Riding out the eclipse

The last total (or nearly total) eclipse occurring over North Carolina that I recall with much clarity was the first one. I don’t remember exactly what year and attempts to figure it out are muddled with conflicting information. Some say 1970. Others have written 1974. I’ve seen a few other options, too. Let’s just say that 1970 sounds very close.

I was just a kid, probably a month or two short of 11 years old. The solar event had as big a media buildup as possible in a time when newspapers ruled, there were only three TV networks and the Internet wasn’t even a dream — or a nightmare — yet. There were dozens of stories on TV and in the Winston-Salem Journal  and the afternoon Winston-Salem Sentinel (the closest daily newspapers to our town). All carried dire warnings of what might happen if we gazed upon the sun as its movement aligned with the movements of the moon and earth.

It was a different spin on the adage “if you don’t stop this you’ll go blind.”

Instructions about how to witness the eclipse were everywhere. I seem to recall a pamphlet given out at school — but I could be mistaken. We were told that smoked glass might work as a means to look at the sun — but “might” seemed too iffy. The only safe way was the old pinhole in a box trick. And I just thought that looked, well, ridiculous.

eclipse box

My mom wasn’t a woman who took many risks, outside of her cigarette smoking habit, which she maintained into the 1980s. She took no chances with two young boys prone to doing stupid things. After all, we were raised by a man who once stood on our screened-in porch and watched a tornado go right by the house, uprooting trees, throwing large rocks and removing the shingles from the roof as it roared by. My mom’s pleas for him to come back inside were drowned out by the now familiar train noise of a cyclone in full.

So mom knew we had this dumbass gene buried in us somewhere.

On the afternoon of the eclipse she forbid my brother and I from going outside. She then covered the windows, including the one looking into the screened in porch, with brown canvas so the partially covered sun wouldn’t sneak its way into the house and somehow damage our vision for life. It might sound a little paranoid, but mom was never much of a gambler, especially with my eyesight. Then and now I’m blind in my right eye.

So two rambunctious boys who liked to play outside mostly bounced off the walls during this forced confinement on an otherwise nice day. It was slightly overcast with only occasional sun — that’s what I remember anyway — and as the eclipse began to unfold, the light of day diminished even more. It didn’t become completely dark but there was certainly a dusk kind of quality.

And then it was over.

Monday there will be another solar eclipse (mostly) in North Carolina. People who stocked up on so-called “Eclipse Glasses” early are prepared — at least the ones who didn’t get burned by the substandard glasses sold through Amazon until the company put a stop to it. People who didn’t buy early were scrambling on Sunday to find a pair. Schools are setting up special schedules. Elon University is having an eclipse event. The minor league baseball team in Greensboro scheduled its game to coincide with the eclipse. I’ve seen signs posted at movie theaters warning people that 3D glasses aren’t suitable for viewing the eclipse. Yeah, they had to do that.

I think a few people want to witness something spectacular. Others believe it might be a spiritual event. Some plan to watch it on TV — weird, right? My hope is that people will find what they’re looking for — no pun intended — and do so safely.

As for me, I’ll probably walk around and watch people. They’re far more interesting anyway.

And I won’t be looking up. I’ve reached an age where that dumbass gene is no longer very active.


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