Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dad and son share fascination with moon

Dan Conradt, Austin Herald-American

The garage door creaked open just as the evening sky reached that purple point that comes between dusk and dark.

I struggled under its weight and bulk as I carried the telescope to the end of the driveway. I removed the lens cover and slid an eyepiece into the opening, and Steven said "Let me find it."

I moved aside and he pressed his eye to the lens, nudging the telescope back and forth, up and down until he stepped back and proclaimed "Perfect!"

He was right. The moon was four days past "new" and hung in the sky in the kind of a narrow crescent you see in cartoons, minus the smile and the night cap.

The telescope revealed craters and plains that the naked eye could only hint at, and the fascination started all over again..

I was 11 years old when Neil Armstrong took his "giant leap for mankind" on a summer day in 1969.
I spent most of that day listening to a staticky broadcast on a pocket-sized transistor radio as history was made. I was pretty sure there were no little green men waiting to greet them, but I wasn't so sure that Armstrong and Aldrin wouldn't sink into the powdery surface of the moon, or return to Earth with an incurable lunar plague.

But they took much more than "one small step for man" on that day -- they took the first step into the final frontier.

For an 11 year old, that's the stuff of dreams.

We've always had a fascination with the moon -- perhaps because it seems so accessible. And it has assumed a prominent place in our folklore and pop culture.

As kids, we're told that the moon is made of green cheese, and we wait each month for the full moon that will bring the return of "The Man In The Moon".

The owl and the pussycat danced by the light of the moon, and when things go "bump" in the night we blame the moon for giving us werewolves.

When we're in love we're "over the moon", and "Moon River" makes us nostalgic.

I've been fascinated by the moon since I was a kid, and now my son Steven has been bitten by the same bug. As a toddler, dozens of his days ended as I rocked him to sleep while reading "Good Night Moon." As a 3-year-old he could recite the nursery rhyme about the cow that jumped over the moon.

Now that he's 7, we've set aside the notions of green cheese, werewolves and jumping cows, but the sight of the moon inching over the horizon never gets old.

As the moon slowly slid behind the roof of the house, we carried the telescope back into the garage, then Steven brushed his teeth and crawled into bed. He pulled the bedspread up around his chin ... a bedspread covered with glow-in-the-dark stars and moons.

I sat on the edge of the bed and we were quiet for a few minutes, then he asked "Dad, do you think I could go to the moon someday?"

I smiled in the dark and thought about a little boy whose life is fueled by curiosity and imagination.

"I think you can do anything you put your mind to", I told him. "The sky's the limit."

I got up to leave the room just as a moonbeam peaked through the window. "Good night, dad."
"Good night, Steven."

Good night, moon.

Dan Conradt, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.