Philadelphia, late 1960’s.
Ever since I was a little boy, I loved the space program and all things having to do with the universe. I always liked science and nature.
On Sundays my dad would take my sister Janice and I to a book store where he picked up his copy of the New York Times. We lived in a neighborhood called Lawndale and the store was over in Cheltenham. It was a 15 or 20 minute ride from the house.
I remember one time we went there and there were a half dozen flatbed trailers in the parking lot. On each trailer were these giant dinosaur models. But, get this… you could put coins in a machine on the thing and it would make you a miniature model of the dinosaur you were standing at the foot of. It was incredible. Of course my dad got us one of each.
(They were made out of wax and plastic. It was almost surreal to me at the time. If I can find any info on this, I’ll write about it in a future post.)
1960s Tyrannosaurus Rex Wax Mold-A-Rama Injection Mold Dinosaur Small Variation
I will have to say this here being a student of science. Notice how back then people thought T-Rex walked upright like a guy in a Godzilla suit dragging his tail behind him? When it’s painfully obvious if you look at the bone structure of the T-Rex he’s built more like a bird. The genuine article leaned forward and his tail stuck out for balance.
More like this rendering:
Since this story is about science I felt it needed to be said!
My dad read the NY Times every Sunday for as long as I can remember. We had the Evening Bulletin delivered to our house every day by the local paperboy, but he would buy the Times for himself every weekend. It was a behemoth of a publication. Easily 100 pages. This is when print was king and the Times was probably the greatest paper in the country. (Maybe the world!)
I once asked my father why he read that paper and he told me that he felt that the Times told the unbiased truth when it came to the news. It was a high brow intelligently written paper that brought you news from around the world. He felt that it gave him everything he needed to know each week.
He’d be chatting with the staff and browsing for books, and Janice and I would wander around the store looking at all kinds of different books. I loved walking up and down the aisles looking at all sorts of different books!
My dad would sometimes say no to getting us a toy. But he never said no to getting us a book.
I loved looking at all of books and comics. Normally, my sister and I would come home with something on those trips.
We always had lots of books growing up. My father was an avid reader and always had a book going. He was a self educated man. He read about everything. He would pick a subject and read all he could about it. I always thought that my dad was a really smart guy, but he would always dismiss it by saying that he was just older. But I knew he got smart from reading so many books. He wanted to better understand the world and its historical events to better navigate his own life. He used to say that the three greatest things in his life were my mom, us kids, and his books.
He passed in 2016, but I wonder what his reaction would have been to discover his son had become a published author?
He used to say that books and knowledge gave him the tools he needed to better navigate the world and the people and events in it. That habit trickled down into us kids, and we all learned so much from him. Don’t get me wrong, my mom liked to read too, but she was more into Agatha Christie and works of fiction. My dad liked non-fiction. Mostly history, biographies, and science. He did love science fiction and read all the great works by Clark, Asimov, and Heinlein. He enjoyed authors who took a more scientific approach to their writing rather than the fantasy stuff of say… Ray Bradbury. He always liked stories about stuff that could maybe happen in the future. That’s why he always liked Batman better than Superman. Superman was an alien from another planet with incredible powers. Batman was just a regular guy. Batman was cool, because Batman could be a real guy! You could never be Superman, but if you had the money and skills, you could maybe be Batman!
I remember he got me a huge poster and I hung it on the wall of my bedroom. It was of our solar system and I would always look at it think about our galaxy. Here’s a guy who took me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. We loved space and all things science fiction. I used to stand on my bed at night and just stare at that poster. I always thought it would be amazing to travel to the stars. But I was afraid of heights, so that was off the table.
We had stacks of books about science and nature. I remember my sister and I would get these little paperback digest sized books about animals. I especially loved those books. Each one had a different subject. Fish, Reptiles, Amphibians, Insects, and Spiders and their kin. I asked dad what the word kin meant, and he told me that they were all in the same family. Just like us. Reading all of these kinds of books as a kid were not only fun and informative, but they made you smarter, and you didn’t even realize it was happening. I don’t remember many of my friends in the neighborhood having many books like that growing up.
I loved space, aliens, space travel and science fiction movies growing up. My father was a huge fan of the Apollo program as it began to take shape in the 60’s. We followed it together and would watch the launches on our black and white TV. I remember I was in first grade for Apollo 8.
But, bigger and better things were coming.
A promise President Kennedy made to the American people just eight years before. His words ring true today now more than ever.
I’ll never forget the night of July 16th, 1969. I was in bed, and my father came and woke me up and brought me downstairs. I remember sitting on the floor in my pajamas next to his chair, and watching as the Apollo lunar module touched down on surface of the moon. The moment I saw Neil Armstrong step carefully down the ladder as the first man on the moon.
A glorious moment in human history.
I always felt bad for Alan Shephard who stayed behind in the ship orbiting the moon, while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. But they needed Alan pick them up and take them back to Earth.
