By Wes Mader
My generation grew up when academic institutions primarily taught subjects like reading, writing and arithmetic, with history, geography and biology thrown in for good measure. The subject of political correctness wasn’t being taught, which was fortunate for me since I most likely would have failed.
This became apparent to me when a column that I submitted to the Prior Lake American (Remembering the Space Race and Bubbles) in July of last year, was summarily rejected as not meeting the newspaper’s standard. Recollections in the column about a friendship with a Black American whose nickname was Bubbles, are what caused the editor to reject it.
It ought to be evident to every thinking American that the non-stop inflammatory news coverage of race in America, is tearing our nation apart. I personally miss the days of 50 years ago that I spoke of in my column, a time before the editor who rejected my column was born. The story in the column is back on my mind because of current events, so I have decided to release it for the CAG website, with apologies to anyone who may be offended.
REMEMBERING THE SPACE RACE AND BUBBLES
Recent news coverage of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s landing on the moon 50 years ago was nostalgic for me. Fifty years ago, I served as Director of Engineering for a Division of Litton Industries that designed and built precision electro-mechanical components for the space program. The devices were used in space flight navigation systems, in satellites, in the astronaut flight training simulator and related applications. Because of the devices’ critical functions, I had the opportunity to meet with NASA engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, at the Johnson Center in Houston and with system engineers at numerous aerospace companies. Although our Division was a small player in the space exploration program, these were heady days for us. America was on a mission and it felt good to be part of it.
A related news article catching my attention was the death of Chris Kraft who launched NASA’s Mission Control function in Houston. His name became legendary and synonymous with the space program. I met Mr. Kraft just once, when he visited our company shortly after NASA’s successful but almost tragic Apollo 13 mission. Older readers will remember being glued to the TV, hoping and praying our astronauts would make it home safely. Younger folks will recall the movie version of Apollo 13, with Tom Hanks playing the role of Astronaut Jim Lovell.
I felt privileged to guide Kraft on a tour of our company’s engineering/manufacturing areas and to introduce him to an assembly of employees. Kraft spoke proudly about the Apollo 13 mission, with pride in the NASA team and contractors who brought our astronauts home safely. We all left the meeting with our heads held high.
Memories of Kraft also stirred memories of possibly the most memorable employee I worked with at that time. He was a night-shift janitor who helped prepare for Kraft’s visit. His last name was Jones and because he was a deacon at his small rural church, some reverently called him Deacon Jones. His nickname at work was Bubbles, probably because of his friendly bubbly personality. Our 4 small kids, raised in the southern tradition of “respecting their elders”, affectionately called him Mr. Bubbles. He came to work each day with an attitude of joy that was infectious.
When Bubbles heard about the planned-visit by Chris Kraft, he asked what areas in the company Mr. Kraft would see. He wanted to make those areas were spotless. It was typical Bubbles to regularly check to see if we had customer visits scheduled, so he could make sure labs, conference rooms or offices, would be impressive. On evenings when I worked late, Bubbles often showed up with a pot of coffee, and we would exchange comments about our families and our faith. No one ever asked Bubbles to do these things, but it was a matter of pride for him to be the best employee he could be.
Bubbles was a happy man with a sense of humor. When I commented one evening about his coffee being so good, he said it was because he soaked his socks in the pot. Another evening he walked in while I was pounding out reams of data on a mechanical desk calculator, showing obvious frustration. With a grin on his face, Bubbles said he would pound the keys for me if I would take over his broom. If I would comment about an employee in the cafeteria, Bubbles might have asked if I was talking about the tall skinny white guy or the black guy. Neither Bubbles nor I had been introduced to the subject of political correctness so we said what we believed.
Fifty years later it’s hard for me to adjust to the idea that any thought, word, or deed might be labeled as sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic or something worse, if someone might be offended. Time spent with Bubbles was always good time that generated good memories even 50 years later. And yes, Bubbles was black and one of the best guys I ever worked with. His job was not complicated nor did it pay high wages, but he did it to the best of his ability, earning the respect and admiration of fellow employees. He’s now gone, and I expect he left this world with faith and confidence that he was heading for an even better place. His life was a demonstration of how to live life fully and joyfully, without regard to the color of skin we’re born into or the cards we’re dealt. Bubbles will be remembered by me, until my last day.