Saturday, January 10, 2009

When Mulder Lives Next Door

I came to learn later in life that our next door neighbor was not everything he seemed.

He and his wife were always kind. She was older than he, and they had two very sweet dogs they loved like children. I learned to swim in their backyard, canopied doughboy pool. When my sister and I knocked on their door for Halloween, they always had special candy set aside just for us that was bigger and better than the regular stash. I can remember hanging out in his garage looking at the rocks he had found. Learning about his rock tumbler and what the term "Rock Hound" meant.

After we'd moved away, when it was too late to ask questions, my parents told me that Dan had worked out at the Skunk Works. Didn't I remember all the times he was away?

No. In the typical, self-centered viewpoint of a child I have memories of all the times he was near. But never noticed when he wasn't around.

My sweet, quiet neighbor helped build some of the most amazing aircraft in history. The B-1. The B-2. The Space Shuttle.

Today, we went to the Air and Space Museum near the Dulles airport. And there she was. Our Blackbird. The SR-71.

There are no words. Standing in front of that Blackbird made my heart pound. I was so close. You could. almost. reach. out. and. touch. it.

Dan worked on them. He may well have built this actual aircraft with his own hands.

I have very emotional ties to my upbringing in the Mojave. I grew up in a world where high-tech, super secret aircraft flew over my house and school. Daily sonic booms rattled our windows, and when the rattling knocked us off the couch we'd shake our heads and laugh that someone was going to get their wrist slapped.

When we moved away it took me years to grow accustomed to the silence of the skies. They seemed so empty.

Dan is still living. We heard this Christmas he is in an assisted living facility and that his memory comes and goes.

I brought my camera to the museum to take photos of the kids. But I took a few for Dan and will send them to his son-in-law to pass them on to him. I know he may not remember. But maybe he does.

I hope he remembers a time where Laddie greeted him at the door with joyful wags of the tail. I hope his days are filled with conversations with his beautiful wife. I hope his mind's eye walks amongst the tumbleweeds watching one of his planes take off into a Mojave sunset. I hope he smiles and knows that he was a part of something amazing.


RiverPoet said...

What a beautiful, thoughtful post! I find it incredibly sad that sometimes age robs us of all those memories we have stored up from our lives. It is so amazingly thoughtful of you to take pictures to send to Dan. I hope that when he looks at them, some glimmer of the past is jogged in his brain.

peace - D

A Free Man said...

There's a really great book called "Blue Sky Dream" (can't remember the author) that you should check out. It's about a guy who grew up around the aerospace industry in the rapidly developing suburbs in California. Beautifully written.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Awesome, hon. Amazing post. I actually had heard of the term "Skunk works" but didn't know it referred to Lockheed's.

I hope the pictures you send will bring a smile to his face.

K-Mom said...

I love how you see things for more than they really are.

SSG said...

Skunkworks... I wondered what that was for a while. History is great and it is sad that people get old, once who were strong become weak, but it happens to us all. But when others remember what we once were, that is a great thing, keeping people alive in memories.

Gypsy said...

Beautifully written. I hope he remembers.

Patois said...

It will certainly make his family know how much he touched others. A great idea to send those photos.

linda said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Not Afraid to Use It said...

@RP: That has been the hard part of doing family interviews, etc. To see how age robs our loved ones of the person we knew. Thanks for such a kind comment.

@AFM: I haven't read that one but will add it to my bday wish list. Thanks for the heads up.

@CMGD: Dude. You and I are going to revel in our geekery. Remind me to tell you (and to post about) the cookbook.

@K-Mom: Thank you for seeing it such a nice way. I think Hubbie sometimes just wishes I would quit talking things to death. :)

@SSG: That's why it was important for me to blog about him. In a small way the memory of him lives on.

@Gypsy: Thanks. This was a really hard post for me to write. There is so much emotion involved here and so much I wanted to tell. It's hard to rite a tightly written post when all you want to do is gush over someone.

@Patois: I know how important family and those connections are to you. Thanks for seeing this.

@Linda: Thanks so much for commenting! I know there are people who are more comfortable lurking and never comment. I love having the personal connection that reading comments give--it gives me the chance to thank you guys for reading. So THANK you! LOL I really appreciate it, it nice to "see" a name behind the stats.