February 18, 1989 is a date set firmly in my mind. That was the day my entire 5th grade class boarded Southwest Airlines Flight 405 for Houston on our fifth grade trip to NASA.
At the beginning of that school year, our teachers announced their plans to take the entire class to Houston to tour Johnson Space Center and Mission Control. I sat in my seat, stunned by the news. My passion for space and everything connected to it was just beginning to take off. Would teachers really agree to take 55 fifth graders from Sapulpa to Houston for an entire weekend?
They might have been crazy, but our teachers were serious. The caveat? We had to raise the money for it first. We would do a series of fundraisers throughout the school year to help raise the money, but our focus would be on collecting aluminum cans.
So on many Sunday afternoons in the fall of 1988, Mom and Dad would drive the van Lindsay and I would scour the back roads of Sapulpa, Jenks, Bixby and Tulsa looking for the glint of sunlight on cans that meant a trip to see the rockets and Mission Control in NASA.
In the fall we held a Western night and cow pie bingo raffle to boost our efforts. I’d never heard of cow pie bingo, but growing up in Oklahoma, things were done a little differently. First, a field is marked into squares, each square corresponding to a number. Next, a cow is brought in to peruse the field. Then nature takes its course and the square with the most patties in it is declared the winner.
While the cow took his time grazing the field, we ate spaghetti and had a Ma and Pa Kettle contest. I didn’t know who Ma and Pa Kettle were until my parents explained they were famous characters from a series of films made in the 1950s about a couple of country bumpkins and their adventures. I’m not sure which teacher invented this idea, but the parents found it delightful, and we were still young enough not to care about embarrassing photos that might catch up to you years later, or friends that might tease you for weeks on end about your attire.
My friend Jason Mead agreed to be Pa Kettle. Lindsay partnered with another boy, Devin, and two more friends, Cassie and Ryan, decided to enter the contest as well. We all dressed in our best imitations of hillbilly costumes. Jason and I took second and Lindsay and Devon third. Ryan and Cassie won the contest, but when KTUL News Channel 8, who were covering this important school event, asked Mr. Beltzner for a student to interview, he grabbed me and stuck me in front of the camera. So later that night I had the thrill of seeing myself on television, dressed as Ma Kettle, of course. Fortunately that video hasn’t seen the light of day since 1988!
After all that excitement, we trooped out to the softball field to see who the cow had chosen to win the raffle, but the cow hadn’t eaten chili that night and, though we carefully examined the entire field, a winning chip could not be found. Cow pie bingo was a bust. So we headed into the gym for a good old fashioned drawing. The winner? My younger sister. Natalie won a small TV and radio that, in 1988, was a pretty good prize. Cow patty bingo had been a success after all.
Our raffle and the cans collected that fall still didn’t raise enough to get us to Houston though. Soon after, we had a lecture from Mr. Beltzner, Mr. Wolfe, Mrs. Huddleston and Mrs. Block. If we wanted to go on the trip, we had to do more, and time was growing short. With the holidays approaching, the trip to Houston hung in jeopardy and my hopes of seeing NASA and Mission Control with it.