I explore the ocean for one of Christa McAuliffe’s strands.

Challenger photo credit: Wikimedia

Challenger
photo credit: Wikimedia

Here, tourists sift sand between toes, not knowing salt makes straw of hair. I’ve always embraced this place though, minus mother’s madness. I lived in a town where I could step out of my house, look up to the sky, and watch rockets launch into space. I don’t know for what more a child full of wonderment could ask.

I was in second grade in 1986. All the children were excited not only because we were gearing up to watch the Challenger pierce the sky but because, for weeks prior, we learned about Christa McAuliffe. She was a school teacher. My mother is a school teacher! She was exceptional; went on to receive a Master’s Degree in education. My mother has a master’s degree, too! I was searching for something.

My grandmother, with whom I lived, used to pick me up from school in our wood paneled station wagon – her face full of permanent surgical scars as if a dog had once attacked it. Cancer. When kids stared in innocent horror, I always made a point to ask if they needed to know what time it was or if they’d lost their watch. That’s what grammy told me to say.

She was beautiful and had hands full of magic. They kneaded dough every few days for freshly baked bread and crocheted full sized blankets beautifully patterned in pink and white. Her hands never stopped moving. She loved me; she told me so. (Even when mother was mad at me.) She and I made a pact one day that when she died, she’d send me a sign to let me know if heaven really exists.

January 28th finally arrived. The day was a welcomed relief from my usual anxiety, hives itchy. Instead, I was sticky with candy and wriggling in my seat with a different brand of anxiousness. Our teacher lined us up as best she could, led us out the back door of the classroom and into the wide open sky. I swear the grass had never been greener than on that day. We could hear the television inside of our classroom, and someone important began the long awaited count-down. The principal’s voice hammered over the P.A. system initiating a collaboration, and we all looked straight into the mouth of the horizon.  Some of us held hands; little darlings while screaming numbers and jumping up and down.

And then we were just screaming. I didn’t know precision could unhinge itself.

Her machine cut through air with the confidence of steel. When it separated, my second grade teacher dismissed us for the day. I don’t remember how I got home. Grammy hadn’t picked me up. I walked through the front door and saw her sitting on the couch, staring at the television – statuesque. She never removed the handkerchief that was covering her disfigured lips and nose. Why aren’t her hands moving? My grandmother cried that afternoon, not because cancer blew up in her mouth, but because I had witnessed how things fall apart.

{All links lead to a poem that was written by me and published in 42 Opus}

linking up with The Waiting!

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    Wow, I can’t believe you actually saw that happen. That must have left quite a mark on you. I remember that day too but I was nowhere near. We had a station wagon like that. :) Sounds like your grandmother was quite a woman. Thanks for sharing!

    • 2

      says

      Hi Jen, I lived close enough to always see the shuttles go up, but not close enough to see actual carnage, so that was good. Ahhh, yes, the wood paneled station wagons. I have bittersweet memories of that car.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • 7

      says

      Hey Christina, thanks so much for the kind words, really – it means a lot. I always enjoy -good or bad- commentary on my actual writing, so I really thank you for that. This is one of those childhood moments that I will never forget and for some reason, think about often. I have a great amount of nostalgic love for our space program. (well, the one we used to have, at least).

  2. 8

    says

    I remember this. I was 13 in 1986. I remember seeing it disintegrate on TV and I remember seeing the faces of those watching, the looks of horror, on the TV. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to see that.

    • 9

      says

      Hi Rose, thanks for stopping by, reading, and commenting! The memory is ingrained into my mind forever. We had so much talking about the event leading up to it and then to see with our own eyes, the shuttle explode…it was horrific. I’m fairly certain every kid in my class remembers this day to a T. I’m not sure how they couldn’t. It was crazy – they actually sent us home!

  3. 12

    says

    this was really well written. Despite the actual event being such a shocker you wrote it in a way that integrated so many pieces of your life. Your grandmother sounds like she was really wonderful.

    • 13

      says

      Hi Zoe, thanks for stopping over and reading. Most especially, thanks for the thoughtful words and insights into the narrative – I very much appreciate that.

      My grandmother was my everything and when she passed when I was 10, I knew that my world was in trouble because I was going to be left alone with my monster of a mother. My grandmother owns an untouchable place in my heart.

    • 17

      says

      Hey Michelle, thanks for reading and commenting! (we aren’t that far away from each other in age!! =D ) It’s definitely something that I associate with growing up as a gen Xer, we were kids and it was horrifying. There was so much excitement leading up to that day, it was crushing. They ended up naming a school, not too far from where I went to school at the time, after Christa.

  4. 20

    says

    What an experience for a child. I was a young teacher when that occurred– far away in a small Manitoba town. It was a day off for the kids. Just teachers in the school working on report cards. The office was playing the radio over the intercom so that we could listen to the launch. I can still see where I was standing in the hallway when the news of the explosion broke. To this day I can tell you what I was wearing. The fact that she was a teacher really brought it close to home. If it had that kind of impact on me, it’s hard to even grasp what it must have meant for an eyewitness. You capture the moment stunningly.

  5. 23

    says

    I was almost 21 and had just moved to NYC when I sat in my tiny room watching the tragedy unfold on a tiny 12″ black and white television. I didn’t know anyone there yet, so I just sat stunned in my room trying to make sense of what had happened. Your post is so beautifully and poignantly written. I can only imagine the impact it must have had on you at such a young age.

    • 29

      says

      Thank you, Emily! That means a great deal coming from you! And thanks for having me – this is my first time linking up, so I’m pretty excited. I will make some rounds later on and spread some comment love.

  6. 30

    says

    I love the way you weave your experience with your memory of your grandmother’s–especially the imagery of her hands. One of my greatest memories of my grandmother is of her hands crocheting.

    I was in 3rd grade that day and we did not watch the lift-off. Instead, we were in music class when our regular teacher appeared at the door, ashen-faced to deliver the news. She had been one of the teachers that had applied. They wheeled in a TV for us to watch the coverage on and I remember going home that day, a changed person. I remember my mom having to comfort me because I was scared.

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