A few months ago, I was making one of my periodic attempts to get a handle on the mess I had jammed into our basement when Mother went into assisted living. I stumbled across a black and white photograph of my father, young, wildly bearded, blue eyes blazing from a sun crisped face, standing in a vast white landscape. He looked like a Wild West prospector and that might have been close. Daddy was a physicist–a rocket scientist, in truth–and the notation on the back of photo said “White Sands, Summer 1952.”
The picture was taken just weeks before I was born in October and I finally put together some pieces of family lore that previously had not made sense. Why my grandmother had come to stay with my mother in Chapel Hill, NC, during Mother’s pregnancy, but not after. Why my mother once told me a tale about lying prone on an Atlantic beach with a hole scooped out in the sand to cradle me in her belly. She was there with her brother and his wife but never mentioned my father. Why my mother’s boss taught her to drive that summer, even though Mother could barely fit herself under the wheel and stretch her legs to reach the pedals.
Aha. Daddy was off in New Mexico, getting suntanned for the only time in his life, and doing science with the great minds of the Atomic Age. Continue reading