I think my dad tried to get my attention with a bottle of Bob’s Big Boy brand bleu cheese dressing, some dragonflies, a hawk, a kiss on the cheek, and the space shuttle Endeavor.
Growing up (and I’m sure for always) my dad wanted to be an astronaut. He couldn’t though, because he had bad enough sinus problems to keep him from becoming a pilot, which you have to do first. But, around the time he was my age, he got a job at Johnson Space Center working for Lockheed on contract to NASA. He did a lot of different things over the years, many of them classified, but probably the best was the work he got to do on the shuttle missions. He was on the team that designed that cool robotic arm outside the shuttle. He did a lot of work on robotic vision, which helps the shuttle dock to the space station. He was on the Return to Flight team after the last shuttle tragedy and had to spend hours and hours going over photos, videos, and other minute details in order to make future flights more safe. In the years before he retired he had Mission Control duty, and sometimes went in and worked the night shift, which was hard on him I know, but man, did he love it. He made jokes to me about sitting in the way back of the back row of Mission Control, but it was a Big Deal.
Astronauts have to keep a certain number of flight hours to retain their pilot licenses and I never got tired of listening to my dad tell me about watching a few of them take off together in formation, flying little fighter jets from JSC and doing happy rolls and dives. He loved it. All of it.
Last week was my birthday. It was on Friday. A couple of days before, Scuba forwarded me an invite, which was forwarded to him from someone who worked at Moffett Field. They were inviting the public to come and see the space shuttle Endeavor as it flew over on a 747 on its way to a museum in southern California. The last flight of any shuttle, ever, since the program is retired. Actually, my dad worked a little past his own original retirement date so that he could retire with the program. Endeavor had its last mission while my dad was in the hospital, coming back to earth about three weeks before he died. The very last flight, by Atlantis, came back to earth on July 21st, a month to the day after he passed away.
So. Scuba sent this invite and I was totally surprised since I didn’t know anything about it. I got online and found a Google map of the route to see if there was someplace I could take the kids to watch, but finally ended up deciding we should take public transit to Moffett Field so we could be with all the other space geeks. Plus, food trucks. The day before I cried nearly all day long. On my birthday we cut school and cut work and I got up at 4:30 in the morning (on my birthday, yo) so I could get on a train with my kids. Originally, the flyover was set for a day before, but it got moved to my birthday because of weather. Or, you know, my dad maybe still has his Mission Control desk access and he wanted to do something really cool for my birthday.
We got there early, and ran into a friend of mine from high school who now teaches at our old high school and had Lex in her honors English class last year. The girls plotted on how to get on one of the many TV cameras around, and they all had tacos from a truck that was originally selling breakfast but ran out of eggs. They sat on overturned red buckets while they ate and I watched them, missing my dad, but feeling close to him. I didn’t cry nearly as much as the day before. We moved out onto the airstrip with the twenty thousand people who showed up and listened to some talks and we waited and waited and waited. Alex took the girls over to meet an astronaut. A red tailed hawk circled for awhile and I remembered watching hawks with my dad when I was a kid. And buzzards and how much they freaked us both out.
There were also dragonflies that kept hanging in the air right in front of us, and those remind me of my dad for a few reasons. One is my memory of watching The Rescuers with him and our love of Evinrude, and another is that I once gave him a tie with a dragonfly on it (sounds weird, but it looked like a stained glass window and was really pretty) and he was buried in it. Anyway, between the rescheduling and the hawk and the dragonflies, I was letting myself think that maybe he was still around, someplace. I don’t really care if it’s all just coincidence or not. It doesn’t matter to me at all so long as I get to feel like he’s here, you know? When you miss someone enough you take whatever you can.
Also, there was this weird thing that I’ll uncomfortably admit: As I stood there in the hot sun on the pavement, dressed for much cooler weather and surrounded by people, I felt a cold drop of water on my right cheek. I went to brush it away, but there wasn’t anything there. The feeling stayed, though, and I just went with it. Was my dad giving me a kiss on the cheek? I don’t know, so I’ll go with yes. I just really miss him.
The shuttle finally flew over, and we ended up being lucky enough to have picked a great place to stand, right on the edge of the crowd closest to where it passed by. It was over in a moment, way too fast, really. But it’s a moment I’ll always remember, and my kids will have for their own.
Then, you know what, I went a couple days later to get ranch dressing and veggies for the kids’ lunches and I SWEAR I picked up a bottle of ranch dressing, but when I got home it was bleu cheese, my dad’s favorite. It’s good to see that he’s still him and has kept his sense of humor.
Also, we went to the Boardwalk the next day for my birthday, and I totally won a jackpot of almost 8,000 tickets.
And when we went to shop with the ticket points, they had a cool glass cake stand (he loved that Sophie baked and liked to get her baking stuff) and a bamboo little lazy susan tray with a bowl in the middle for dip. So not only did he send me the shuttle as a birthday gift, he totally got me cool kitchen presents, too.