Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen

So, yeah, today is the anniversary of my birth, the 54th. Thinking back, I certainly don’t recall all the February 13ths of my life, but a few do stand out. One of the more special was in 1980, when I turned 16.

This one was a Wednesday, so it started off with school. It was a sunny day. Weather Underground tells me there was a bit of snow on the ground (which sounds right) and that the high was in the upper 30s. When I got home, I heard on the radio that David Janssen of Fugitive fame had died of a heart attack—it’s hard for me now to believe he was only 48 years old.

My father, as was his wont, had plans for me that afternoon. The two of us drove to Covington, to Schulz and Sons Jewelers, on Madison Avenue. Dad had known the proprietors for years. I was to pick out the wristwatch of my choice (within reason). The timepieces I had to that point had all been pretty cheap; this would definitely be a step up for me. It didn’t take long to gravitate toward a battery-operated Pulsar. I liked its white face, the lack of numbers on the dial, the glow-in-the-dark elements on the hands, the fact that you choose Spanish or English for the day of the week (I was taking Spanish II that year), and most of all, the two-tone wristband. Several links in the band had to be removed because of my fine-boned, thin wrist, but Mr. Schulz got it to fit.  Schulz and Sons is still in business, but they’ve moved out of Covington, up the hill and away from the river to Ft. Mitchell. There’s a picture of their Madison Ave. storefront at the link above.

pulsar2

I adored my watch. It suffered lots of wear and tear over the years, but it stayed with me through college, grad school, and beyond. I finally replaced it somewhere around early 96, not too long before Martha and I married. At that point, I’d worn it for half my life. The new one, another Pulsar but with a blue face, didn’t last quite as long, maybe a dozen years.

I think Dad drove us back home at this point (I didn’t test for my permit until a few weeks later), picking up Mom and Amy to drive back north, to Mr. Gatti’s in Crescent Springs. We feasted on pizza; I can’t recall if they were doing a buffet back then or not. By the time we finished, it had to be later than normal for the end of dinner, given the late afternoon shopping foray. I put my coat on to go and stepped outside into the brisk air. I looked up on that clear night, and there it was.

Orion.

1980 was the year I gained familiarity with the night sky. It began when Ron, one of the husband-and-wife team who served as our youth leaders at Erlanger Christian Church, asked if he could drive down to Walton on clear, moonless nights to go stargazing in our backyard—we had far less light pollution than points north closer to Cincinnati did. Ron had been an amateur astronomer for quite a while; he’d even built his own telescope (I’d guess the mirror was about six inches). He had come out a time or two already that winter. I joined him and got reasonably interested pretty quickly.  He taught me about double stars and Messier objects. I quickly picked up the names of most first-magnitude stars.  He shared notes he’d taken when he was a boy and inspired me to begin cataloging my own discoveries. As the year progressed, it was great fun to read about things astronomical and follow the changes in what shone overhead: to see the Milky Way in the summer, to learn that the autumn night sky is comparatively dull, to know that two-thirds of the Summer Triangle will still be visible in December, to find out Vega will be the pole star in 11000 years due to precession of the axes.

But on this night, I had just started out and didn’t know much of that yet. I’d already been blown away by Orion, though, and it quickly became (and still is) my favorite constellation. In mid-February, it’s just south of overhead at the time of sorta-early evening we emerged from Mr. Gatti’s, its seven first- and second-magnitude stars more than bright enough to cut through the suburban Cincinnati sky. I-75 actually runs east-west for a few miles where we were, so I was definitely facing south as I looked out over the interstate from the parking lot. I’m certain that moment, that memory from a cold winter’s night when I was a newly-minted sixteen-year-old, plays a big role in my affection for Orion. (I’m glad that Vega isn’t the pole star now—when it is, Orion will pretty much be a Southern Hemisphere-only constellation.) These days I try to make a point of looking for it on my birthday. The weather forecast for tonight makes me think my prospects are at best iffy for this year, though.

A cool watch and a magnificent collection of stars shining down on me. It was a great day.

A postscript: my son turned 16 a little over a year ago. It was my goal to buy him a watch that day. We did go shopping, but nothing they had in stock caught his eye sufficiently. It took close to a year for us to fulfill my mission; sorry, Ben, that it didn’t happen sooner.

It’s also Leslie Feist’s birthday; she’s twelve years my junior. I’ll celebrate our shared day with one of my favorites of hers, named after a small town in her native Nova Scotia. While you can tell from the start that this video’s going to be off-beat, what happens at the 1:00 mark really caught me by surprise the first time I saw it.

Image of Orion by sl1990, courtesy of pixabay.com. Permission granted under CC0 Creative Commons license.

2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen”

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