A flash of lightning ended my sleep at 3:30 a.m. I padded across the house and curled up on the chaise in my office, pulling a sleeping cat toward me for warmth.
Thunder rumbled like a train on distant tracks. Not enough to scare me, but enough to keep me awake. The rain soon followed, and I opened my phone to a video chat app and began creating a video for my dad.
A tiny round icon popped up at the top of my screen… Dad was awake. Dad loves the video app, and always seems to be awake when I want to talk to him. It was the only bit of modern technology our family could talk him into using. The pandemic gave us some gifts.
As we always did, I kept mine short. Updating him on my health and the weather. He immediately replied about a book he was reading… Yeager, an autographed copy of a Chuck Yeager autobiography. He had read it multiple times and was now giving me a review, convincing me to download it to my Nook. He turned the camera around so I could get a look at the cover, and then he flipped to the front page, showing me the autograph, “To Col. Pete Stoughton. Good Luck. Chuck Yeager”. Tucked in the pages were a couple tiny newspaper clippings and a photograph. He pulled the photograph out to give me a better look. Sure enough, there was a picture of Dad, in his USAF uniform, standing next to the man…no, the legend… himself! I mean, I knew Dad had met him, but here was a picture! And Dad briefly told me the story behind the picture. General Yeager came to Vandenberg AFB while we were stationed there in 1974. When he landed at LAX, Dad and another pilot flew out to pick him up and fly him back to base. This was taken when they landed.
Dad reached another level of cool in that moment.
He then reminisced about how Chuck (we can call him that now) was at Edwards AFB while we were stationed there in August of 1979, when Stan Barrett broke the land speed record, breaking the sound barrier, in the Budweiser Rocket Car.
I replied that I remembered when that happened, and that I was pretty sure there was a picture of it in my high school yearbook from that year. It was on the shelf behind me, so I pulled it out and flipped through it. Sure enough, covered in autographs and drawings of peace signs and pot leaves, was the Budweiser Rocket Car, parked on Rogers Dry Lake, and surrounded by a number of my high school friends.
I turned the camera around to show him, and we chatted for a minute or two more. Then he yawned, and we finished up.
The thunder was farther away, and the rain was softer. But I wasn’t ready to be lulled back to sleep yet.
I flipped through more pages of my old yearbook. Reading words written 42 years ago. I traced the words written by a few who left this world sooner than they should have. I stared a little longer at pictures of friends who I’ve lost track of and then at the faces of friends I still know… thinking that they really don’t look so different. Grainy, blurry, black-and-white, the pictures brought back the moments in time. All the sounds and smells and feelings.
It’s crazy what one or two little memories can trigger. An entire flood of emotions and bonus memories.
5:30 rolled around and it was time to head back to bed. This time I crossed the floor with a suitcase of memories tucked under my heart.