Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Shuttle and Dead Shrimp are Part of Who I Am

On July 31, 2011 at 3:16 in the dark morning skies, the shuttle Atlantis came to a stop on the Cape Canaveral runway in Florida. Thirty years of inspiration and amazing space travel came to a close at that moment, and, for me, it was very emotional because I grew up in the center of the space program.

Mom and dad built a small but comfortable home in Nassau Bay back in the early ‘70s after moving us from the Bellaire area of Houston. Nassau Bay is a well appointed neighborhood south of Houston. Nasa Road 1 was the main drag running across the front of the development and is the main route to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center off Interstate Highway 45.

The neighborhood had lots of kids and young families. Parts of Galveston bay and a fresh water lake drew me and my gear loaded wagon to the water’s edge. Mom says I spent hours fishing and catching anything and everything.

I was in my early teens when we arrived on St. Charles Street, and my friendships were all new. Evans and I quickly became inseparable. He had two older brothers, and Wyatt became John’s, my older brother, friend. Evans and I spent so much time together it was not uncommon for one of our moms or dads to joke, “Why don’t you just get married?”

We did everything together -- good and bad. We build forts in Gaston’s woods, swam in the bay and snuck out to walk the neighborhood at night. Occasionally we would be wandering as the sun came up and see the milkman delivering to homes. With timing and precision we would sneak up on the unsuspecting homeowner’s porch and snag a half gallon for breakfast. Lord, forgive me for that and so many other sins in my youth.

The late ‘60s and early ‘70s were a huge time for the space program, and we were in the middle of it. NASA (the name before it was changed) was where it all happened. It was the control center and training facility for the astronauts on the ground and in space. Evans and I would walk over to the Space Center and explore. We would go into most any of the buildings, and I don’t remember ever being questioned or kept from exploring.

One of our favorite places was a news center with satellite dishes and all types of antenna on top of the hotel just cross from the Space Center. While the astronauts were in space, the news center would come alive and be broadcasting the news and reports. We would just walk in and watch it all happen. It was exciting.

Apollo 12 was the sixth manned flight in the American Apollo program and the second to land on the moon. It was launched on Nov. 14, 1969 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Mission Commander Charles "Pete" Conrad and Lunar Module Pilot Alan L. Bean performed just over one day and seven hours of lunar surface activity while Command Module Pilot Richard F. Gordon remained in lunar orbit. There were six Apollo spaceflights; 12 men walked on the moon. These are the only times humans have landed on another celestial body. The Apollo program ran until 1975.

Tom Gordon was Astronaut Captain Dick Gordon’s son and a running buddy of mine and Evans. During many of the space flights, his parents would be gone and we would hang at his house and raid the fridge. I remember lots of cool things his dad had received as gifts from kings, presidents and leaders from around the world after his moon flight. One specific thing I remember was a rose dipped in pure gold -- it was way cool.

But as much as I wish I could say things for me back then were perfect, I have to admit they were not. I don’t know exactly what it was that got me off track, but I began to explore drugs and my school interest began to tumble. Things at home turned hard, and my father’s drinking began to take its toll.

Today as a dad and armed with my life story, I want to keep my family from experiencing a lot of the same hardships. I want so badly for them to have memories and life lessons from a father who clearly trusted God and strived for His guidance in every way. I want them to know that we all make mistakes and make bad decisions, no matter who we are. I want them to know it boils down to knowing a loving God and that each day they can push the restart button and try to do it better, with Him.

Of course the list of things we did back then is long and troubled. One particular day we had been fishing and throwing our casting nets out in the shallow bay. Small shrimp were a common catch and this one day we pocketed a few for later use. Mid-morning found us at the pancake house on Nasa Road 1, sitting at the counter drinking soda. A small voice on one of our shoulders, I really don’t remember whose, tricked us into putting the small dead shrimp in the ketchup bottle and putting the top back on before we left. I know that later, at some point, a waitress was angry, a cook was angry, a customer was mad. I confess and ask for forgiveness today as I write this. I promise to never do it again. Thank you, God, for Your grace each and every day. Man, do I need it.

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