Friday, January 28, 2011

January 28, 1986

Twenty five years ago today, I was a gangly 14 year old 8th grader at Kleb Middle School in Spring, Texas. At 11:39 a.m., I was standing in the lunchroom with my friends eating greasy french fries, rectangular pizza, and drinking Mr. Pibb. My best friend's birthday had been the day before and we were busy planning a weekend celebration.

A girlfriend walked up from a group of kids gathering around one another and told me the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded just after launch. And that was all we knew. I remember, in my awkwardness, not knowing exactly how to react. We definitely talked a lot about other launches but this one had been even more highly publicized because it carried a civilian. She was a young, beautiful teacher from Concord, New Hampshire who was taking the field trip of a lifetime.

I can still remember the smell of the cafeteria. The following hours and weeks filling with details including the especially cold weather that morning, the mechanics of the explosion, and the men and women America lost that day.

A year and a half ago, gathering around a kitchen island, our kids counting their loot from trick-or-treating, I remember the smell of taco soup as I got to know a new friend. We started talking about our families and how I'd lost my mom the year Tee was born. She'd lost her dad, too, but much younger than me. When I asked her how, she hesitated for just a second.

"My dad was the pilot of the Space Shuttle Challenger."

She went on to tell about that day back in 1986 when she stood in the cold on bleachers in Cape Canaveral, Florida reserved for the immediate families of the astronauts.

She, her brother, and sister saw the explosion but didn't immediately know what had happened or that their father was gone.

She described how genuinely pained President Reagan was as they sat next to him at the memorial service.

And weeks later, when search teams found the crew cabin, a family friend and veteran astronaut who had tirelessly searched for the missing astronauts and was present at the recovery, assured her that he held her daddy.  He had loved and admired him so much and wanted to make sure she knew - his family knew - this great, great man was honored and cared for in death.

I sat mesmerized as my friend told me how loved her family felt by an entire nation who had lost 7 shining stars. Letters came in sack fulls from around the world with words of prayer, admiration for her dad, and encouragement.

There are very few events that have occurred in my life where I actually remember so clearly the details of where I was. 9/11 was one and the loss of the Challenger was another. Twenty five years is a long time but this date is important to remember for all of us.

My friend's daddy would be so proud of her and I'm thankful to know her. She's an amazing woman, wife, and mother. She's incredibly humble, and gracious, and loves the Lord. She has seen His grace and mercy in her life as she has leaned into the One who promises to be the Father to the fatherless.

"We will never forget them, or the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodby and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God'."

President Ronald Reagan at the memorial service for the Challenger Crew

January 31, 1986


Lea said...

Beautiful post. I was in 10th grade computer class watching it live. I'll never forget the look on Coach Wortz's face as he got up from his desk and walked over to the TV. We all wondered if what we saw really was live, if it really had just exploded, if we had all in computer class just witnessed a tragedy. Your new friend sounds amazing--that she has clung to the Father throughout her life after losing her earthly father. What a reunion that will be for her! Thanks for sharing.

Shelli Callender said...

WOW Melissa!!! I am pretty sure all of the color in my face left when I read that. My chin dropped to the floor. I had to read it twice to make sure I read it right.

I will never forget that day. I was in science class with Miss Peterson - she was one of five finalist to be on the Challenger. Such a sad and unbelievable day. I hate to say it, but we were all so thankful Miss Peterson wasnt on there. She was the BEST teacher.

Hug your friend extra tight today and tell her strangers are praying for her.

Also, I wanted to reply to your post from yesterday about the car. You are AMAZING!! You are an inspiration to me and so many others. What you have done for Dea is truly awesome. You changed the course of that man's life and many others. Thank you.


Trish said...

Wonderful post! Granted, I'm crying at work, but it was worth it. A sad day, indeed.

Henley on the Horn said...

Wow. Thank you for this post.

I Thought I Knew Mama said...

I just read this post on BlogHer, and I'm now your newest follower. Thank you for such a poignant piece.

I also just read your About Me section and love you already! I taught - and spent a lot of time - in the "'hood" last year, and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Can't wait to read more here.

Missy @ It's Almost Naptime said...

Oh, Melissa. So beautiful.

I was in 9th grade. A very mean nun, Sister Mary Brian, came and called the very cute new kid Tom O'Connor out of class to tell him about the explosion before they announced it to the school, because his dad worked at NASA and he knew some of the astronauts (my school was near Clear Lake.) Then they announced it over the loud speaker, and everyone prayed.

Later that day, I tried out for cheerleader and didn't make it. So it was all around a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.

Missy @ It's Almost Naptime said...

PS I tried out by doing a dance to Jungle Love (oeoeo) holding a monkey puppet. I can't believe i didn't make it.

A Rancher's Wife said...

I was only 2 years old when this happened but admire those men and women tremendously!

Carri said...

This post gave me goosebumps! I was almost 8 when this happened but I remember it clearly. My parents were so upset and so were my teachers, and I remember asking my dad why the flag wasn't "up all the way".I'll never forget the ceremony we had at school to honor those we lost.

dkt said...

Amazing story. I'm curious which one in the photo he is?

These Three Kings said...

Wow.. Amazing...I was eight years old when that happen. don't remember the story but do remember learning about it later in school. Now I wont forget. Thanks for sharing and please hug her for me :)