Driving out of Winter

91 Easter

“Hip, hip, hooray, today is the day.” Easter Monday, April 1st, 1991, we woke the children for an early departure. John lifted one of the children to remove the last of the countdown cards. Two adults, 8 children, a tent, duffle bags with buckets of food and quantities of ‘do in the car’ fun, we left the late Wisconsin winter. We were driving south to the Florida Gulf Coast. My father was serving the congregation in Northport for the winter. A member provided housing on Manasota Key. “Come down,” he urged. “Plenty of room, plenty of beach.” So we went.

Our plan was to drive far enough south the first day to make overnight tenting comfortable. The day’s drive was a drive into spring. The stark, chill grey gave way to sun and flowering trees. We shed our Wisconsin layers with each stop. Red/purple budding trees continued to claim my attention. At the first rest stop I approached an attendant. “What are the re-” “Redbud.” The answer came before I could ask and with a delicious Southern drawl.

Chattanooga offered a campsite and day of sight seeing. No luxuries on this trip. We simply put up the tent and flopped for the night with nothing between us and the tent floor except sleeping bags. Ten in a tent, canvas to canvas, it could have been below freezing and we would not have frozen. We did Look Out Mountain and Ruby Falls, then headed south again. We stopped in Live Oak where we were treated to freshly deep fried peanuts.  Then it was across to the Atlantic coast and Cape Canaveral. A shuttle launch was scheduled. Word was you picked a spot along the highway, camped and watched. We claimed an open spot. Saw the shuttle in the distance on the pad then went to museum.

As I reflect on visit now, I am transported to a day in 1962. I was a second grader in a Christian day school. Our teacher brought us outside, pointed and said, “John Glenn should be above us…now.” We looked fruitlessly upward, only the normal Phoenix sky looked back. No speck would be visible from space, no roar in passing. Space. Somewhere up in the dark, in a tiny capsule, John Glenn looked down at earth. Five hours, three orbits, through night and day, my imagination reeled. I was captivated.

Was I impressed the day we visited the museum? I don’t recall I was able to give it more than a fleeting thought. Touring with 8 children ages 2-12 claims the majority of a parent’s brain space. Were the children impressed? Probably not to the extent that I was. Not for them the television’s  black and white grainy images of take-off. They did not sprawl to watch the important throb of the Houston Control Center, men in short sleeved dress shirts and skinny black ties, cigarettes and coffee cups in hand, seated behind banks of computer screens. They were strangers to the tense excitement of  watching recovery vessels wander the re-entry area. Where would the capsule re-enter? Which ship would be closest to splash down? They haven’t experienced the thrill of watching the astronauts emerge triumphant, heroes of the space age. For them it is the ordinary come and go of space shuttles. A space station not the moon is the destination and not one manned capsule, but a crew and supply ships.

We didn’t get to see the launch. Word came it had been delayed. Camping on a narrow strip between the ocean and a busy highway with 8 children is not something you want to continue for an unknown quantity of days. We crossed the state to the Gulf coast and my parents. I believe we were able to see a distant speck and plume of trail of smoke when the shuttle did launch. To soon only the empty Florida sky looked back. My imagination reeled, I was captivated still.

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