A Word In Edgewise: 50 Shades of Gray Today

Solar Eclipse.
Photo courtesy of BigStock/kolonko

I have friends scattered here and there about the globe from whom I’ve not yet heard, so I can’t vouch for their experiences, but here in Minnesota, in my eyrie just west of Uptown, my Eclipse, like Whistler’s Mother, was a symphony in grays. I had to reach back for a satisfactory lunar transit.

Way back; to July 20,1963. Some of us had been classmates, recently graduated June 13, so I needn’t note I was somewhat younger (sixty-some years) at the time, and had never entertained a thought about eclipse-gazing.

That day, a group of us imbibers that gathered at Cronin’s, our watering hole in Harvard Square where like the poem’s famous stag came at eve to drink our fill, piled in cars (me in my antediluvian VW Bug) and headed north to the beach on Plum Island.

In my memory, it was a sunny day, pleasant, though not yet warm enough to venture in to brave the North Atlantic; the photos snapped on my 8mm Minox show young picknickers in shirts and slacks.

The totality was to happen about three- close enough, we’d been promised, to experience shadings of the main event. Much pre-eclipse eating, drinking cold ones and larking about; I captured Mike E. balanced on one foot, the other kicked back, one hand gripping binoculars, the other shading his eyes as if some new planet swam into his ken. That, and fistfuls of other black-and-white souvenirs, remain stacked in a box on my shelf.

We knew not to gaze directly into the sun without protection, and we’d armed ourselves with whatever had been recommended at the time, but dedicated eclipse glasses weren’t yet on every drugstore counter. We were prepared with–I don’t exactly remember now, but don’t forget; 1963 phones were still tethered to walls, gas for my Beetle was 25 cents a gallon, and photographic film had to be processed before viewing, not dispatched throughout the world with a “Send” from an iPhone. 

We had a ways to go until ’24.

The moon was right on time, with a dimming of the celestial rays. More unsettling, was the immediate chill; viscerally different from the cool of the sea breeze. One felt ancestral echoes–panic at the death of light, horror at entombing winter. The spheres’ passage then were as brief as those bodies this afternoon, neither then nor today would shadow and chill harm physically, but hardwired fears are the Ancestors’ gift. We partied, packed and returned to Boston.

I can’t use claim Then was a more peaceful, more kindly time, any more than I can say that about Now. The Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis were going down in 1961 while we trembled and speculated in our dining halls over dinner, but Jack and Bobby Kennedy and MLK were all alive as we drank beer that 20th of July, 1963, waiting for the moon.

All too soon, they weren’t, and neither now is Mike E….gone like others of our group. Like the movement of the spheres, time flees; new horrors, new miracles come into view and, in their turn, spin on around. I was born as life-saving penicillin was introduced, and before the destruction at Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima.  

We still have a ways to go–and don’t know where we’re going. Maybe Douglas Adams was right: the answer’s “42.”

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