Today, Wally Funk, 82, became the oldest person to fly in suborbital space. She trained as an astronaut in the 60s when women were not allowed to become astronauts. As I was watching, I couldn’t help but think of Dan and mom one Christmas.
Dan was fascinated with space exploration. He was going to be the first Chaffee in space. When Roger Chaffee was named as one of the crew members for Apollo One, Dan was both thrilled and disappointed. He wrote a letter to Astronaut Chaffee and, to his surprise and delight, Dan received a lovely letter in return.
Excitement turned to horror and grief on January 27, 1967. Dan never again spoke about becoming an astronaut. But that came later, after my story.
My older brother Scott was in the army, stationed in Germany and away from home on Christmas. We were spending Christmas at my grandparents. Santa brought Dan a space helmet — the space capsule was awaiting him at home. Dan was also interested in becoming a newscaster as a fall back career, so as a present to Scott, Dan taped interviewed the first woman in space — Mom.
The only thing I remember from that interview Dan asking if the helmet was a problem. Mom said she didn’t wear a helmet because it mussed her hair. The look on Dan’s face and my mom’s efforts to keep from laughing were front-of-mind today when Wally Funk finally made it to space.
It’s Christmastime again. Everything makes me think of you. “The Christmas Story” is on; I think of you. “Mr. Magoo’s A Christmas Carol”; I think of you. Alister Sim “A Christmas Carol”; I think of you. “Hallelujah Chorus”; I think of you. Edmond Scientific, Christmas trees, Santa on a firetruck; I think of you.
You always loved Christmas. I would get depressed and you would be bouncing off the walls with excitement. I was so nervous about the choir concerts and you just couldn’t wait. I don’t know if you ever knew you were the reason I auditioned for the A Capella choir.
One year when I was in college, I wasn’t going to have a tree. I was so depressed, you bought a tree for me and brought it over because you thought it would make me feel better. It did! I think that was the sweetest thing you ever did for me. That’s saying a lot.
Merry Christmas bro! Of course I’ve been thinking of Christmases past. Mom and Dad used to go through Edmond Scientific’s catalog One year you got a oil refinery that pumped colored water through the parts. Very cool. Another year you got a bubbler that worked by the heat of your hand. I was never able to get that to work. There was also a thing you held in your hand, scuffed across a carpet then touched to a door knob and the bulb lit up from the static. Pretty soon you realized it worked by touching people too and you started zapping us.
A number of years ago the old family ornaments were divided among the three of us. I wonder what became of the ones you got. I hope they were sold in the estate. I would hate to think they were tossed. I would have liked to have had the one Mom made with your name on it. I also wonder about the stocking Mom made that had your name on it as well. Then I realize I have the most important things: the happy memories. The things themselves aren’t important.