This cylinder with precisely aligned mirrors is like a magic portal into another universe. I close one eye while I peer through the eyepiece, seeing light that has traveled years to greet me on this summer evening. I can still hear Grandpa Will’s voice sharing that fact with me as a nine year old girl. It has stuck with me for decades. Even though I have access to the most advanced deep sky observation equipment that research money can buy, I still pull out this little telescope on occasion to reminisce.
“Sweetpea, what’s a four letter word for portal?”
Grandpa was the crossword master. I knew he already knew the answer, but I’d play along. This was our special time together each evening in the living room.
“That one’s easy, Grandpa. Door.”
“Ahh, of course,” he’d say.
I’d sit curled up beside the radio, positive there was someone inside speaking to me. Between segments of my favorite show, Starwatch, Grandpa fed me questions that he knew I’d be able to answer. I was only nine, but not as naïve as he thought.
Tonight’s constellation was Cassiopeia. I’d always been fascinated by the mythology behind the stars. Each night, when the show was over, there was time for pajamas and teeth brushing before heading off to bed. Sometimes, when Grandpa was feeling gracious, he’d let me stay up an extra ten minutes listening to his favorite jazz show together. Tonight was one of those lucky nights.
I rotated the tuning dial. I knew exactly where his program should’ve been. All I could hear, however, was static.
“No stalling, Sweetpea. It’ll only be ten extra minutes no matter how long it takes to find the station.”
I’d used this tactic before, but not tonight. I kept nudging the dial, trying to find the smooth saxophone sounds. I never did find it, but I did hear a voice between the rumbles of static.
“Grandpa, did you hear that?”
“No, Sweetpea. How about we head out to the backyard and see if we can’t find Cassiopeia?”
We spent the remaining five minutes looking at the distinctive W in the night sky. Grandpa explained how half of the year it was a W, the other half it was an M. I was hooked, but I still couldn’t forget that voice.
I panned towards the stars in Cassiopeia, my heart beginning to flutter. The twinkling was presenting a message in Morse code. My heart beat faster with each letter revealed S-W-E-E-T-P-E-A.
“Ellie, did you find something?” asked Jack, my colleague across the way.
“No. Cassiopeia is just really interesting tonight.”
“Well, let’s get back to it. These new galaxies don’t find themselves,” quipped Jack.
“Yeah, right.” I smiled before taking one more peek through the telescope. The last twinkle to greet my eyes on that evening was like a wink, from my Grandpa Will and Grandma Margaret, somewhere in the middle of Cassiopeia, a galaxy away, but always right next to my heart.