The Rocket Garden

Up until this point, Short Stack had been doing a stellar job holding it together. He had endured a long and confining trip to Orlando, a late and greasy dinner, a foolishly short night’s sleep and now a line and two more security checks before entry to Nirvana was permitted and by now, his edges were starting to fray.

“Let’s GOOOOO, dad!” His little body was rocking impatiently in the stroller. He had just about had it and I had a hard time blaming him. It was, after all, five hours past his bedtime. I quickly zipped up my bag after the last security guard had checked through things, ensuring that I hadn’t tried to smuggle in anything on the extensive, “No, no” list such as explosives or a broken digital camera (both listed) and I quickly zoomed us out of the crush of people getting ready for a long night’s wait.

“We’re in, Buddy!” I could hear a very tiny, exasperated sigh emanate from beneath the stroller’s canopy. I couldn’t see him under all the gear I had balanced on top of the unfolded sun cover, but I could easily picture the eye roll that stood in for an audible, “It’s about time!” At four, he didn’t understand the point in all the hooha that had to be taken care of in order to get where we were and to explain it now was really not a worthwhile endeavor. Normally, I don’t let any form of parental disrespect pass without a quick correction, but tonight, with the extenuating circumstances, I felt that I could let this one slide. To be honest, I was feeling pretty fried myself.

We wheeled around a corner, out a door and back into the cool night air, but this time, we were in. Shops, shows, café’s and displays surrounded us, all driving one message home.

Outer Space. REAL outer space!

A massive mockup of the new Orion Space capsule stood in the middle of the courtyard and the lit up front window of the gift shop, already filled with midnight shoppers beckoned to us, but I had a plan. Something that I wanted Short Stack to see. Something that would totally make up for the long trip and wait.

The Rocket Garden.

Some people plant flowers, some plant vegetables. The Kennedy Space Center, plants rockets.

Well, perhaps they don’t plant them, but they do display them and they do it with style.

Nearly a lifetime ago, my parents had taken me to this very place and though my memory is more than a little fuzzy on the details, I do remember being here. Back then, there was no Space Shuttle and the whole notion of going to space was one of only passing interest to me. The moon landings were long over and Skylab, though a technical marvel, was pretty uninteresting to your average kid. When America launched a rocket, it barely made the evening news anymore and of the Space Program’s history, I knew precious little. When, on a federally mandated family Disney trip, my parents took me to the Space Center I had walked out onto a grassy lawn behind some buildings and looked up at these very rockets. Back then, the display of these history shaping machines had seemed nearly an afterthought. Almost like they had needed a place to stick them and thought that the back yard would do for now. They were in no particular order and seemed to be randomly scattered across an otherwise unremarkable expanse of course green turf, a small plaque at the base of each giving the only indication that these were impressive engines of change and deserved note. At the time, I recall my highest priority being getting back into the air conditioned display building.

Fast forward thirty plus years and things have changed.

Shops and cinemas that hadn’t existed at all during my last visit lit our way with their glowing display windows. The excitement of arrival finally wearing off, my little boy had become perilously quiet and limp in his little wheeled seat. Exhaustion was taking over and soon, I was convinced, he would either fall asleep or melt down. Possibly both. I saw my objective ahead and piloting him over a small bridge, stopped just inside the open area that is the Kennedy Space Center’s rocket garden.

“Hey. Short Stack. What do you think of THAT?”

Silence. Oh man. Was he asleep? Did he even care at this point?

I heard the seat canvas creak as his body shifted in the effort to take in the view. Before us was not the grubby little grass patch of my youthful memory but a carefully sculpted display of plants, walkways, fountains, rocket engines and the massive sentinels of our country’s space program, standing like proud giants, all lit dramatically from below against a pitch black night sky.

The stroller seat creaked again. Short Stack emerged slowly and stood, his back to me and remained that way for one of those moments that could have been only seconds long but seemed to be forever. He raised a finger on an outstretched arm.

“That’s… That’s a Redstone Rocket! Look! It’s got a Mercury capsule on it! And that one!” His other arm swung out quickly making him look like a signpost to the stars. “That’s an Atlas! Look over there! That big one is… ahh, a Gemini Titan! Hey, I don’t know what that one is. What’s that one, Dad?” I had no idea and said so.

He stood there agog as he soaked it all in.

“Lets go see!” and with that, ran full tilt directly into the melee, pursued hotly by his empty stroller and father.

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6 Responses

  1. Your son knows a bit about rockets, me thinks 🙂

  2. he sure knows more than me 🙂

    • He’s voracious when it comes to minutia. If he were born two centuries ago, I think I’d be trying to figure out how to get him apprenticed to a clock maker. 🙂

  3. I too love to watch my kids watch in wonder, eyes wide open, full of sparkles

    • I live for that too. There is nothing so wonderful as watching a kid grab ahold of something with everything they’ve got. They, in turn, get my enthusiasm pumping as well.

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