A literary triptych featuring three separate but related stories: "The Age of Rockets" tells the mysterious story of the Fourth of July storm of 1969; "Moonnight Laika" offers a different perspective on the first manned lunar mission; and "The Wreck" brings the story full-circle as a fisherman happens upon an ominous discovery.
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Past fifty, memories start to slip. You walk into a room and forget why. Keeping track of your car keys becomes a challenge. The names of people you met just minutes before elude you. It happens to all of us, but for just about everybody else, the cracks are just voids, empty spaces where names and faces and numbers fall into some endlessly deep crevasse. Not for me. As my memory has eroded, it has exposed the sharp peaks and rounded domes of a place long hidden from view, the wreckage upon which my life as it exists today has been erected. And as it has washed away, the outlines of that world have come more clearly into view, and I remember, truly remember.
The last true memory I have is of the 4th of July, 1969 and of my father sitting across from me at our backyard picnic table in a white cotton tee shirt and olive Dickies. He is smoking a cigarette and sipping from a can of Stroh’s lager. My mother is clearing the detritus of our afternoon BBQ; paper plates and chicken bones, crumpled napkins and plastic forks. It’s hot and humid, as it usually is in Northwest Ohio in early July, the veiled blue of a wispy cloud afternoon gradually giving way to high-top thunderheads of evening. The town has cancelled fireworks this year -- budget woes, they say -- but it’s probably just as well. Instead, we’re going to the movies; The Love Bug at the Clanton Theater in town.
Dad eases the Camaro into a diagonal space in front of the shoe store three doors down from the theater. In that 1969, downtown Clanton was still a thriving place, but late on a holiday evening with the air hanging heavy and promising rain there are few people about. Dad takes a final puff from his cigarette before approaching the ticket booth centered between the two brass-framed double doors. Smoking was still allowed in most public places in those days, but not the Clanton Theater. “Two adults and a kid,” he says to the pimpled high school girl behind the glass and slides a ten dollar bill from his wallet through the slot at the bottom. She returns him the vaguely disinterested smile of $1.30 an hour youth and pushes three tickets and some change back through the slot.
Entering through the door on the left, the cool, dry air of the lobby assaults my face and beads sweat on my skinny arms. Dad hands the tickets to another pimple-faced teen, this time a boy in an ill-fitting maroon velvet jacket who manages a semi-enthusiastic, "enjoy the show!," before resuming the fight to tame his jacket. There is a circular wood and brass counter in the middle of the lobby with a cheerfully pop-popping popcorn machine in the middle. Dad gets a large and three small sodas, which takes up most of the change remaining from the tickets, an expensive night out by our family standards.