Book Trailer The Noble Train

Friday, March 20, 2009


My father is a traveling salesman, that peculiar brand of Willy Loman that actually loves the natural flight of American selling. When I was
a boy, I thought of him as a man who appeared on Fridays when we had a steak and ice cream for dessert. After dinner, my father would
watch whatever football game was on television and fall asleep with his mouth open, tie loosened, hand over his brow as if he had just finished
one hell of a race.
I usually waited until he woke to tell him of my latest
achievement and show him my banana bike and collection of baseball
cards. But I had a brother who demanded his small time with him also,
so when my time came, it was usually just before he ran for his car,
briefcase in hand, and waved away another week.
But there was one time I remember where I had him all to myself.
For Christmas, my parents had given me an Estes Rocket Set. It was an
amazing toy with a launcher, rocket engines and the giant Saturn Five
Rocket that had conquered the moon a decade before. I stayed up late
gluing the white fuselage together, packing the parachute and inserting
the four D engines. The day after Christmas, my father and I walked to
a field to launch my rocket. We walked through the tall weeds painted
orange by the sun low on the horizon. He kept his hands in his pockets
while I carried the rocket and the launcher packed with batteries to fire
the rocket. We crunched through the frozen mud until we reached the
middle of the field.
Twilight simmered beyond the big pines and thin blue
snow dusted the ground. I put the launcher down and stretched the wires
to the control pad. My Saturn Five rocket was a beast. It took four D engines with two parachutes and four wadded sheets to keep the ejection charge from burning the chute up.
“Looks like we are launching Apollo 11,” my father murmured while
I threaded the Saturn Five onto the launch wire and connected the igniter wires to the four D engines. All four engines had to ignite or my Saturn Five would go off at a crazy angle and heave
into the ground. I checked the igniters and made sure they were shoved
far up into the engines. My father stamped his feet and kept his hands
in his pockets.
“You think this thing will go, boy?”
I looked at the man smoking a Pall Mall, his long Brooks Brothers
coat waving.
“Think so.”
“So this is what you do all week while I’m gone, boy?”
My father smoked without his hands.
“Well, hurry up, boy. It’s going to be dark soon.”
I turned and walked back to the launch control and inserted the key.
The light glowed ready.
“You might move back, Dad.”
He looked over and snuffed the cigarette out, crunching through the
frozen mud. He was already looking at the distant cars on the highway,
thinking about his next appointment, gassing up, pointing that company
car back to the highway. He turned back and nodded to me.
“Well, blast it off, boy.”
I stared at my Saturn Five, a colossus of white and black with USA
going up the side in red letters. I began to count down.
“Five, four, three, two, one …”
I pressed the button on my launcher as the ready light flickered out.
There was the slight hiss of the sulfur igniters and for a moment the
rocket didn’t move. Then the four D engines caught fire, and whoosh!
The fire bent out and burned the weeds below the launcher, and suddenly
the Saturn Five was gone. A fiery tail burned high up in the cold sky as
the rocket leaned over slightly and left a white vapor trail across the early
“Jesus Christ!”
My father continued staring up while I stamped out the weed fire.
The ejection charge fired and the chutes blossomed, but I could see the
Saturn Five had gone too high for the wind and the time of day. It was
getting dark, and that rocket was sailing fast into the west, a white
satellite against a darkening blue palate.
“I’ll be goddamned,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Boy, that
sonofabitch really flew.”
I put my hand up, and I saw the Saturn Five drifting away; a gold
colossus hanging by four parachutes.
“Aren’t you going after it, boy?”
I shook my head solemnly.
“No, it’s gone,” I murmured, watching the rocket drift past the field.
“There’s too much wind.”
“You sure about that?”
My father kept his neck craned to the sky and put his hands on my
shoulders. That’s what I remember. I think it was the only time we
were really together, watching that rocket disappear into the coal sky.

Rocket Man--

Books by William Hazelgrove