A fifty cent weekly allowance in the 1950’s in Laceyville was a pretty big deal to a little kid whose biggest purchases were comic books for a dime, five cent packs of baseball cards that included a card-sized slab of just awful bubble gum that actually broke into shards so you could cram it into your mouth, or ice cream cones for a nickel at George’s Restaurant. It was a small universe, the business block of our little town, but it was ours.
Memory conjures a couple of grocery stores, a butcher shop, a drug store, a Five And Dime, an appliance store, a clothing store, a movie theater, a hair dresser and a barber shop a couple of doors apart, a bank (where I could take a penny or a nickel or whatever I might scrounge from redeeming pop bottles, and add it to my very own savings account). There were other establishments, I’m sure, but I’m under a deadline here, and I can’t waste time actually thinking…
One of the grocery stores was privately owned, and became my go-to spot for MallowCups and Payday candy bars. My oldest brother, Clarke, worked in the other store…the A&P…after school. He was fifteen or sixteen, and was stashing money away for a used car, which he eventually managed to pick up for some price that was agreeable to all parties. I think it was a ’53 Mercury in a singularly unattractive shade of green…but it was his. He was practically an adult in the eyes of his kid brother.
He also saved up enough money to buy himself a small telescope, and here, dear reader, is where the title of this bit of deathless prose comes into being, albeit by some convoluted pathways.
Bear in mind if you will, this is the same brother who made me believe when I was only six, that Skinner’s Eddy “Mountain,” which was in full view of our side yard, was in fact Mt Everest, that had only just been climbed for the first time, by Sir Edmund Hillary. Our yard sloped away from the house on the east side, and there was a stone buttress that ran up that slope to a flower bed our father had planted under the kitchen and living room windows there. That buttress became my personal Mt Everest, and I spent way more time than a child with a brain should have spent, conquering the tallest mountain on earth---and there the real thing was, right over my shoulder in Skinner’s Eddy!
My point is, I believed anything Clarke told me. He actually convinced me that both cooked spinach and fried liver were really quite tasty. I was in my teens before I realized I had been lied to. My taste buds finally forced me to accept the error of his ways.
All of that misinformation notwithstanding, his enthusiasm for and willingness to share the wonders to be viewed through his telescope set me on a path of learning the night sky that I just couldn’t kick. My little Main Street universe suddenly expanded in ways I had never imagined.
The last time I looked through that telescope I was probably 14. Clarke was long since grown and gone, leaving it behind for the Little Kid to try his luck with it. It was twenty years before I came into possession of my own ‘scope. By that time I had accumulated a library of astronomy-related books and a subscription to Astronomy Magazine. I took an introductory course in the subject in college, and I loved it, but I had to admit that the science and math of astronomy were more than I could stand, let alone understand. So I stuck with simply watching the skies in the dark of night.
Early on, I pointed my own little backyard telescope at a tiny smudge in the darkness where I knew I should find the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest large galaxy to our own Milky Way. I toyed with the focus and brought the smudge into crystal clear view, and was blown away to realize I had found it. My brother’s after-school job in the grocery store more than two decades before had set things in motion that had put the collective light of some four hundred billion stars directly into my eye from a distance of two million light years. If you happen to be unfamiliar with the term, a light year is the distance that light travels in one year. We live eight light MINUTES from the sun. The light from the Andromeda Galaxy I was looking at in my ‘scope’s eyepiece had traveled two million YEARS to touch my eye. I hardly dared tear my gaze from the eyepiece…I didn’t want to miss a second of that ancient light.
He may have steered me wrong on Mt Everest, liver and spinach, but Clarke’s after school job at the A&P sixty-five years ago expanded the universe for me in ways that I’m sure he never anticipated. I will be forever grateful and indebted to him for that. I’m still trying to figure out what to do, though, with forty years-worth of Astronomy Magazines. Can’t throw them out…there might be an article I need to go back and read again.
Contact Lloyd Davis at email@example.com