( By Matt Shea )
Once again, the counties most prominent name, Richman would be honored. This evening would be the latest addition to the statues, public facilities and thoroughfares that already embraced the name.
John and Julia Mansfield felt somewhat out of place at this gala festivity. They did, however have a relations to Professor Richman. Julia was once married to the professor's only son. That marriage became the family scandal, when the son abandoned his wife and intellectually challenged son. He was nowhere to be found causing a stigma that silently hurt the professor beyond belief.
The professor had one other child named, Margret. She was a short, heavy set woman that served as his secretary. The forty-four year-old daughter with stylish short blonde hair and glasses also played the roll of the mother hen. She coordinated her father's business affairs and inconspicuously monitored his personal life. Margret frequently socialized with her famous father and absolutely loved her challenged nephew, Chase.
Chase was the professor's grandson and would never be denied. The good professor also accepted his mother, Julia and her brother, John; regarding them as family. In fact, he appeared to have adopted them emotionally by always addressing them as his son and daughter.
Professor Stanley Wright IV entered the stage signaling the start of the evening. The president of the Astronomy Association was heir to the famous Wright Observatory that his great-grandfather started. This momentous occasion was to appoint Professor Richman as caretaker of the antique observatory and the property it sat on.
His duties would be to restore the mammoth brass telescope and update the lenses needed to explore outer space. There were other conditions also set by his great-grandfather. The plantation it stood on must be maintain to its original landscape- with no exceptions. Every tree, plant, flower, rock and trail must look identical to the day the observatory first opened.
It was also emphasized the importance of adjusting the ancient building itself. The vintage three legged structure rested on a circular platform that could rotate. Special coordinates written by Stanley Wright himself, specified what time of year to reposition the metal building and to what settings.
Fulfilling these request would be easy. A full time groundskeeper maintained the grounds and stayed current in adjusting the iron platform.
The fourth generation Wright addressed the assembly. He expressed how honored he was to be a descendant of his great-grandfather. The topic of astronomy came up next and how it advanced through the years. Finally, he mentioned the current status of the observatory and how it needed to be upgraded to present day standards and serve the community.
Stanley Wright IV then said, “The entire science community is in agreement that only one man can do this project justice. That man is none other then our own Professor Gerald Richman!” Stanley then pointed at the Professor saying, “Please come up here, Professor Richman.”
The renowned professor was sitting in the middle of the front row. He stood up and took the stage as the room cheered in approval.
The man of the hour had a gracious presence. He bowed three times while pivoting left to right saying, “Thank you, thank you and thank you everybody; I am honored to be here tonight.”
It was the greatest moment in Professor Gerald Micheal Richman’s life. His education, well published achievements and accolades led up to this moment. The tall, slender, well- spoken man had everyone's attention. The sixty-four-year old also had the mystique of old age and a famous last name to back him up. A well preserved face with blue eyes, silver hair and well groomed beard gave the finishing touch to this renowned scholar.
The astute orator began his acceptance speech. The well spoken scholar used his ivy league vocabulary to captivate his audience. His articulate flow and swaying eye contact mesmerized the hall. Professor Richman's speech reached a climax at its finality when he made a promise.
“I will do more than be the best caretaker that the observatory could ever have; I vow to find the Cosmic Garden that Professor Wright and his wife wrote about in their memories over a century ago!”
The Cosmic Garden seemed to be a challenge from the Wrights to all astronomers. The original writings from Stanley Wright spoke of the garden and gave clues to its location. The main ingredient of the puzzle was “finding the three horses”.
Tuxedos accompanied with lavish dresses, pearls, diamonds and sapphires stood up in ovation. Their leader just made a commitment to find their Titanic; to climb their Mt. Everest. The house was in an uproar!
Stanley Wright IV appeared on stage and walked up to Professor Richman. He extended his hand holding the original iron key ring that dangled the only keys ever made for the Wright Observatory. Three six inch long skeleton keys from the Abraham Lincoln era clanged like a wind chime as he extended his hand.
Professor Richman extended his open hand to accept the keys, with Stanley Wright IV placing them on his palm. At that moment alumni associations, committees, elected officials and other members of the upper crust gave another standing ovation.
The silver haired man stood prominent at the podium like a politician raising the bar on campaign promises. The media stormed the stage and surrounded professor Richman. Photographers captured every angle of the celebrated man. Compliments followed by questions came from all sides. Professor Richman was in his glory.
The following morning the professor opened his front door to get his morning paper. It was on the porch with the headlines facing him. It read:
“Professor Richman Appointed Caretaker of Wright Observatory”
The front page story displayed his picture with his name highlighted every time it was printed. The man who was still in his bathrobe picked up the newspaper and smiled. He folded the journal and went back into his home.
