Thirteen, An Unlucky Number

Submitted into Contest #80 in response to: Write about a child witnessing a major historical event.... view prompt

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Adventure Creative Nonfiction Drama

Christi asked, “Papa, what are you watching?”

Seven year old Christi Doyle crawled into her grandfather’s lap and waited for the answer to her question. James Doyle had volunteered to babysit while the girls parents went shopping.

James Replied, “I’m watching a space movie called Apollo Thirteen. It’s based on true events. Why don’t you sit here and watch it with me. you may learn something new?”

Christi said, “You mean that is real.”

James replied, “Those men are actors, but the movie is about a real event.

Christi asked, “How do you know it’s real?”

“Because I was down there when it happened.”

The little girl looked at the old man with question marks all over her cute face. Christi couldn’t decide what to watch. She kept turning from James back to the TV, then back to face James. That last remark hooked her; Christi wanted to know more about her grandfather’s past.

She asked, “Did you work where the rockets go up?”

I drove a big truck delivering propane to the base. That’s a fuel and I don’t know what all they used it for. I guess they used it to heat that big swimming pool. A friend of mine knew I liked rockets and the space program. Mike was part of the security at Cape Canaveral and would give me base passes, so I could go to a lot of places on the base. I even got to talk to some astronauts. Mostly, I talked to engineers and scientists though.”

During the exciting parts of the movie they watch the TV. James would tell his part of the story during the more dull moments. Christi sat still; a most unusual thing for that young lady. Most of the time,she was non-stop, on the go trouble. Being an extremely bright child, she was always into something.

“Mike called me two days before the rocket would take off. I believe it was April 9, 1970 and asked if I wanted to see the launch up close. He said that he could get me in the visitors section of the control room. I jumped at the chance.”

“Apollo thirteen had problems from the very start. The original crew got bumped and the back-up crew had to take over. No one thought anything about it. Just bad luck for the original crew. Then the pilot of the back-up crew was thought to have come into contact with someone who had the measles. He was replaced with the third back-up pilot.” Just more bad luck, they thought.”

Christi was paying close attention to the movie and to her grandfather’s commentary. James shifted her to the right leg to rest the left one.

“I got to the base early and had problems getting in. Security was strict. I told them to call Mike, which they did and he vouched for me. Mike met me at the front door and escorted me to the proper section. He gave me a stern warning to stay put; no wondering around. I saw Mrs. Lovell and her cute daughter, but they didn’t pay any attention to me.”

Christi hopped down from James lap.

“I want something to drink. Can you stop the movie until come back. Do you want something?”

James replied, “Bring me a glass of orange juice.”

Within a minute, Christi climbed back into her grandfather’s lap. He started the movie again.

“I couldn’t see much, but could hear everything that was said between the astronauts and ground control. That’s a lot more than the public was allowed to hear.”

The movie showed the first stage using up its fuel and being jettisoned. When the engines of the second stage fired up, a problem jumped out at everyone. Number five engine had a problem and was shut down.

“Papa, why did that happen?”

“I don’t know. There was some kind of problem with that engine and it didn’t run right. They shut it down so it wouldn’t explode. They had to make decisions instantly and that seemed the best thing to do. After all, they had four other engines to use.”

James was using terms and language a seven year old could understand.

Those astronauts just burned those other four engines a little longer to make up for the lose of the one failed engine.

“They achieved orbit, that’s what’s important.”

Christi didn’t understand much of what her grandfather told her, but listened with great anticipation of some day knowing.

“Papa, did the spaceship burn up?”

“No sweetheart. He was talking about letting the other four engines run a little longer. That’s what he meant by burning the engines longer.

About an hour into the movie, Christi got down and started to move closer to the TV.

James asked, “Where are you going?”

“I want to get closer so I can see better.”

“No. If you get in front of the TV, I can’t see it. You must have drank some muddy water. Besides, it’s not good on your eyes to get any closer.”

Christi had great love and respect for her grandfather and knew she must obey him, especially with such a firm ‘no’. James moved to a couch.

“Now you can sit beside me.”

James patted the seat to his right.

“Papa, how could they loose the moon?”

“Because of the trouble with that tank exploding, they can’t land on the moon now. They lost the ability to land.”

During the highly emotional moments of the movie, Christi began to loose interest. She is simply to young to understand how Mrs. Lovell felt when she learned her husband may not survive. The scene changed and there was a beautiful view of the moon.

Christi said, “Wow. Look Papa. Is that the moon?”

“Yes. That is a close up of the moon.”

A renewed interest in the movie sprang forth from that little girl. Christi sat still and watched the movie until the part about carbon dioxide came up.

“Papa, I don’t understand. How can air kill them?”

That is a complicated subject. I’ll try to explain so you can understand it. The air we breath on Earth is made up of lots of gases. Humans take in oxygen and blow out carbon dioxide. The trees use that carbon dioxide and they give off oxygen. That keeps our air fresh. Those guys in the space ship don’t have any trees to clean up their air, so they need to use a chemical to clean it. The men back in the control center need to figure out how to use more chemical to help clean the air. Do you understand now?”

Christi nodded her head, but James wasn’t sure if she understood or not. He could tell she liked the scenes where the spaceship was shown. Her eyes would not leave the TV when those scenes were shown. Little Christi was interested in the movie because James had told her it was a real event, not some fake movie. She sat beside him quietly most of the time with only a question injected here and there.

“Papa, who are those men? The way she said that makes them sound important.”

“That’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. They went to the moon about a year before this trip. They are the first men who ever walked on the moon.”

“You mean they really were on the moon and walked around?”

Yes, they really landed on the moon and walked around.”

Christi looked at the two men closely. It was the scene where they were with Jim Lovell’s mother in the nursing home.

“Papa, what’s a typhoon?”

“That a bad storm out in the ocean.”

“Will it hurt the space men?”

“Let’s watch the movie and see if it hurts them or not.”

James knew the little girl didn’t know anything about reentry vectors, angles of decent, or anything they were discussing on the movie. Christi just watched the ending of the movie and didn’t ask questions about what was happening. She realized it was an important part of the story and just watched the TV intensely until the splash-down of the capsule.

“Gosh, they really do splash, don’t they.”

“Yes sweetheart. They really make a splash, but it doesn’t hurt them. They were so accurate when they returned, the spaceship landed in sight of the aircraft carrier that was there to pick them up.”

James felt pride in showing his granddaughter that movie. He knew she got much more out of the movie because of his interjections. The little girl may not have known all that happened or why, but she understood it was a real event that happened in the past.

James said, “Maybe next Saturday, we can watch another movie about space. Would you like that.”

“I sure would!”

Christi crawled back into James’ lap and gave him a big hug and kiss on his cheek.

February 08, 2021 00:23

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1 comment

Palak Shah
12:24 Feb 16, 2021

I love the title because it completely drew me in. Well done for writing this story and it is a phemonimal story. Can you please read my story and share some feedback on it. It would be appreciated a lot. Thanks :)) ~Palak


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