A few weeks ago, my parents, who live in Houston, decided at the last minute to host not one but two different parties (on consecutive nights, no less) to celebrate my father’s retirement. It’s not clear whether it was their fondest wish to have their beloved youngest daughter (ahem, that would be me!) in town for the celebrations, or whether they simply didn’t want to be bothered manning the cocktail shaker for each of the parties. Regardless, they flew me home for a quick two-day trip to join in the festivities. Though it was undoubtedly generous of them to spring for my last-minute plane ticket from San Francisco, at least it was cheaper than hiring a bartender two nights in a row, as I frequently reminded them during my short trip home.
I’ve written about having parties in Houston before. I like to whinge about how my parents’ suburban liquor store doesn’t stock Miclo creme de violette from France or my favorite brands of French Cognac, or about how I have to make do with my parents’ too-large tumblers instead of having access to my own collection of highball and old-fashioned glasses. The same was true this time, and so, mixologically speaking, these parties weren’t my finest moment of cocktail achievement. I tried to take advantage of the produce in my parents garden (at this point a bit wilted from weeks on end of 100+ degree heat), and I had to concede that half of the guests would rather have a Shiner Bock beer (Texas’s best brew) or vodka martini (the saddest “cocktail” ever, in my opinion) rather than take a leap with a cocktail concoction they had never heard of before. At least I turned my most loyal blog reader onto my own desert island cocktail, the Sidecar, which was initially a hard sell among the Houstonians.
Although the cocktails I made (basil-gin gimlets, mojitos, sidecars, and the London Dry Sangria I worked out for a wedding a few weeks ago) weren’t particularly inventive, the parties were a great success … less because of the food and drink and more because of the occasion we were celebrating.
My father went to work for the U.S. space program, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in 1966, two years before I was born. With his electrical engineering degree, he started working on the primitive computers that guided the Apollo rockets in their flight. I love these photos of my dad working for the space program during the Apollo program because in some ways they look so unlike him (he’s nearing his 70th birthday), and yet in other ways they are so clearly him.
Since Dad starting working for the space program not quite two years before I was born, it has been a part of my life all my years. My very first memory as a child is of watching one of the Apollo rockets lift off. We lived in Titusville, Florida, at the time, about 15 miles away from where the rockets launched. My father always had to be at work during the launches, which took place in the early morning, which meant that my older sister and I were always home alone with my mother. I remember our mother plucking us out of bed in our pajamas and sitting on the back of our Dodge sedan in the carport while we watched an Apollo rocket rise into the sky, looking for all the world as if it we could just reach out and touch it.
As much as the space program has been a part of my life, this was even more so for my parents. At one of my Dad’s retirement parties he mentioned that there had been 135 shuttle launches. Since he specialized, among other things, in launch support, he would always get up in the wee hours and go to work at Mission Control for each launch (actually, he was usually in the room next to Mission Control, where he and the other engineers would monitor the systems). I asked him how many of those 135 launches he had missed, and he said that he had been at Mission Control, or at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for all but three or four of them. Add in the 15 or so Apollo launches he participated in between 1966 and 1972 and he witnessed the arc of the U.S. space program for 45 years.
So even though Dad is more of a beer drinker than a sophisticated cocktail tippler (hey, at least he graduated from Schaefer Light to Heineken some years ago!), I raise a cocktail (maybe a Blue Moon, one of the few cocktails other than Aviation to use my beloved creme de violette) to Dad. Now all I need is one of these cocktail shakers for my next party in Houston.