Margret stayed the night in her father's guest room. She got up early and had breakfast waiting at the kitchen table. The professor entered the room and placed the newspaper on the table next to the observatory keys. He sat down and joined her.
“I have a busy day ahead of me,” he said picking up a cup of coffee.
“I found the astronomy manuals you wanted for your project,” Margret said as they continued eating. “I placed them in your brief case and put it on the living room coffee table.”
“Very good,” said her father. “Would you care to join me today?”
“I'd be proud to, father,” said the supportive daughter.
“Jolly good,” he replied. “It's a good idea to wear old clothing for this. We are going to be playing in the dirt today,” he said laughingly.
The professor took the newspaper, opened it up and placed the headlines in front of his daughter. She glanced at it and got up, hugging her father. “I am so proud of you,” she said.
“We need to hurry up and get ready,” he said. The father-daughter team remained at the table and finished their breakfast. Soon the professor was taking his last sip of coffee when there was a knock at the front door.
“I'll get it,” said Margret as she got up to answer it. She opened the door to find her nephew, Chase.
“Good morning,” greeted the lanky teen with curly blonde hair. “I got up early to go to the park. I just thought that I'd drop by and say hello.”
The park was just down the street and covered beyond one hundred acres. Part of it was outlined by a ridge with benches and a playground with every imaginable ride a kid could want. The pasture below was the Wright Plantation. This was home to the families colonial farmhouse and famous observatory. The park had trails that connect the upper half to the lower. Locally, it was common knowledge that Chase spent much of his time there. The close knit community allowed the disadvantaged boy to roam free.
“Good morning, Chase,” said his grandfather.
“Good morning, grandpa,” replied Chase.
“We are going to the observatory today,” said the grandfather. “Maybe we will see you down there.”
“Okay,” answered Chase. “What time do you want me there?” he asked.
The professor looked upward in thought and responded. “How about...noon?”
“Okay,” said the grandson. “I' ll meet you and aunt Margret at the observatory at noon.”
“Very good, Chase,” remarked the professor. With enthusiasm the boy left and continued his journey to the playground.
“Dad, can I ask you a question?” asked Margret.
“Why certainly you can,” he answered.
“How come Chase never wears a watch?” she asked with a puzzled look on her face.
“I prefer him not to wear one,” said the professor as he looked off in the distance.
“Why?” asked Margret.
“I thought that it would be best to have Chase need the assistance of others to know the time,” explained her father. “This would keep him in constant touch with the community instead of wandering off by himself.”
Margret looked down and digested the answer. “I see,” she said quietly.
Within moments they left home and drove to the lower level of the park. As he approached the public parking lot his ego was massaged once again. The choice parking space closest to the observatory was monogrammed in his name. It read:
“Reserved For Professor Gerald Richman”
They both saw it as huge smiles overcame their faces. The new caretaker parked his car. Looking at his daughter he said, “Let's get to work.” He took the sacred keys, got out of his car and closed the door. With wind in his sails he walked to the trail that led to the Wright Plantation. His swagger was accented by the sound of automatic door locks engaging. The loyal secretary walked aside him carrying a black brief case.
The well manicured trail seemed to serve as a red carpet. It was also symbolic for heading out to the pasture to finish out a career. They walked the trail and soon found themselves on the backside of the property. A tall, shiny black wrought iron gate surrounded the homestead. The top of the iron poles were sharp like spears protecting a fortress. The gated entryway was open allowing access. A voiced called out startling the professor and his daughter.
“You don't have to worry about anything, Professor Richman. You have the keys to everything in here.” They looked over and saw a lean man that appeared to be in his seventies. He was wearing coveralls and was walking up to them. “My name is, Ryan Billings,” he said. “I take care of the grounds here and occasionally move the observatory a few inches.” The balding man with gray hair extended his hand. “Pleased to meet you, professor. I have heard so much about you.”
“The pleasure is mine,” said Professor Richman. He then introduced Ryan to his daughter with a friendly exchange taking place.
“I only have access to the grounds here, and lock it up every night ” said Ryan. “If there is anything I can do for you- please let me know.”
“Thank you, and please to have met you,” said the courteous professor.
The professor walked through the gate knowing where the observatory was and having been in it many times. He instinctively followed the path that opened to a pasture. There before him stood the famous Wright Observatory. The Gothic metal structure resembled a spaceship from the Flash Gordon era. Like an old water tower defying time it survived the elements and held its integrity.
