I've mentioned before that I am a fan of documentary films and that when I struggle with sleep, the collection of them that I have amassed keeps me company through the night. We recently got a new satellite -- ok, it's an additional two satellites to the one we already had -- to make it possible for Ali to receive the programming from a plethora of Arabic language channels now available. One of the benefits of this new service is that it picks up the signal from PBS stations across the country and for someone who watches documentaries like I do, this bonus makes the fact that our roof now looks like an alien communication center much easier to accept.

Although a little better than a few weeks ago, my sleeping habits still resemble those of a cat for the most part. Still, I've been more functional and better able to face the world with the recent addition of a couple more hours of shut-eye during the night. That is, until last Friday. It had been a long day at the business, which meant that a nap was out of the question. Ali kept insisting that I just put the work aside and sleep for at least an hour, but I was hoping that the sheer exhaustion would help me to stay asleep through the night and refused. One of these days I'll learn to listen to my husband's concerns instead of fighting against the tide of the inevitable. Long story short, I fell asleep before 8, woke up shortly after 10, and could not go back to sleep to save my soul. It's at times like these when I rely on documentaries.

One of the many PBS stations on our new service was showing an episode of American Experience called "The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer" at 2 a.m., so I flipped to it and settled in for an educationally entertaining diversion. The story of this once heroic figure's fall from grace so fascinated me that I googled his name to learn more. When I discovered that Robert's brother, Frank, also a physicist, had sold a Van Gogh painting he inherited from his mother and bought a cattle ranch in Pagosa Springs, Colorado to escape McCarthyism, my heart fluttered. But when I read that Frank Oppenheimer had taught at the town's high school, the excitement that caused the flutter quickly grew to a heart stopping event. Pagosa Springs is my dad's hometown, the place where my family trekked every summer of my youth! Even better -- Frank Oppenheimer was teaching at Pagosa Springs High School while my dad was still a student there!

At 2:47 a.m., I sent my father an excited email. Pagosa Springs, before the influx of displaced Californians began arriving and changing its entire atmosphere in the 80's, was Mayberry in Colorado. The town was small enough that everyone really did know everyone else. So I send my dad an email asking if he knew Frank Oppenheimer. Much to my delight, he responded (several hours later because he does sleep at night, LOL) that not only did he know Frank, but that Frank's daughter, Judy, was in the same high school class as he and that Frank had been his science teacher! (This 1957 address to the Pagosa Springs High School PTA establishes the motivations and objections that became the foundation of Frank Oppenheimer's Exploratorium several years later.) A follow-up phone call with my dad revealed that the townspeople knew about the communism charge and the McCarthy hearings against the Oppenheimer brothers, but he said that as far as everyone in Pagosa knew, Frank had not been a Communist. According to Dad, Judy Oppenheimer was the "ugliest girl at school" and often the butt of jokes as a result; however, she was very, very good at math and science and was the person Dad turned to when he needed help with his math homework. When I asked if the Oppenheimers still lived in Pagosa, dad said that the family just kind of "disappeared" and that he didn't know where they went.

Oh, the connections we make in this increasingly small world in which we live. My dad's high school science teacher was none other than the founder of the Exploratorium! How cool is that? Even better, look at what I discovered by watching a documentary at 2 o'clock in the morning!
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2 Responses
  1. Minta Says:

    That's amazing what a small world it truly is! I love stories like this one.

  2. Carleen Says:

    Hi, and thanks for stopping by! 'Tis true that our world gets smaller and smaller with each new communication gadget invented and then marketed to the masses, but I must admit that I love it. :) Even more, I adore discovering connections like this one.

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