Note: This post was written at a later date, but I thought it fitting to add it at the actual date it happened.
When I was 6 years old we were driving back from the beach on a warm Sunday night in January. My parents sat in the front, while my grandmother sat with me in the back. Suddenly she leaned over and said “look! Orion!”. I had no idea what Orion was or how it looked, so she took the time to explain it to me. “It’s really quite easy once you see the three stars – that’s the belt and the bright 4 stars around it, well, that’s the frame.” I remember intently staring at it through the car window on that warm winter night. Seeing my fascination, my grandmother suggested the following: “I see you are enjoying watching the sky. Tell you what, when you look up – try to find Orion. When you do, you could think of me, I will do the same!” You see, she didn’t live near me, she was far away in Germany, I saw her once maybe every 2 years. I intently nodded. This seemed like such a cool thing, like it brought me closer, because we shared the same sky.
Over the next years she would ask me if I still looked at Orion. Not often, maybe once every 5 years or so and not lately. I always answered in the positive and that was enough for her. Little did she know that Orion became the support, the stake for my further study of the sky. I always had a long vacation in the winter so it was from Orion that I expanded out discovering the sky – upwards (westwards) towards the triangle and that smudge (Taurus and the Pleiades), downwards towards that bright star (Sirius in Canis Major) and the two bright stars that followed (Castor and Pollux in Gemini), left towards that round grouping on stars (Auriga) and that strange W (Cassiopeia). When I got my first telescope, Orion’s nebula was the first thing I tried to see. When I started observing with a CCD camera in the back of a telescope and processing images with IRAF, Orion’s nebula and the trapezium was also the first thing I recorded. Sadly, I can’t seem to find the fits file or the image I made of it anymore. Anyway, even my internet moniker, “bellatrix” derived from the fact that I looked at Orion first for everything astronomical. It was almost a sort of crux when looking at the sky – Orion, then the rest. And often, I thought of my grandmother.
Yesterday, when walking home, I showed my daughter Orion. The belt, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Bellatrix, the nebula. Of course, she was more interested in Jupiter nearby, but she acknowledged my enthusiasm. And I thought of my grandmother again. She died very early this morning. I don’t know if we will still be sharing the same sky, but I will keep on staring at it, thinking of her and the love of astronomy she unwittingly instilled in me and kept on fostering in me. I miss her so much already!