The futuristic three legged building rested on a circular disk that could turn like a merry-go-round. There was an outer rim that was fixed and had numbers on it. The middle leg of the foundation had an arrow that pointed to the numbers on the fixed rim. The arrow served as a set point. Stanley Wright had plotted a chart as to when to line the arrow over what number. This kept the observatory in its proper position to perform as designed. The back of the observatory had thick metal rods that hung down just outside the fixed rim. A series of five bolts would line up with holes on the back part of the numbered rim to secure position.
A metal stairway with handrails allowed entry from the back side. It led to a metal door, similar to what would be used on a warship.
Inside the metal chamber was a ten foot brass cylinder pointed skyward at a forty-five degree angle. It consisted of three even sections that increased in diameter as it extended. A metal frame held the telescope in position with knobs, levers and cables used to guide it. There was a padded wooden chair positioned in front of the tiny lens that one would peer through. Behind the chair was a curved wooden bench that could seat ten people.
The professor scanned his eyes over the field that was dwarfed by the crude structure. He raised his head and saw the outlining ridge with benches looking back.
A familiar figure walked into view. It was Chase Greeting them. “Hi Grandpa, hi, auntie Margret.”
“Hi, Chase,” said Margret.
“Hello, grandson,” said the professor. He raised his left arm and pulled back the sleeve. The professor was impressed as he looked at his watch. Like Old Faithful, Chase arrived on time once again. It was just a minute past noon.
The phenomena of the intellectually challenged teenager always being on time without a watch continued to amaze Margret. “There has to be more to this then the randomness of good neighbors...” she thought to herself.
“What are you doing, grandpa,” asked Chase.
“We are making preparations to view the Cosmic Garden tomorrow night,” replied the grandfather.
“Why do you wait for it to get dark outside to see the Cosmic Garden?” asked a bewildered Chase.
“Because that's when the stars come into view!” cried out the professor. He then remembered who he was talking to and in a gentle tone said, “I'll explain it to you later when we have time.”
“Okay,” said Chase with a confused look.
The professor walked away. Margret was now alone with her nephew. She wanted to know who was aiding him when he was alone in the park.
“Who lets you know what time it is?” asked Margret.
“Nobody,” answered Chase. “The Cosmic Garden does it for me. Do you want to see it with me?”
Margret's face cringed. She needed to know who or what was assisting the mentally handicapped teenager when he ventured out of the house. She was also apprehensive over the thought of meeting a stranger under these circumstances. She wanted the security of others when confronting this unknown.
In a motherly tone she said, “Why I'd love that very much. Could it wait until tomorrow?” she asked.
“Sure,” replied Chase. “How about you and me going there tomorrow morning? I can go to your house and we can get there by six-o'clock?” The aunt agreed.
Margret's cautious nature would share the information with Chase's mother, uncle and the neighbors that knew him. The caring aunt was determined to accompany Chase the following morning with others following close by.
The next morning came with Margret being prepared. At ten minutes to the hour Chase knocked on the door accompanied with his mother and uncle. The four exchanged “good mornings” and left for the park.
They immediately drew attention from the alerted neighbors. Margret and Julia acknowledged the ones looking out their windows by silently rolling her head towards Chase; encouraging them to drop what they're doing and follow. They came out of their homes to see where Chase was leading them. The more that got in line; the longer the line got. Chase appeared as the Pied Piper of Ridge View Boulevard.
With confidence Chase walked to the neighborhood park. Everyone stood around Chase and wondered what was so special. All they could see was a dark field with the obsolete observatory standing directly center in the background.
“Oh, good,” he said. “We got here just in time.”
“In time for what?” asked his uncle John.
“In time to see the Cosmic Garden,” said Chase. “Here it comes!” he announced.
Then it happened...
The underbelly of the metal structure was touched by the first rays of morning sun. Radiant light expanded territory as the sun rose. All at once the the iron tripod illuminated with a golden shine as a portion of the sun's head began to expose itself behind an outward leg. Immediately a shadow was created and raced across the valley; touching a rock formation that resembled the Roman numeral “VI”. “It's six o'clock,” announced Chase. “Now comes the fun part!” he exclaimed. “The horse will come next.”
Silence reigned as eyes bulged with open mouths.
The crowd watched as the sun maneuvered behind the base of the observatory. As it continued to rise, brilliant light was channeled towards the far left of the valley and isolated a collaboration of shrubs, trees, flowers and rocks that clearly outlined a horse standing on its hind legs. The mighty steed faced to the right.
It occurred to all that what was once a state of the art observatory also served another purpose. A secret purpose.
