One Day Older…

At the very end of September in 1980, I had just started my freshman year of high school. I remember waking up to a voice calling out. I followed the voice from my bedroom to the living room, where I found my dad on the couch, calling for my mom, who was sound asleep. He told me he thought he was having a heart attack. I ran in and woke my mom who called the ambulance. While waiting for the ambulance, I called my brothers and asked them to meet us at the hospital. I don’t remember much of what happened next. I just remember being in a hospital waiting room when the doctor came in and talked to us. My dad hadn’t lived to see another sunrise.

As of this morning, I’m one day older than my dad ever was. I find myself thinking of all the things he was and all the things he did. He was a general foreman for the Santa Fe railroad, a lifelong Boy Scout leader, a talented painter, and a model railroad hobbyist who made sure the toy trains were as accurate as he could make them. He was a Marine at the end of World War II, a church elder, and a Mason. From him, I gained a love of history, nature, genealogy, and so much more. Now that I’m one day older than he ever was, I find myself wondering what he would think of the man I became.

This last year during the DESI installation at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I’ve been spending a lot of time wearing a hard hat at work. My dad almost always wore his hard hat at work. While it’s a superficial comparison, the image of him in his hard hat is indelibly burned into my memory. I know he would find the observatory fascinating and would love to see behind the scenes of everything we do, just as he enjoyed giving behind-the-scenes tours of the Santa Fe shops in San Bernardino, California. I suspect he’d be mystified by my love of science fiction but interested in how I play with “what if” questions in my alternate history. I know my dad would be proud of my daughters and interested in the things they’ve accomplished.

The date of my dad’s death has hung over me like a specter these last four decades. The rational part of my mind has known that barring accidents, there’s no particular reason I wouldn’t outlive my dad. Then again, doctors talking genetics have a way of keeping his early demise closer to the forefront of my mind than I would like. I’ve often felt the urge to accomplish as much as I can before this date, to assure that if I died young, I would have lived as full a life as possible. I’m glad I’ve made it to this point and I’m glad I have more life to live to share with my friends and loved ones. I know life is finite and I have no idea how much longer I have. What I do know is that the rest of my life is an open book and I plan to fill the pages with as much fun, action, and wonder as I possibly can.

San Bernardino

News of the December 2 attack on the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California has been particularly sad for me to watch. I grew up there and still have friends in the area. A childhood friend even received treatment at the Inland Regional Center. No one I knew seems to be among the dead or wounded, but San Bernardino has been a town going through tough times for a while and I suspect this is going to make things even tougher as people associate the city with the incident.

My family moved to San Bernardino when I was 4. My dad was a General Locomotive Foreman for one of the city’s major industries, Santa Fe Railroad. The other two big employers in the area were Kaiser Steel and Norton Air Force Base. All of those were closed by the early 1990s. We lived in three different houses while we were there, but the house that sticks in my memory as “my” house is one my parents bought in the 1950s just a block away from the site of the original McDonalds. When my parents left San Bernardino for a time in the late 60s and early 70s, my grandmother moved into the house. So, it was a house I visited regularly from my earliest days. They moved back into the house when my grandmother passed away in 1974.

McDonalds Museum

I have a lot of good memories from my years in San Bernardino. It was where I discovered both my love for writing and for astronomy. I made my first attempt at writing The Solar Sea when I was in high school. That draft long since has vanished in time, but the novel that exists probably wouldn’t have been written if not for my early daydreams of riding a solar sail to the outer planets.

Those daydreams were no doubt inspired by a love of astronomy. I started by attending meetings of the San Bernardino Valley Amateur Astronomers when I was a freshman in high school. By the time I was a senior, I took an astronomy class at Cal State San Bernardino from Dr. Paul Heckert and went on to observe variable stars with him for several years.

Of the three times I had a chance to meet with and speak to Ray Bradbury, two of them were in San Bernardino. The first time was at Pacific High School when he came to speak to the students. I actually attended San Bernardino High School across town, but Pacific’s principal invited me to share lunch with Mr. Bradbury. I saw him a gain a few years later at Cal State. Not only did I get to meet Ray Bradbury, but I also got to meet Jerome Bixby, author of the short story “It’s a Good Life” which became a Twilight Zone episode starring Billy Mumy. Bixby also wrote several of my favorite Star Trek episodes including Mirror, Mirror and “Day of the Dove.”

Arrowhead

One of the things I really love about San Bernardino are the mountains. Above is Mt. Arrowhead and the arrowhead feature is a natural rock formation. The Arrowhead is on private land, but I had the rare privilege of being able to climb the mountain one Saturday during my high school years. As it turns out, the springs at the base of the mountain are where Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water gets its name. The nearby San Gorgonio wilderness area and Big Bear Lake provide even more breathtaking sights and I spent time hiking and camping with my family and friends in those areas as well.

My time thinking of San Bernardino as “home” largely came to an end in 1989 when Santa Fe closed their shops, my brother moved with the railroad to Topeka, Kansas. My dad had passed away in 1980, so my mom decided to move to Seattle. I went back to the house I lived in through my high school years, packed up all my belongings and moved them to Socorro, New Mexico. San Bernardino is a town on tough times and those times are even tougher now that such a tragedy has struck. The people of San Bernardino are very much in my heart this holiday season.