When I was just a boy, I pretty much lived alone, in and with a family of two brothers and my mother.
I was a smart kid, but on my own level, in my own world, on my own planet. My family and their adult friends always used to say, “He’s such a smart boy.” I really didn’t know what they meant, but, I guess I was smart.
After my parents’ divorce, my mother retained custody of us three boys and had to work all the time, I had to keep my two younger brothers in line, so we were left to twiddle our thumbs. No more new toys, trips to Westport or Ocean Shores to dig clams, no swing in the back yard, no nothing. Mom wasn’t a skilled worker, although she did do her best. Her and my father met when he was 18 and she was 15. I know, I would have avoided a girl also, but I’m glad he didn’t, for the most part. They married after three years. I didn’t get this info from my mother or father, just from the math. It isn’t that hard. My father will be 81 this December, I’m the first-born, I’ll be 59 in January. I DO know my mother was 18 when I was born. There it is.
Anyway, years after the divorce, my father was still coming around and would stay a day or two with us boys and my mother, although, he was living 150+/- miles away in Seattle. I have to hand him that one, unless he was just trying to stay out of jail. I don’t know. Eventually, he just never came around at all. I can give him points for thinking of us kids, though. He usually brought something cool to us. Most often toys, sometimes clothes, kids hate clothes but need them more than anything. He brought bikes, which was cool, but they fell apart easily. Cheap, but parents don’t usually consider a bike something to spend any money on. Oddly, the cheaper they are, the more dangerous they are to your children. Go figure. The rig I currently own runs around $3,000.
On one occasion, he brought me a telescope. A refracting telescope. I can’t remember what brand it was, which country it came from or what the exact specs were, but I know it was a powerful tool in many ways and that it was a refractor. As I see it in my mind’s eye today, It had to be from the early 1950s or late 1940s. It was NOT a toy, not on any level. I’m certain it would have been a hit in astronomy class.
It came in a beautiful wooden box that opened as it lay on its side, like a suitcase. Those cool metal loop snaps , three on one side. A handle with which to carry it. A dust rag and a cleaning rag. It had four separate eye pieces, all increasing in magnification. A little tray built into the tripod in which the eye pieces were stored on a cool dark night as you looked at the heavens. A sight scope built on the right side that would find what you wanted to see as you explored, then you would focus in for the kill with the big tube. This was the king of telescopes, right there, in my hot excited hands. My imagination was running wild and my eyeballs were leaping out of my face. The universe had come knocking on my door and I was ready to shake hands with it.
In my little world, it was much like my bike. I could explore places I had never been. I could defy gravity with it, just like I could with my bike. I could point either in the direction I wanted to go and they would go there. They never argued with me. They obeyed without asking. “Where are we going? How will we get back?” Never heard it from either of them. My bike allowed me to take it apart and put it back together, many times just for something to do. It begged for me to ride it, it begged for me to take it sky bound. The telescope allowed the same, but I saved that activity for my bike. Neither bikes nor telescopes are, or were, complex or complicated, not to me.
Being intrigued with astronomy in my academic life, I was ready to prove the teacher wrong, or agree with his teachings and observations. I studied anything having to do with astronomy that I could find. I still do, although my appetite has waned some. I still love looking at the sky. I am still mesmerized at the site and thought that a planet floats in our sky, just out of reach but so easy to look at and so beautiful to observe.
This telescope was rated at 300 x magnification or something. My father told me once, but I doubt that he really knew what that meant, maybe he did. I certainly didn’t. I knew it meant power though. Power I understood.
As I said, I knew the heavens. The first time I took it out to look at things, I tried looking at something a block away on the street our house was on. No go. I thought the telescope was broken. It was blurry, I could only see gray. Unbeknownst to me, this thing couldn’t focus on anything that was on this planet. No. This thing was built for taking you far from home. Far, far, far from home. Well, it was day time, so I put the solar filter on one of the lenses, and…..yep…..pointed that sucker directly at the sun. AMAZING! Sunspots, flares, wow. This was so cool. Flares were hard to see because the sun is brighter than flares, but I tried really hard to see them. I had to nudge the telescope to keep the sun within my sight.
Well, now I had to wait till night-time. I packed my telescope away in its nice box and put it in my closet in my bedroom. I jumped on Frankenstein (my worthy steed [bike], built from anything I could find that was a bike part, new or used was fine) and headed for South Aberdeen. Scott had to see this. Scott Birdsall was my best friend from school and living in the same town just across the Chehalis River bridge. Him and Mark Sahlstrom used to slap me around, but they were the least meanest of everyone I knew, so they actually tolerated me more than liked me. Kids, mean little shits. I liked Scott but Mark was just plain mean. I avoided him at all costs. Him and Warren Perry.
Well, I got to Scott’s house and told him about my new magic carpet. He wanted no part of it. I should have known. So, there I was, a half a town away on Schley St. and nothing to do but wait for a star in the sky to drop out of view. I started for home. I took the train trestle just west of the bridge I crossed to get there earlier. Very bumpy on the railroad ties, but it was fun, and made me take longer. That star in the sky was closer to the horizon. Today, the railroad bridge and the railroad are gone from that site all the way east into Cosmopolis.
I got across the bridge, it was time for dinner, I was hungry (as usual) and I knew I had to move. I was living on Pacific or Bay or Aberdeen Ave. It was a duplex and my bedroom was upstairs. We lived in the east side of the duplex.
