The Christmas Miracle of October Skies

The Christmas Miracle of Homer Hickam comes home for the holidays.

By now, most everyone knows who Homer Hickham is and his amazing true life story, "Rocket Boys!"

The book was made into a smash movie "October Skies" in the late 1990s and remains an inspiration to generations to come.

It was in this spirit that my wife snapped up the movie when she saw in on discount at a nearby store just before Christmas.  Not only had she not seen the movie yet, but she felt it would be a good family entertainment.

Now, I'm not from this area, but I found several things that I immediately could identify with when we watched the film together.

First, in one of the first few scenes, the pretty teacher plays a radio on her school desk for the silent classroom... as they listened to the radio signals from Sputnik in 1957.

To my surprise, it was the exact same model radio that my late father had out in his wood shop/garage for years and years from the 1950s into the early 60s.  He would be tuned to the local NPR radio station that was affiliated with his Alma Mater, Michigan State University, just to stay in touch with the university he graduated from.

The radio has a flip down shield to protect the dial, the volume and tuner control knobs, and a handle on top for carrying.  I remember sweeping saw dust off the sheild over and over. Seems like the on-off switch was part of that lid/shield.

Second, the camera reverses to show the class listening to the broadcast, and one of the kids is wearing the same plaid shirt that I recall my father wearing when he was working out in his workshop.  Now, my dad was always partial to plaid flannel shirts, but this was distinctive.

Third, when the gym is being set up for the science fair, the wooden bleachers are being pulled out. They are dead ringers for the wooden bleachers in the former high school I attended when it was downgraded to an elementary school in early 60s.  Such memories I have had sitting on those bleachers for the occasional hot lunch-- I have written of this tasty Sloppy Joe sandwich in past weeks here.

The miracle of Homer Hickam is that he was able to transcend his surroundings and get out of the coal town before it died.

In a very similar manner, my father was able to use his experiences in the agricultural town of Holland, Michigan... learn English as his primary language, supplanting his native Dutch, and work for the CCC during the 1930s.  When WWII beckoned, he was drafted but put into service in a training camp in Atlanta, Georgia when he helped train other solders.

He went to college on the GI Bill and learned electronics, and worked as an electrical engineer after college, advancing into Sales and rising to become sales manager of a small electrical motor company.  When offered the general manager's position, he declined, preferring to concentrate on researching new products and applications for the motor product.  And he was good at it.

In this way, the story of Rocket Boys parallels my family in several ways, and hopefully will become an inspiration for generations to come.

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