CHAPTER I – At the beginning of the space age. OREGON 1957: I was 10 years old. One cool night my family huddled around the state-of-the-art Motorola color television listening to a network news report about the Sputnik, Earth’s first artificial satellite, launched by the Russians.
“One full circle around the earth every one and a half hours,” the announcer said. “Over the next three nights, Sputnik will be visible to the naked eye due to positive atmospheric conditions in Oregon.”
Mother said that meant we’d have clear skies with no clouds, an unusual weather pattern for western Oregon at that time of year. The following evening our entire family, including our adopted Grandpa Buford and his wife Leila, sat on the front lawn staring at the sky. The adults drank beer and smoked cigarettes. My brothers and I chugged down Coca-Cola and ate popcorn.
“There it is!” Grandpa shouted as he punched my father in the shoulder. “See it, Bud?”
I squinted and stared at the tiny bright object steadily moving across the sky. It was so far distant all I could see was a pinpoint of light against a background of black with shining stars.
Dad said, “Donnie, I want to see it better. Go into the house and get the binoculars.” It was to no avail. I couldn’t find them. “Dad, they aren’t there.”
“Son of a bitch. If you want it done right…” Mumbling, he put his beer down and went in to look for them himself. Dad came out with his Winchester lever-action 30.06 rifle, which had a scope.
We took turns looking at Sputnik through the scope before the gun finally wound up back in Dad’s hands. As he looked at the orbiting symbol of Russian leadership in what was to eventually be heralded as the beginning of the space age, Dad started shouting.
“Take this you cock-sucking commie bastards!” After each word, he fired a round. It was perfect. Six words, six shots.
“What are you doing, Bud?” Grandpa Buford pointed at the Sputnik gliding high above us in the heaven. “It’s too far away! You’ll never hit it!”
Dad squinted. “I know it’s too damn far away, but that’s not the point!” When he flung the Winchester over his shoulder he stumbled, just a little, then sulked his way back into the house.
When I heard Dad say the word “commie,” I was reminded of the bomb drills we had at our elementary school every month or so. With the sound of the double bell repeated several times, we crouched under our wooden desks, hands behind our heads, and waited for our teacher’s instruction that it was safe to come out from under the desks. This drill was to prepare us for what to do in case of a Russian nuclear attack. At 10 years of age, I already knew who the “communist bastards” were.