The hole in the fence was irresistible to an 8 year old boy with the early signs of testosterone poisoning. It was forbidden fruit. It was a grand adventure. It was such a quest, that I was afraid to tell my friends about it… so, I always went in alone.
Growing up in Central Florida during the start of the Space Age was a life-shaping event. The hole in the fence was the perimeter surrounding the Air Force base. I made many clandestine trips through that hole and into the slash pine woods and palmetto undergrowth. There were animal sounds in the brush, there were the sounds of trucks moving and men talking, plus there was the heightened sense of doing something excitingly “wrong”. But, I had found the “mother lode”. It was buried treasure for a far too inquisitive elementary school kid.
I had found the dump.
And, the riches to be found there were fabulous. I dragged home radio equipment and other things with dials and knobs. I found things with levers and hoses. I had found the future artifacts of humanity in a large sandy pit. I had no idea what some of these things were, but they were cool and I was touching things that were part of the process. It was the process of making the rockets thunder into the sky. But, some of the coolest things were the 8X10 black and white images of rockets. I knew what they were. They were the documentation of our reach into the heavens. Well,... it wasn’t all that encompassing of thought for a little kid, I just knew these were cool pictures.
The bedroom walls of children are the blackboards of their future. The first images I taped to my walls were those landfill-liberated 8X10’s of multi-stage boosters. Vanguards, Thors, Redstones, Atlas Centaurs, Titans, Saturns, and the numerous and always active Deltas. These were not just the rockets of a child’s imagination. They were very real… and I had the pictures to prove it. I was granted the privilege of standing in my front yard or at the beach and seeing these massive machines vault into space. I saw and heard them… I felt their earth-shaking presence. I stood in awe with tears that I couldn’t understand or define, running down my cheeks.
I was a witness to history, standing on the side of the road in Cocoa Beach as John Glenn rode by in a local, impromptu parade before the nation held the ticker-tape parade in Manhattan. A man that lived near me had just orbited the Earth! He had sat on the tip of one of those flaming, ground-shaking machines and rode it into space and around the planet. My childhood awe and fascination with space and it's exploration is still close to my heart and in many of my nightly dreams.
I left my native Central Florida in 1972 after the invasion of a giant, three-fingered cartoon rodent named Mickey. His magic kingdom changed the landscape and I was off to the hills of East Tennessee where I earned the much prized and always lucrative, Bachelor of Studio Arts degree. Was it Voltaire,... or maybe Groucho Marx, that said; “The world has no boundaries when you have no marketable skills”…. Several decades later, I’m still exploring the worlds of “no marketable employment skills” with the skills I’ve learned by never being directly employed by anyone other than myself.