Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Chapter 30: Epilogue
It would be a lie to say that Mark and Jackie lived happily ever after, for every couple has their ups and downs; but "the best honeymoon a couple could have" kept echoing down through their lives. Every now and then, something would remind them of the trip, or they would hear something that would fill them in on a bit or a piece of unfinished business.
Three magazine stories over the years stood out in those days that brought memories of their trip back to them.
The first came only three or four years later, when Mark picked up a "Sky and Telescope," and read a story about a former Buddhist monk, John Dobson, and his low-tech telescopes, and how he traveled around the country, showing the sky to people. Not surprisingly, the photo of the story was of their friend, John. By then, Mark had his own telescope that roughly followed Dobson’s design. It was a little smaller – sixteen inches – and for years, it was one of the biggest in the region.
But the seeds that John Dobson planted had taken root. By ten years after meeting him at the Texas Star Party, the "Dobsonian" telescope had more than taken root; it had revolutionized amateur astronomy. The time would not be far off when Mark’s sixteen-inch telescope would be a relatively average size, and telescopes the size of Dobson’s twenty-four-inch "Delphinium," or even larger would not be uncommon. The Dobsonian telescopes that spread around the country opened many people’s eyes to the wonders of the night sky impossible to appreciate in the relatively small telescopes that had been standard up until then.
The mystery of the sleepless night at Misery Hole took longer to solve.
It was almost twenty years to the day after that night near Carlsbad Caverns when Mark kept a dentist’s appointment. The dentist was running late, so Mark thumbed through an old National Geographic, to discover the answer to the mystery that he had long wondered about.
Down at the bottom of Misery Hole was a pile of rock rubble. One day, many years after that 1971 night, some amateur cave explorers rappelled down to the bottom of the hole, and found a breeze blowing out of the rocks. Curious, they began to excavate the rock, to see what lay underneath. It was a big job, and took a long time before they moved away the last rock, and the man who moved it was almost sucked into the hole beneath – the only known opening to the largest previously unknown cave discovered since the discovery of Carlsbad Caverns, themselves. The moaning was from air blowing into and out of the cave at speeds of up to seventy miles per hour as the outside air pressure changed. The spelunkers had been exploring what they called Lechuguilla Cave for several years now, and had charted over sixty miles of passages, and were still finding them. Mark thumbed through the pictures taken of the wild and virgin cave, marveling at the wonders that had lay beneath them that night as they lay awake under the New Mexico sky.
Perhaps the magazine story that touched them the most came not long after Mark discovered what the moaning at Misery Hole was.
One summer Friday in July of 1992, Mark and Jackie were packing their bags for a weekend at a friend’s cottage. Mark knew that the weekend would involve a lot of lying around in the sun, and he didn’t have the tan to deal with that, so he knew he’d be sitting in the shade. He packed a book to read, and a couple of trade magazines from the phone company, to catch up on what was happening.
The next morning, Mark was sitting under the shade of a poplar tree, reading Independent Telephone News, when a story brought the years flooding back over him. "Jackie, come look at this," Mark called to her.
Jackie came over and joined her husband in the shade. He handed her the article, and she read:
Top Persian Gulf Fighter Pilot
Credits Phone Employees
There weren’t vast numbers of Iraqi planes knocked down by fighters in the Persian Gulf War, since most of them ran and hid. But several were knocked from the sky, and America’s top scorer said he would have never made it to the cockpit if it weren’t for the help of independent telephone company employees and owners.
Major E.J. Seasprunk, who shot down three MiGs with his F-15C, told ITN it was an independent telephone company employee who gave him his first airplane ride twenty years ago, when he was the son of a dirt-poor Florida preacher. "I don’t remember his name," Major Seasprunk said, "Except we all called him ‘Mister Mark.’" He came to town with his girlfriend when the phone company was putting in their first dial system, made friends with the young black boy, and let him handle the controls of what Major Seasprunk remembers as some kind of older Cessna.
"From the moment he took me flying, I knew I wanted to be a pilot," Seasprunk said. "He told me that if I worked hard, I could be anything I wanted to be."
Even getting a high school diploma was tough for Seasprunk; the town he grew up in was so small that no school bus that could get him to a high school came within miles, and his stepfather didn’t have a car. There, another independent phone man stepped in, Paul A. Thibodaux, owner of Florida’s Twillingate Telephone Company, took Seasprunk ten miles to and from the bus stop, morning and evening, for four years. "He always said he had lines to check out that way, but I never saw him check one," Seasprunk remembers.
All the time he was struggling through high school to graduate at the top of his class, the dream of flying kept Seasprunk going. He won admission to the US Air Force Academy, and graduated 27th in his class in 1983.
"I’ve often wondered what happened to ‘Mister Mark’ and his girl friend, ‘Miss Jackie,’" Seasprunk said. "Somehow, I’d like them to know what they did that day twenty years ago when they were nice enough to take a little black kid for a ride in their old airplane."
"My God," Jackie said. "Is that our little E.J.?"
"Couldn’t be anybody else," Mark said. "Does this ever bring the memories back! I remember sitting in Rocinante with him, telling him that if he worked hard, he could be anything he wanted to be. It’s just like it was yesterday."
"I guess he listened to you," Jackie said. "You know, except for the Christmas cards we get from the Pittingers, I’ve often wondered if we did anything worthwhile on the trip, or whether we were just playing."
Mark nodded. "I remember Brother Erasmus saying, ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways.’ He does, indeed."