Hide and Seek
September 1962 turned into November. The days were getting shorter and there was a hint of chill on the air in the evening. This meant hide and seek at night with the group of kids that lived in the area. The rules were simple. We must stay on the north side, of highland ave, and stay within the boundaries. The boundaries were Tom’s yard and both yards adjacent to his. The “seeker” would face the big oak tree in Tom’s yard, and cover his eyes, whilst the “hiders” scattered! This was great fun for me. Full of excitement and adventure! So many places to hide! There was the shed in the back yard. Or the culvert you could squeeze into and hide. Or maybe in the garden in the hedges. And it was nighttime. Darkness adds an element of adventure to outside fun. It let our imaginations run wild. Also it was the first year I was allowed to be outside at night. That gave me a new sense of freedom and responsibility as I would later find out the consequence of not returning home on time. Times were a bit different back then. I believe now that my parents must have thought that all was well. Safety in numbers you know.
In 1962, we were at the beginning of the space age. On February 20, 1962, NASA launched one of the most important flights in American history. The first orbital flight with astronaut John Glenn. In 1961 there where already 2 U.S. flights. Alan Shepard in May 1961, in the Mecury-redstone 3 Freedom 7, U.S. first manned suborbital flight on 5 May 1961. Then Gus Grissom in the Mecury-redstone 4 Liberty Bell 7, blasted off for another suborbital flight on 21 July 1961. Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin had already taken the lead in the race for space by his orbital flight on 12 April 1961. Then on 6 August 1961, Gherman Titov completed 17 orbits of the earth. We were definitely behind in the race. Then we at last flew an orbital flight. John Glenn blasted off for 3 orbits around the earth on 20 February 1962 in a Mercury-Atlas 6 Friendship 7. The U.S was beginning to get it together. There would be 2 more U.S. launches in 1962. Scott Carpenter in the Mercury-Atlas 7 Aurora 7 on 24 May 1962 . Then Wally Schirra in the Mercury-Atlas 8 Sigma 7 on 3 October 1962. These events fascinated me. This fascination has stayed with me all my life. People would stop what they were doing and listen to either the radio or watch the television to keep up to date on the details. I stayed home from school on launch days. I am not sure if this was an excused absent. I think it was as many of my friends stayed home too. Launch day in the media was not at all like it was with the space shuttle, where the media would break in just before launch, or just before landing. Launch day in the 60’s began early in the morning. CBS was the channel of choose where I lived in the 60’s. So Walter Cronkite was our commentator. He would interview other astronauts and make it so plain in everyday language what was going on. He would break out models to illustrate the staging and other functions of the spacecraft. Thank you Walter for tweaking this young mind, and planting the seed of curiosity in all things space. The boy across the street, Tom, took this interest to a new level. Tom was a couple of years older than me. So he was not in my league, or tight circle of friends. But he was a kind boy. Never a bully. And he knew I was interested in space and science. Tom had built something in his basement, and asked me if I wanted to see it. “Sure.” I said. So I followed him over to his house and down into his basement. There in the middle of the floor was a replica of the Mercury capsule. Tom’s dad was a modeller at Clark Equipment in Battle Creek. And had helped Tom to build this! It was Fantastic! I was speechless. Tom gestured to the open hatch of the capsule. I climbed up and lowered myself into the seat. Wow. In front of me were dials, toggle switches, screens and other eye candy. It was so cool, and further locked in my interest in space and the sciences.
Young boys cannot resist construction sites. Be it a house being built or construction in the road, it is irresistible! All that fun. The dirt and the big machinery. Well one day Dave and I were riding bikes around the neighborhood and came across a huge hole in the road, surrounded by big earth movers. The dirt was very loose and both of us discovered that we could make big avalanches of dirt, down the steep slopes of the hole. I would estimate that the bottom of the hole was 15 feet below. Over and over, Dave and I pushed dirt down into the hole. Great clouds of dust envelops us. What fun! Until… a policeman pulls up. We were only 6 or 7 years old. We were scared, and we knew there was trouble to pay for. The policeman approached us and looked down sternly at us in the pit. He pointed to us and said “Come on up here boys. Right now!” He asked us what we were doing and who was going to pay for the damage we had made. Who was going to dig out all the dirt we had pushed into the pit. He wanted to know who was going to fill in the mess we had made. He took our names down and asked us who are father’s were. “Where do you live and what is your telephone number?” he said. Both of us sheepishly gave the policeman the information and he wrote it down in his book, and told us to go right home. He would be calling our parents! OH the terror that arose in our young hearts. Later that evening the phone rang. It was the police department. It was the policeman that discovered our mischief. The conversation went on for some time. I sat and sweated it out at the kitchen table. There was long silences where Dad was not talking. Only listening. Soon the conversation was over and dad hung up the phone and came into the kitchen and sat down at the table where I was waiting.
I was looking down at my shoes. He said “Look at me Jim.” I looked up at him. He was not happy. There was a frown on his face. He said “I am very disappointed in you Jim. I thought your mother and I had raised you better than that. We have taught you to respect other people’s property. Why did you do this?” I did not have an answer for him. All I could do is shrug my shoulders. He put his head in his hands and thought. “Well.” he said. You know that fishing trip we have planned for the weekend? You can just forget that. I will have some chores for you to do instead. In the meantime, you just think of what you did. Now up to your room with you!” I ran up the stairs and dove into my bed. I was upset but I knew I had brought this on myself. It was the first time I had got into big trouble. And with the police involved! I was ashamed of myself. What hurt more was the pain and embarrassment it had caused my mom and dad. It hurt bad to disappoint them. All in all I did learn a valuable lesson from the affair. To treat other peoples property with respect. Even as I would expect others to do!