Carnett: Lighting up Cassiopeia

The evening culminated with the breathtaking command of the public-address announcer: "Light up Cassiopeia!"

Cassiopeia is, of course, a constellation in the northern sky named for a vain and boastful queen of Greek mythology.

With a distinctive "W" shape, and located opposite the Big Dipper, it's the 25th largest constellation in the sky in total area, and is formed by five bright stars.

It was the spring of 1953 and I was an 8-year-old Costa Mesa Cub Scout.

The Scout-O-Rama that year, held in anticipation of the big National Jamboree scheduled for that summer, was staged at the Santa Ana Municipal Bowl. My Cub Pack participated in what turned out to be a ring-a-ding O-Rama.

By the way, the seven-day Jamboree, held in July of 1953, attracted 50,000 Scouts from around the world. The massive event impressively materialized on 3,000 rugged acres above Newport Beach where Fashion Island, East Bluff and Big Canyon now recline in opulence.

My parents didn't let me camp over night at the Jamboree because of my age, but I did manage to attend one or two daytime sessions.

Because I entered kindergarten at the age of 4, I was always one of the younger kids in my class. I didn't turn 5 until January of my kindergarten year.

Most of the other boys in Mrs. Long's third-grade class at Lindbergh School in Costa Mesa were Cub Scouts by the fall of '52. Not me.

They were 8 and were permitted to wear the cool navy blue and yellow uniforms to school on days when they attended den meetings. I felt left out. I was like a 17-year-old itching to join the Marines. My birthday couldn't arrive fast enough!

Finally, January 1953 rolled around and my parents permitted me to become a Cub Scout. The first day I wore my uniform to third-grade was one of the proudest days of my life.

I don't remember much about the 1953 Santa Ana Scout-O-Rama, but I do recall that my den's major contribution was its participation in an astronomy-themed program presented on the bowl's turf.

The grandstands were packed with people, including my proud parents and my two younger siblings. A couple of dozen constellations were displayed that evening on the field. Armed with flashlights, my den was responsible for Cassiopeia.

I remember that at some point during the evening's program several hundred of us marched onto the field. We stood at attention as the stadium lights dimmed. In total darkness, we assumed the shapes of our constellations.

One by one the public address announcer called out our constellations by name. As the name was announced, Cubs forming that constellation would turn on their flashlights (each torch representing a star), and the constellation would magically "light up." The audience oohed and aahed, and clapped for each constellation.

Constellations remained "lit" for 20 seconds or so as the announcer meted out pertinent information. The "stars" were then extinguished and the stadium darkened, awaiting illumination of the next constellation.

Halfway through the program the announcer commanded Cassiopeia to "light up."

Holding a flashlight firmly in both hands — and gripped by the magnitude of my awe-inspiring moment — I carried out my duties flawlessly. I became a star — quite literally.

I was either Segin or Ruchbah or Gamma Cassiopeia or Schedar or Caph, I don't remember which. The brightest star in the constellation, Schedar, is an orange giant 228 light years from earth. As a neophyte Cub, surely I wasn't entrusted with responsibility for such a consequential orb.

I was proud, nonetheless.

As I think of it now, half the crowd saw our constellation upside down. To them, our W must have appeared an M. Oh, well.

I'm not sure what went on during the remainder of the evening's program, but I recall displays and information booths surrounding the stadium. I also remember heaps and heaps of pink cotton candy.

But the most notable command of the evening resonates in my soul to this day: "Light up Cassiopeia!"

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World