But in that moment as the astronauts looked back upon that blue marble surrounded by blackness, they maybe thought…All life as we have ever known it is right there. All of the people, animals, fish, birds, insects, plants… everything was on that blue marble.
Except for them. They were out there.
As usual, I was struggling in school. It’s not that I wasn’t bright, I just didn’t like school and it’s inhabitants. My dad tried to challenge my mind at home, so he bought a bunch of books. Space, History, Science, Biology, Anatomy, and Animals. They were this amazing series of books on nearly every subject. But it was all written in terms a kid could understand.
Here’s an example.
The How and Why Wonder Books!
He would assign me chapters to read at night when my regular homework was finished. I also read them in my free time and on the weekends.
Initially it felt like a punishment. To me it was a punishment. More schoolwork?
But what I later realized is, that learning was fun. The world is a fascinating place if you have the right materials and most of all, the right teacher. I would read the assigned chapters, and then my dad would give me a list of questions I had to answer on a yellow legal pad. (Yes, I was tested to see if I retained the information.) I didn’t like this forced learning, but after a while I began to feel a certain pride in learning all of these things. If for nothing else than to become a smarter person. A boy who knew more about the world around him.
He figured if I wasn’t going to pay attention in school, then by god, he was going to fill my head with as much good information as he could jam in there. He knew I had the head for it. But I didn’t realize it at the time. But after a while it got easier, and the books became more interesting to me. I was under 10 years old, and I knew all of the stages of gestation, even though I hadn’t a clue what sex was yet.
Reading those books and being tested was simply the beginning of all of the things my father taught me. Those books and all of the other books he gave me on a regular basis made me an avid reader where I later excelled in school. I’m happy to report that I’ve never said no to my daughter in regard to a book, and she’s a brilliant reader. So my sisters and I have tried to replicate all of the good things our parents taught us, and discarded the bad. Why hold onto it? They were mistakes. Focus on the triumphs, and go forward.
Sometimes on a Saturday, my mom would take the girls into town. When you lived in the suburbs back then, you referred to center city as ‘going into town’. They would be gone half the day shopping at the big department stores. Gimbels, Lit Bros, and Strawbridges.
Saturday morning meant one thing to me as a kid.
Saturday Morning Cartoons.
When I was a little guy, (Like four or five) I was so into Saturday morning cartoons, that I knew what show was coming on at what time, and what to watch next on what channel.
I couldn’t even tell time yet. However, back then there were only a few channels. VHF: 3, 6, 10 & 12. UHF: 17, 29, & 48. That was it.
One of the cool things about a Saturday with dad instead of mom was lunch. I remember he would be sitting at his place at the dinner table in the kitchen. The sun through the windows would illuminate his paper. If I was hungry, he would make me a dish called, ‘Junk’.
Junk consisted of Planter’s cocktail peanuts, (When they were perfectly salty and greasy) a handful of crispy pretzels, and three or four slices of American cheese (New Yorker) tossed in a little green cereal bowl. That was placed on a folding snack table in front of my TV chair, and I was good to go. Wash it down with some Hawaiian Punch and you’re all set.
You’d think that wasn’t enough for a growing boy, but I was a fussy eater, and I loved that combination. I didn’t realize that I was basically eating bar snacks for lunch. It was awesome, and I loved it. We all did!
I was finished lunch one Saturday and dad and I are discussing some of the things I was learning from the books he gave me to read. I was struggling with some of the laws of gravity, inertia, and centrifugal force.
My dad came up with the idea that he should do what he always did; lead by example. Anything worth doing was worth overdoing. So he came up with a plan.
He went into the basement, and when he returned he produced a bucket of water.
Now, I’m a little kid. There’ve been times I’ve done things, or brought things into the house that I shouldn’t have. Boys always pull stuff like that. But here we were in the living room and he’s got a big bucket of water. Every cell in my mind tells me that mom doesn’t want anything like that in the living room. Kids spill stuff all the time. A glass of juice is one thing, but a bucket of water would be a solid call for corporal punishment.
But dad’s explaining to me the laws of gravity, rotation and centrifugal force. If dad’s here we’re good. Mom’s not home so it doesn’t matter. He’s got all the power in regard to what you should, or shouldn’t do in my mom’s nice living room.
My dad proceeds to swing the big bucket of water back and forth. I’m watching with startled eyes as he begins to swing it higher and higher. Then, without warning he swings it all the way over his head like a pinwheel. I’m talking Pete Townsend windmill moves. Frankly I’m amazed that none of the water is coming out of the bucket as he swings it in a circular motion over his head. It doesn’t make sense…
Until it does.
I see it. Now, I get it.
Centrifugal force, a fictitious force, peculiar to a particle moving on a circular path, that has the same magnitude and dimensions as the force that keeps the particle on its circular path (the centripetal force) but points in the opposite direction.
Later, mom and the girls came home from shopping in town, and no one was the wiser.
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