Frank and I stayed up for the Perseid meteor shower on Wednesday night. It was everything I was hoping for … but I’d like to digress a bit before going into that experience.
I’ve always loved astronomy. When I was seven, I got a book on astronomy as a gift: I think it only took about a month before it had been memorized! When I started a paper route, it was specifically to save money for a telescope. As an aside, I remember seeing the semi-famous “Wanaque Reservoir” UFO when I was out collecting for that route. Funny, I can remember everything about that night … how clear the sky was, how cold it was, how that unexplained light circled all around the sky, not seeming to fly anywhere in a straight line … and yet I can’t remember what I had for dinner the night before last!
Anytime a celestial event occured, I was out there to watch! Lunar and solar eclipses. The comets Halley and Kohotek. Planetary alignments. And of course, meteor showers. I don’t know what it was that was so interesting about astronomy, except that it was a pretty good distraction from all the other shit I was having to deal with in the real world.
Anyhow, the Perseids have always been a great event. They come at the height of summer, when it’s usually easier to take time off the next morning. You don’t have to worry about cold weather (unless you happen to be watching them at 7,200 ft. altitude in the Colorado Rockies). And they can usually be counted on for a pretty good display.
I have one special memory associated with the Perseids and it happens to also involve Colorado. Back in 1978, I was CFO of a youth organization, Adventure Unlimited. The headquarters was in Denver and there was a camp near Buena Vista, about a three-hour drive to the southwest. The camp was at about the same altitude as where we are now staying.
I was not quite 25 when I took the job and quite a bit younger than everyone else in the office. Consequently, I became really good friends with my assistant and her husband, Debbie and Chris Hopple … they were my age and shared some similar outlooks. Chris was a straw boss at the camp and Debbie would move down to Buena Vista for the summer to be the camp’s onsite bookkeeper. Along with my first wife, we spent a lot of time together, going to shows, dinner, etc. I’m secure enough in my manhood to say the four of us even saw Barry Manilow at Red Rocks together. :o)
When it came time for the Perseids to peak, Chris and I spent the night in sleeping bags, camped out on the observatory deck of the main lodge building. They were incredible that night – I don’t think it was a particularly brilliant storm, but that was the first time I had watched the shower completely separate from city lights! Up to that point, I had never seen the night sky the way we saw it that night. The meteor shower was just icing on the cake, and it didn’t disappoint!
Chris, Debbie and I all went our separate ways over the next year: they left to work on a school’s staff in England the next year and a few months later, I left to move to the San Francisco Bay area. We hooked up again in 1981 when they came back to the states, with a new baby daughter. They visited me in San Jose and we spent a couple of days together. They had initially thought about living in southern California, near Chris’s mom, but loved the mountains so much they moved back to Buena Vista.
Two years later, Chris and Debbie were killed by a drunk driver. I found out by happenstance. Another former co-worker came to visit sometime in ’84. I asked about them, he went ashen and then told me the horrible news. They had been driving back to Buena Vista after visiting her folks in Golden. The other driver crossed over into the wrong lane and hit them head on. Debbie was killed instantly … Chris died a couple of days later. Both their kids (they had a second child the year before the accident) were in the car with them and survived some pretty bad injuries.
The Perseids give me a chance to remember Chris and Deb at least once a year (although they come to mind quite a bit more than that). This year wasn’t any different and it was a bit more poignant, seeing as how I was only a couple of hours from where Chris and I spent that night under the stars almost 40 years ago.
I had wanted to try my hand at taking some night photography, something I’ve never done before. The skies on Monday and Tuesday night didn’t allow for a “test drive” … it was overcast and raining both evenings. I was able to take a few earlier in the evening and managed to get one shot of a couple of meteors – the camera froze up after that (it took me until late afternoon Thursday to figure out the battery didn’t have enough juice to allow for any shutter settings).
So instead of worrying about photography, I sat in my camp chair, with Frank in my lap. We had a front row seat for a spectacular show. And in the middle of it, I hoisted a Corona Light to Chris and Deb’s memory.