One of my first memories of Dad was in our backyard in Huntsville, Alabama. We had an ARMY Jeep pedal car and Dad would push us around the yard with a 2x4 board. The fun part was he would push us as fast as he could and we would yell ‘faster, faster!’ I am sure he was tired after pushing around the yard, but Johnny and I sure had fun. Donny was too young to ride on the pedal car at the time.
We moved to Pasadena, Texas when Dad was transferred to a new facility in Houston called NASA. While the NASA facility was being built Dad worked in some rented buildings near Gulfgate. We lived in a rent house in Pasadena while our new house in Dickinson was being built. We all enjoyed spending Saturdays clearing the lot where our new house going to be. I was 5 years old at the time, but my brothers and I worked hard to help get the lot cleared. Dad had found the perfect oak tree to hang a swing and a nearby tree to build a ladder to swing from. The swing ropes went up the limb, which was about 20 feet high, so the swing had a large arc and was a blast to ride. Since the ladder was angled properly, we could choose how high we would jump from. We would hang onto the swing as we climbed the ladder, then sit on the 2x6 board that was tied to the ropes and jump. It was not long before we all were jumping from the top rung of the ladder. That swing lasted many years and all the neighbor kids enjoyed playing on it as much as we did. I guess I was in college when that oak tree had to be cut down. Our backyard did not look the same without that swing. Funny thing, I do not recall anyone ever getting hurt from that swing even though it was a high place to jump from and the speed we would be going at the bottom of the arc. There were times we would see how far we could go by jumping out at the highest point of the arc. Todays kids will not know the fun we had with such a simple thing as that old swing. There is too much fear of getting hurt, even though we never did get hurt.
As my brothers and I started our own families, the grand kids had a lot of fun at the old house. Dad contracted to have a first-class playhouse built with a big swing like the old days. The playhouse had a porch 8 feet from the ground to jump from on the new, higher and better swing. This swing was made using galvanized pipes 30 feet high that was joined at the top with a cross pipe welded to make the two upright pipes strong. There was about 10 feet between the pipes that the swing would go through. The swing arc was about 60 feet and was a blast to ride. All the grandkids as well as us big kids played on the swing a lot. Mom even rode the swing once just to say she did it. Hurricane Ike took down that swing, but the playhouse was not damaged.
My two brothers liked fishing, hunting and watching sports, I was the opposite. When we went fishing, I wanted to see how fast the boat would go. When we went hunting, I just wanted to see how many rounds I could put downrange. And for sports, I could not think a better way for time to be wasted when we could be working on the go-kart or something productive. So, my relationship with Dad was different than what my brothers had. We had a good relationship, but we had few things in common. In 2006 I started a job at Boeing and it just so happened that I worked in the same building as Dad. Dad had retired from NASA years before and had several other jobs since, including working in Huntington Beach California. Since Dad was working in the same building, we would carpool to and from work. That is when I feel like I really got to know my Dad. He told me about the best days of his career of working on the X15 as an avionics engineer at Edwards Air Force Base... I was born during that time, on Dad’s birthday. 29 November is our shared birthday. He told me about working with some of the pioneers of ultrahigh-speed aircraft who paved the way to space travel. The two pilots he worked with was Scott Crossfield and Neil Armstrong. Dad also told of his earlier career of working as a Special Weapons officer with the Strategic Air Command at Loring AFB in Maine. Special Weapons is the term for Nuclear Weapons. He was responsible for moving and loading the weapons onto B52 bombers. He was also responsible for arming the weapons once loaded onto the aircraft. Fortunately, none of the weapons were never used. Dad told me of the time when he had to escort a nuclear weapon from Lubbock, Texas to Loring Air Force base in Maine. He had to stay with the weapon as it traveled in the back of an aircraft and he said he thought it was funny that all he had to guard the weapon was with a Colt 45 pistol. I was locked onto his stories of his early career while we drove to and from work. Fast forward past the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Programs at NASA which he was involved with to the Shuttle as it was being developed, Dad worked in SAIL, the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory. He said that when they first put that system together, they had seats from a Ford Pinto in the flight deck of the Shuttle software simulator. A little trivia about that simulator, it has a real tail number, so it was the only Shuttle to never fly except in the virtual world. That tail number is OV-095. Today if you take one of the tours at Space Center Houston, you will see that simulator flight deck, which now has flight hardware seats that are padded. The seats on the Shuttles were not padded, they were just a metal surface since the padding was in the space suits.
When Dad retired and we no longer were carpooling to work, it was sort of a sad time for me. I really enjoyed ‘talking shop’ with Dad. Recently Mom and Dad moved out of their home of 57 years into an Independent Living Facility nearby. Dad told me that they are settled in and it now feels like home.
I write this at Father’s Day 2020, a time when we cannot drop in to visit due to the Covid virus. They can leave when they want so we meet them for breakfast on Tuesdays. I look forward to Tuesday to spending a short time visiting with Mom and Dad. Happy Father’s Day Dad!!