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Here’s a vivid Christmas memory. Hope it takes you back…
When I was a young one just trying to absorb the fact that I’d never be a Babe Ruth or an Albert Einstein or an Edgar Allan Poe or a Gregory Peck, I received for Christmas, sitting there just beyond reach of the carnival-decorated gaudy fir tree, a SPITZ JUNIOR PLANETARIUM, manufactured by HARMONIC REED CORPORATION OF ROSEMONT, PENNA.
It was a most special Christmas gift.
Just looking at it now, in my mind’s eye, it has remained crystal-clear all these many years: a shiny black flexible-plastic globe bifurcated by a yellow rubber equatorial flange that represents the stellar ecliptic and incidentally holds the two half-spheres together. The black globe sits atop a white plastic observatory-shaped base, and the whole thing can be rotated round and round as well as moved up and down to simulate all the naked-eye observable movements of the stars.
To appreciate the planetarium, you had to take it into a pitch-dark, preferably cube-shaped room and slowly turn up the rheostat just above the off-on switch on the front of the base. If you did it just right and just slowly enough, you would suddenly feel yourself transported to the middle of a darkened field in the middle of the night in the middle of the planet in the middle of the universe because, all around you, there would suddenly appear stars in exactly the same positions, the same configurations, as they would appear if you actually were in the middle of a darkened field in the middle of the night in the middle of…etc.
Even if you couldn’t go outside to see the stars, even if it was cloudy and raining, even if you had just come indoors from the humid sunshine, you could still go into that darkened room and be somewhere else in time and space and feel all alone in a crowd of billions of others whose names you did not know.
One day way back when, my sister Rosi got my SPITZ JUNIOR PLANETARIUM out of storage and presented it to me and I took it home and now I sleep again in the middle of a darkened field in the middle of the night in the middle…
Whenever the demon insomnia causes my eyes to flicker open, I can see the old familiar stars keeping me silent company and reminding me that they will always be there and that any problems that seem gargantuan now are minuscule compared to the distant silent coolness and the close-up noisy fury of those suns upon suns upon suns out there. The mathematics and physics of astronomy escaped me early on, but the sheer personal poetry of the tiny points of light so large and so far away still affects me and still makes me remember what it was like to be a small boy and open an incredible shiny gift that pure and lonely Christmas so many eons ago in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
(c) 2012 A.D. by Jim Reed