Select Page

… not exactly what was envisioned …

It’s probably the defining aspect of The Legal Genealogist‘s lifetime.

I am a child of the Space Age.

One of my very first memories as a child is of standing in the backyard of a rented home in San Rafael, California, during a temporary assignment my father had for Shell Oil, and watching Sputnik streak across the night sky.1

One of my most powerful memories as an adult is of standing in the darkened office of a newspaper editor in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and watching a man take his first steps on the moon.2

And I confess to being disappointed that, today, we won’t be watching the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope — technical glitches have pushed the launch back to next Friday, Christmas Eve.3

Webb Space Telescope

If this amazing replacement for the Hubble Telescope launches safely and achieves what we all hope it can, we may learn more about “every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.”4

Sigh… But not today. Those Space Age expectations have to wait just a bit longer.

Just as the Space Age expectations of an earlier member of my family are still going to have to wait just a bit longer…

My maternal grandmother, Opal (Robertson) Cottrell, was born in 1898, in the covered wagon era: that was how she traveled as a child from her Texas birthplace to the new home her father was carving out in what was still Indian Territory and later became part of the State of Oklahoma. She lived well into the Space Age — she was not quite 97 when we lost her in March of 1995.5

And her own memories — and expectations — surpassed any of mine. Known to everyone in the family as Mama Clay, she took pen in hand sometime around 1974, and shared some thoughts about the past — and her expectations of that Space Age future:

As I pass my 76th birthday, I find myself wanting our grandchildren to know something of the era in which their Grandfather, Clay, and I grew up. In retrospect we often remember the pleasant, but it was not always lovely & pleasant.

Thank goodness they won’t be dosed with calamine and castor oil. They won’t have to wear long underwear from Oct. to May – or wear long black stockings and high button shoes, read by oil lamps – (maybe!?), walk two miles to school, pick up corn-cobs for kindling, or wear a flannel cloth soaked with coal oil and lard on their chest until it blisters.

I am sorry, however, that they will never know the excitement of hog killing time, and the magic words “The thresher is coming,” taste delectable cold clabber with sugar sprinkled on top, feel the cleanliness of home-made lye soap, and they probably will never have the pleasure of opening a school lunch bucket and finding a slice of country ham fried in an iron skillet, buried between two soft buttermilk biscuits. Or two pickled eggs pickled in beet juice, or eat a big piece of hot homemade bread, spread with freshly churned butter. Too, they’ll never know the sweetness of homemade blackberry jam spooned from a crock jar. Or the excitement of finding a new hens nest in the lay in the barn loft. They will miss the snugness and secure feeling of sleeping in a cold upstairs room with a nightcap on their head and a hot wrapped brick at their feet.

But I can hear them say, “Poor Grandma and Grandpa, if only they could have traveled — at least to the Moon!”6

Not yet, Mama Clay. Not yet.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Space Age expectations,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 18 Dec 2021).


Image: NASA/Desiree Stover, CC BY 2.0.

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “The stars of California,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Oct 2016 ( : accessed 18 Dec 2021).
  2. See ibid., “One giant leap,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 July 2019.
  3. See Patrick Lynch, “NASA’s Webb Space Telescope Launch Confirmed for Dec. 24,” NASA Blogs: James Webb Space Telescope, posted 18 Dec 2021 ( : accessed 18 Dec 2021).
  4. James Webb Telescope Overview,” James Webb Space Telescope, ( : accessed 18 Dec 2021).
  5. See Virginia Department of Health, death certif. no. 95-011808, Opal Robertson Cottrell, 15 Mar 1995; Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  6. Opal (Robertson) Cottrell, undated note, written into a 1970 daytimer; digital image in possession of the author.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email