Last year at this time, we were heading South. I wrote this description of the event when we returned.
A TOTAL EECLIPSE OF THE SUN
We drove to Virginia and picked up John’s sister, then drove on to North Carolina and put up in a hotel about three hours from totality, planning to get up early and drive south if the weather looked good. In the morning, reports indicated very little chance of clear skies in South Carolina, and perfectly clear skies where we were, so we opted for 100% chance of 96%. With the blessing of the hotel clerk, John set up a sun-filtered scope in the courtyard of the inn, and we made our headquarters in the long hallway just inside. Staff people, who had seen John setting up, asked us if we were there for the “ee’-clipse.” (We decided that we much prefer the southern pronunciation.) We said we were, and invited them to come back at 1:15, if they could, for a look. And they came. We shared our ee-clipse glasses and John kept the scope aligned, and for the next hour people came and went and came back again to follow the progression of the moon across the sun. The manager stopped by and offered us coffee and told us that he’d studied astronomy in college. A few guests came out—one a remarkable woman whose blonde hair was piled on top of her head and decorated with plastic fruit. Two people told us that the last time there was an ee-clipse was when Jesus was crucified. We said, “Well, that’s interesting.” A young black chef who had joined us several times asked if it was okay if his mama, who had come to pick him up, looked. “Of course,” we told him, and she joined us. She and I got to chatting after she had looked through the glasses and the scope. I found out that she was from Queens and had a sister in Poughkeepsie, near where my son and his family live. At the peak of the event, she and I agreed that the shadows were different; that the bright sunlight had changed. We were both wearing beige shirts and white caps. Her son stepped back from the scope and nudged me, then turned his head and said, “Sorry. I thought you were my mama.” And I, a white woman in the country’s whitest state, without thinking, said the perfect thing: “That’s okay. All of us mamas look alike.” He looked surprised for a minute, and then laughed, and nudged me again. One tall, elegant woman with silver hair stopped to look every time she passed through the hallway carrying a stack of linen, and every time, she jumped up and down and clapped her hands. Another woman, who had promised her husband that she would not look, even with eeclipse glasses, watched her and said, “I’ll just enjoy her happiness.” After the moon started sliding away, people began thanking us and drifting away. John was packing the car, and I was in the hall, clearing the last of our things from the table, when the tall woman stopped by once more. “Thank you, honey,” she said. “Oh,” I said, “It was so much fun to share this with all of you.” And then she threw her arms around me and kissed my cheek. “I can’t wait to tell my grandkids about this,” she said. “I can’t wait to tell mine,” I said. Better than totality.