Astronaut Childhood

The new family moved continents six weeks after I was born in ’63, a second time when at four, then eight, nine, 16, by myself at 18. Europe to North America to South America to Europe to North America. We still went back to some places, and visited still others, but it was Dad who went everywhere for work. He was of the finest trans-nationals and brought every part of the world back to us. We were meant to explore this world and participate its wonder.

Transit was the dinner talk, and pass the salt. Moving is the mantras. Trips to see people, intersecting in places all over, a maze of humanity. The best parts were planning and remembering the trips. I vicariously traveled the world with him. The smell of long return family suppers, the wine-breathed stories of bazaars and the gracious people met, his satchel often came with fresh leathers, burlap coffees, or exotic wood carvings. Holding such a piece while hearing its heritage could bring a tear. A coin chest full of foreign, historical leaders.

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A defining kid memory was living in Venezuela and taking a South American 60’s vacation. I sat in an airport lounge, riveted by the Moon land. Afterwards we climbed into the thin metal, twin engine tail-dragger DC-3, flying between peaks to Cuzco.  I can vouch, planes do get hit with lightening, knocking them about.  From there we took the train into the mountains, and the jeep up to Machu Pichu.

There was an easy link between their Saturn rocket, Apollo capsule, Lunar lander and my shiny DC-3, train and jeep ride, stages in our travels to mysterious, dangerous places. It seemed expected that space flight would soon be normal for everyone who wanted it.

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Machu Pichu was my first experience with anything ancient, and for a kid, it was Flintstones’ gigantic. Intermittent thick cool fog banks rolled in and gone again, with yellowed summer grass terraced down the steep slope, and darker green peaks all around. The colourful poncho felt good in the cool.

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The mountain teemed with perfect large rock walls, grass and with people full of colour, police horses and smiling officers, while in all directions the landscape fell away into deep valleys and distant peaks.

It wasn’t just some place with rocks. If it wasn’t already sacred to the first peoples at this site, it certainly was to us centuries later.

It was crowds collected for a summer festival at a natural sanctuary made sacred by ancient man and the gathering. It spoke to a primal fulfillment, we had all traveled far to a significant place and moment. Humans have always looked to gatherings and the stars for direction and meaning. It is our mission, and it felt significant.

We made our way off the mountain to the coast and boarded a 200 person ship and sailed north through Columbia, to the canal, towards Venezuela. Slot metal horse racing on the deck was fascinating. At a stop, the gangway dropped us into the Cartagena port side market, bursting with sights and smells of fruit, fish, coffee and leather.

Somewhere there in the hot Panamanian summer haze of mosquito ponds with tall water birds and alligators, I fell into 3 days of mumps induced delirium, rocking slowly in the ship. The canal was a series of lakes and locks, a marvel of humanity they said, ships pulled by mechanical mules. I only saw it in my nightmare sweats. It seemed a long interplanetary passage.

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We were almost home, we lived a day’s sail on the other side of the canal.

Valencia is only a couple hours from the coast, and we spent many weekends driving there and back, the shuttle to paradise. During the week, we went to the pool club, with a lookout to a slow river and an alligator community. Our house edged onto a neighborhood tropical forest, that teemed with cicada, birds and a few sloths in the heat.

A few weekends, dad would to talk a local longboat skiff operator. He’d take us out on a tarp covered outboard, into the sand iles archipelago out towards Aruba. We’d snake through huge sandbanks with small islets of green, and small and huge beached wrecks, baking in the sand and salt. Around every bend was another spectacular view.

 

He dropped us on a bigger island with a two km bay, where a huge rusted cargo wreck was beached up on the shore a few hundred metres away. Not going near it was rule 1, but I remember we came out of the water twice, once for oil sludge, and another for a hammerhead shark. Having the rotting metal colossus looming while snorkeling the reef fish below was yet another world. I was ready for Star Wars.

We moved back to Europe in October when I was seven. From shorts and sunshine to darkness and mist, and the wonder of snow. We played cards under sunlamps after school to acclimate to grey days that ended at 3 pm.

I missed outdoor hum of the tropics, the birds and the cicada. But we hardened, and for our second winter, we moved to North America in q971, where long distance car trips became the norm.  I was hugely impressed when they took the moon buggy for drives on the moon.  I wonder if it is still there.

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With the addition of winter, I finally had the last accessory for the child astronaut. A snowsuit shielded me against the harsh elements.

Humanity had turned a leaf; the age of the astronaut/cosmonaut has begun.

 

 

Aroh Wendelin
2017/04

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