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Life Lesson by Angela Mombourquette

I only have one vivid childhood memory that involves my big brother; he’s 12 years older than I am, so I never had the chance to get to know him very well.

It was late July, 1969, and Paul had just spent 10 days on the living room floor in front of our black and white TV, recording the sounds of the Apollo 11 moon mission onto giant reel-to-reel tapes.

Even then, there were two things I knew about my brother: he was very, very smart. And he really, really loved space.

On this particular night, it was way past my bedtime, and I couldn’t sleep.

His room was off limits, in an unspoken way; a young man’s sanctuary where six-year-old girls were not particularly welcome. Tonight, though, his room seemed like my only option. I was awake, and it was dark, and I was spooked. My parents were downstairs, and I knew they wouldn’t be happy if they heard me up, so I quietly padded down the hallway in my pyjamas and tapped on his door.

He opened it a crack. It was dark; a candle flickered inside. He invited me in, and we sat together.

I don’t recall what started the discussion; maybe he had been reading something about the moon landing; maybe it was the shadows the candlelight cast on the walls. All I know is that, before long, I was being sent down to the kitchen to collect as many Tupperware bowls as my little arms could carry. I was also told to pick up a flashlight on the way.

It would be difficult to describe the expression on my parents’ faces as I traipsed past them in my jammies, headed straight for the kitchen cupboards. On my return trip, arms filled with pastel-coloured bowls, they managed to ask what the heck it was that I thought I was doing.

“Paul’s explaining the planets to me,” I said. My parents seemed to know better than to question. They looked at one another and shrugged, and off I ran with the solar system in my arms.

For the next hour or more, I was a privileged insider to the mysteries of the universe. The flashlight, inside the yellow bowl, was the sun; the small grey bowl, the moon; the large blue bowl, Earth. Other bowls served as planets, and we explored the mechanics of orbiting. Then, I learned about eclipses, both lunar and solar. I may have been just six, but I got it. I totally got it, and I never forgot it.

Later that summer, my brother moved far away. Eventually, he became a scientist, doing space-related research. A rocket scientist.

My life took a different route, but I never lost my sense of wonder at the night sky.

And there’s still a part of me that’s sure - no matter where in the world we both are - that my big brother’s just over the horizon, shining his flashlight toward the bright side of the Earth.

Angela Mombourquette is from Halifax, NS

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