The Gothic structure was a makeshift gnomic, allowing the moving sun to cast a shadow through the reinforced pipes it stood on. It was a sundial that would function until the end of time. It also solved a mystery. The rising sun would expose the true location of the Cosmic Garden; a quest that eluded astronomers for many decades. A spectacle that Chase Mansfield enjoyed for years.
“He's found the Cosmic Garden!” gasped a trembling voice. The brilliant sun continued to rise as it cast heavenly light through the base of the observatory. The wave of sunlight gradually moved, exposing a second horse running like the wind. It was now six-thirty as the mile long shadow continued to sweep across the valley. The slow moving light of the gods began to awake the third horse. It was also standing on its hind legs facing to the left. The outside horses served like bookends with the running horse being the centerpiece.
All were in silence after being introduced to Chase's morning ritual. The primitive method used since the beginning of time had started their day. They were with the same sun that guided cavemen. Margret now understood how Chase knew what time it was.
“I'm glad today is Saturday,” said Chase. “Otherwise it would be time for me to go back home.”
“Tonight is the open house for the Wright Observatory,” said Margret “I hope that you will attend, Chase. Your grandfather wants you to look through the telescope.”
“Will he let my mom and uncle look through the telescope with me?” asked the excited nephew.
“Yes he will,” answered the loving aunt.
“That's great!” expressed Chase. “Our teacher, Mrs. Wilkens gives us pictures of the stars. We connect the stars to spell out our name, then everyone gets an “A” for their grade. Its a lot of fun; I bet grandpa is good at that.”
“He probably is,” said Margret.
That evening Chase along with his mother and uncle arrived early to the grand opening. This enabled them to be at the front of the line when the observatory opened. Professor Richman was already there dressed in tails. His warm personality greeted those that attended as he cordially invited them to view the constellations with him. At ten-o'clock the festivities got underway.
The parking lot was full of cars, trucks and charter buses. The professor was ground level, in front of the observatory with its elevated entry door opened. He welcomed everyone to the refurbished observatory.
“We need to form a single-file line,” instructed the professor to the crowd. “We can only allow groups of ten at a time to enter the observatory.”
Chase's Group would have several neighbors that watched the sunrise with him that morning.
Professor Richman continued his announcement.
“I have some good news,” proclaimed the Professor. “I have made adjustments to the observatory and updated the lenses to modern technology. When I looked through it last night, I believe that I discovered the Cosmic Garden. There seems to be a pattern of stars that outline the three horses!”
The elite scholar then asked if anyone had any questions before the tour started. His grandson, Chase raised his hand. The professor pointed at Chase and asked, “What is your question?”
The sincere mentally challenged teenager asked his question as the entire line listened. “Are you going to connect stars to spell out your name?” asked Chase.
Laughter erupted from the crowd.
“Don't be preposterous!' snapped Professor Richman. “These stars are millions of miles away and form patterns that guided mankind for centuries.” The Grandfather knew that his grandson meant well and regained his composure. He laughed off the comment to save face and said. “It's time to enter the observatory and view the solar system. Will the first ten in line please follow me?” he asked.
Chase's group went first. They were led behind the observatory by the professor and climbed the metal steps. They entered the chamber through the open door and looked around in awe. “Please take a seat,” instructed Professor Richman as he stood in front of the telescope.
The group of ten sat down on the curved wooden bench. “And, now,” he said. “Who would like to go first?”
Mrs. Hastings knew the professor from being a member of the local Astronomy Society. He looked at his fellow member, encouraging her to volunteer first. She raised her hand. “Well good,” he said. “Will you please come over and join me, Mrs. Hastings?”
The professor stood back and instructed Mrs. Hastings to peer through the tiny lens. He began to direct her. “Now if you squint your eye and look to the left, you will see a bright star,” he said. “From there, follow it upwards to the next star, then over. That, I believe is the head of one of the horses.
“Oh, I think I see it!”exclaimed the excited woman. “Professor Richman, you are so brilliant!”
The proud professor stood with his hands clasped behind his back. His face grinned with victory.
The other eyes in the room looked suspicious at the professor. Then they glanced over and looked at the pureness of Chase Mansfield. The teenager was excited because he never looked through a telescope of that magnitude before. He sat still filled with anticipation. “Professor Richman sure is a genius,” said Chase openly.
A woman that followed Chase that morning was in his group. She and others present always viewed Chase as an exceptional citizen that respected others. They also knew that he was underestimated in many ways and not credited for being intelligent.
The woman felt compelled to ask the boy an obvious question. She approached him in front of those seated on the bench and asked, “Why do you think Professor Richman is a genius?”
There was a long pause as the intellectually challenged teenager digested the question. With undivided attention he looked at the woman and gave his answer.
“Because he told me he was.”