During the Johnson Space Center’s hey day, I lived in Clear Lake City within shouting distance of NASA’s back gate. I’ve always felt fortunate to have experienced the nuts and bolts of space exploration right in my own neighborhood, though most of it was by osmosis. At the same time I found history fascinating and wondered about its influence on the present. Living so near all that scientific juice gave me pause to think that time, Past-Present-Future, could be thought of as all inclusive.
The idea took on weight when, thirty-plus years after moving from the Clear Lake-NASA area, I was asked to travel there to meet with a group of high-school seniors who were to train for the K-Bird in order to put their science experiments on board a Shuttle flight. My assignment was to follow the students around for a week and write about their experiences.
When I arrived at the extended-stay hotel address, I was stunned to realize it sat smack in the middle of my past, on the vacant lot where my elementary school-aged boy used to practice baseball. Before checking into the hotel, I drove down clean, tree-lined streets trying to find the house where I had lived. Back then there were no trees, just boxy houses lined up along ribbons of paved prairie. In spite of the fact that I had few visual points of reference to find my little house in the maze, memories came flooding back. I passed the elementary school and remembered the deep heartache of kissing my kindergartners good-bye before they bounced out of the car. It was to be the first of many letting-go lessons that all parents have to master sooner or later. Had I really lived those elusive and far away days of diapers and crayons, ballet lessons and baseball practice? Drivers’ Ed and prom dresses?
I finally found the house where I’d lived those long years ago. It was exactly as I’d remembered it except for the enormous trees! They’d been mere twigs when I’d planted them. My boy had dubbed the Arizona Ash third base and the Post Oak home plate. I never thought they would survive, let alone thrive. The sound of my children’s high pitched voices eventually began to echo back to me from the past. I recalled pots of homemade soup on rainy, cold winter days trapped inside with squirming children and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Kool-aid in the simmering heat of summer. And then, there were the puppies, guppies and kittens buried in the back yard after failed attempts at trying to explain death to a four year old.
And so now I wonder: Is life simply an entire existence housed solely within our skulls? After all, a young mother from long ago still lives in me, as does an insecure bride and a sniveling school girl. That’s the Past. The Present is what I continue to add to the Past. My Future, while it keeps getting shortened, is somewhere down the next Back Road.
The seniors I accompanied to NASA that week broadened their horizons enormously. And so did I.