Last week I found 225 Life magazines in Dad's faded red barn. Sneezing and choking, I lugged the dusty, heavy boxes that held the precious collection into blazing sunlight. I sorted them, my eyes devouring the covers depicting smiling celebrities and momentous events.
And I remembered.
Thumbing through one issue, I recalled America's love of Hollywood royalty. I saw Liz Taylor, when she had only been married three times and Grace Kelly before she became a real princess. Other youthful stars smiled up at me - Ann-Margret, Audrey Hepburn, Richard Burton. I had forgotten how young and glamorous they were when they appeared in glorious movies, mainly with their clothes on and mostly without expletives.
Life reminded me of the excitement of Sputnik, which forced the U.S. to explore the heavens. John Kennedy called it the Space Race. Wondrous flights with the magical, mythical names of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo ended with an astronaut taking the moon-buggy for a spin among lunar craters. I relived for a moment the amazement and almost worshipful attitude my folks had toward the scientists and astronauts at NASA. My father, a World War II pilot, pondered the incredible task of propelling the astronauts into outer space to escape earth's gravity. But having the ability to determine the exact location to drop the homecoming capsule on our spinning planet--that was a miracle.
A Maytag refrigerator ad helped me realize that high-tech conveniences like zip lock plastic bags, freeze dried food, modern computers, and hand-held calculators evolved from space exploration. Astronauts popularized Tang and thanks to my mother's effort to support NASA's space program, I drank the stuff until my teeth, tongue and lips turned orange--for weeks at a time. Most of the astronauts appeared on the covers of Life. When I found the 1967 issue announcing the deaths of Gus Grissim, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee in the fiery Apollo conflagration, I felt shock and dismay again.
I remembered later explosions--the Challenger and Columbia and their lost crews. Racing into space triggered a renewed interest in earth-bound science. An October, 1963 cover of Life hurled a colorful, spiraling molecular model of deoxyribonucleic acid into our home, enticing me to learn more about it.
DNA, an enormous discovery by Watson and Crick, was worthy of a Nobel Prize. Thirty-five years later, scientists have split strands of DNA that revealed clues to cure debilitating diseases and assist law enforcement agencies to prove a suspect's guilt or innocence. They have managed the once unimaginable--to clone frogs, kittens and sheep.
Time seemed to stop as I pored over the pages of Life. I could almost hear my mother rattling pots and pans as she cooked our evening meal while Walter Cronkite's authoritative baritone voice boomed into the living room, "And that's the way it is...". I imagined I heard the old blue pickup clang and wheeze as Dad came home to us at the end of his busy workday.
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