fox hunt, though we were told that since it was in Texas, they were chasing coyotes.

And now, we continue the tradition with me and my daughter. Since we've moved to Winnsboro, which will be a year ago in just a week, she has learned the joy of riding the roads. Her favorite request when we are going anywhere is "Daddy, can we take the back roads?" She has also picked up the lost art of being neighborly by waving at passerbys whether they instigated it or not.

One of our most recent jaunts started out as just us getting lunch and enjoying it at a roadside park. An order of tamales from the lady over at the parts place and a cold drink had us sitting at the little roadside park north of town on Hwy 37. Though she and I had passed it many times, we never knew it's place in history. Our local librarian had brought our attention to it after she had stopped to check it out the month before.

Built in the thirties Texas started scattering these parks throughout the state to the tune of 674 by 1938.Today only 41 survive. The Texas Highway Department tasked the National Youth Association with building these little respites to meet the possible throng of people traveling for the 1936 Texas Centennial. Lyndon B. Johnson was the director of the NYA from 1935 to 1937.

This little park north of town is one of only a few that has a natural spring supplying fresh cold clear water. An old stone picnic table and bench are there and I assume are original. The area is also covered with dark green moss and just begs to be enjoyed. I have a feeling we'll be enjoying more lunches there as the years go by.

You can read more about the parks in the link below. 

Have you visited this park? What are your memories of this special place?

Depression-era Roadside Parks by Bob Bowman