So, we all sat down to dinner, but I wasn’t interested in eating. I wanted to look at the sky. All of it. I knew Jupiter was always the brightest star in the night-time sky, and in the summer it can be found late at night directly overhead. I put my gravity defying telescope together and headed outside. I pointed it nearly directly north. I looked through the small sighting glass on the right with my left eye. I found that bright pearl in the sky. I looked through the big rig. What? Where was Jupiter? OK, I can do this. I put a weaker lens in the eye end. I centered again with the sighting tube. Looked in the big tube. There it was. It looked gray, not bright white like it does with the naked eye. Quickly, I switched lenses. It was gone again. OK, this is too weird. Well, the telescope was actually moving along with the earth just like it did when I looked at Sol earlier that day. I had to track what I was looking at. OK, I can handle that. I nudged the telescope a bit to the right. Jupiter popped into view. Oh man! This was it. I was looking at another planet in the solar system. Holy crap. I was floored. OK, I’m starting to figure this out. Next, I wanted to see Saturn.
I grabbed a star chart that I had in my bedroom. Took it outside with a flashlight. I zeroed in on the area it should be in. I put a stronger lens in the end of the big tube. Sighted, hit the big tube. Bingo, there it was. It looked like it had ears. This was so cool. The sky was becoming a local neighborhood by the minute. I couldn’t see any of the other moons in the sky besides dear old La Lune, but I was trying. Jupiter, so far as we know today, has 66 moons, Saturn has at least 66 moons, two of which occupy the same exact orbit. How odd? The same orbit. Why do they never bump into each other? What a scene that would be. NASA would crap their drawers. Almost as cool as Shoemaker-Levy 9 slapping Jupiter.
The next target was our own moon. This particular night, it was full. It was beaming. So big and bright that I could see my shadow. Now, the thing that amazed me as a kid when I looked up at the moon was that it was a thing in the sky. It wasn’t imaginary, but no one had ever been to it, yet. No one had ever stood on it, so it was nearly imaginary. It was wondrous to me.
Besides Sputnik, the moon was the closest thing to our earth. Every 28 days it looked as big as the sun, even bigger. This was the cherry on the cake. I never did get to observe an eclipse. One never occurred while I had the telescope, and if it did, I wasn’t aware of it. I remember the one in October 1977. I was working at a shake mill in Washington State. The crew, at least I did, knew it was coming, but had no idea how it would impact us. It became night in the day time for about ten minutes. Unbelievably eerie. Of course, as we all stood around looking at the mid morning darkness, no one made a sound, so it was even creepier. I wished I had my friend with me.
One day, my two younger brothers, Kevin and Kary, got into my closet, and into my telescope box. This one time I left it standing on its tripod. I never ever did such a thing. I took meticulous care of it. They took the primary lens out of it. The one the light strikes first, at the far end as you look through it. It was the biggest lens in the telescope. They took the lens outside to play with it. To PLAY with it, like it was a ball or a toy or something. They used it to focus the suns rays on flowers, wood, bugs. Rolled it down the sidewalk, chipped it to pieces. Then they replaced into the telescope, hoping I wouldn’t notice. I got home from school, wanted to take it out to look at the sky after dinner. It was dark out and my friends were hanging in the heavens, waiting for me. I couldn’t see anything. I thought, OK, let the lenses cool like you usually do and it won’t fog. Lenses will fog if your eye gets close enough for it to pickup the heat, and condensation will occur or if it’s cold out. It happens. I left it in the backyard, hidden in the darkness close to the house and went inside for ten minutes. I went back outside to look at the heavens, Same thing. I took it in the house to look at it a bit closer. I saw the lens. I didn’t ask anyone anything. I put it in the box, put it in the closet, sat on the edge of my bed and cried. I got nearly two months of ecstasy out of my telescope before it became just a thing. It screamed at me in my sleep. It screamed at me while I was at school. It screamed at me while I was riding my bike out to Bear Gulch. It always screamed at me. It wanted me to look at it. It wanted me to twist it’s knobs, to change it’s lenses, to point it at things and take the ride with it to those planets and stars. It cared about me and wanted me to be busy with it constantly.
I never found out what happened until about 30 years later, while I was living in Everett, WA. During the latter part of the 1990s, my brother, Kevin, told me what had happened. I laughed it off as if I thought ‘kids do that,’ but I really wanted to knock him out. I was enraged but I didn’t let him see it. A few years later, out of sheer guilt, he bought me another telescope. A mere toy compared to what I had owned as a kid. Less than two weeks later, I gave it away. I took it to a local pawn shop and asked them what they would give me for it. I didn’t want to pawn it, I just wanted to get rid of it. I was offered nothing. I walked out and left it there. I never went back.
What a waste.
Well, unlike my other stories, there is no point to prove here, just a sad ending to a cool story. Maybe some day I will own another nice telescope. A powerful, adult type telescope. Something that will amaze me even more than my old friend did. I no longer own a bike. I made the decision to get rid of my last rig, a 2006 Ellsworth ‘Distance’ a few months ago. I’m getting old and can’t go through the beatings I used to look forward to like I did back in the day. Until then, I’ll just sit tight and and hope to see Jupiter face-to-face again some day. We are old friends.
Thanks for looking,