The name of the rocket was Dreamer. It's builder was a dreamer.
With "The Astronaut Farmer," my wife and I knew we were in for a quirky film straight from the opening scene, a blend of two American icons. There he is on horseback, riding alone on the deserted plain. But wait! Zoom in steadily and we see he's not a cowboy at all, but an astronaut, or at least a guy in a spacesuit.
It's an irresistible movie. Part endearing family tale, part reckless pursuit of a dream, part good guys vs bad guys, part fantasy. Fantasy, because clearly, the plot could never happen. If you're one of those picayune people who huff over improbabilities, stay away. Everyone else gets a green light. Billy Bob Thorton plays Charles Farmer, an ex NASA rancher determined to pilot a rocket from his barn, with his family's help. It's a homeschool project, no less. Billy Bob has that eternal optimism, that unshakable good nature, and most importantly, that absolute inability to see when his goose is cooked that makes him unstoppable. In real life these guys make invincible salesmen. In movie life, they orbit the earth.
Each time we see a movie, I read internet reviews afterwards so I can tell my wife if I liked the film or not, a habit which drives her nuts. Reviews of Astronaut Farmer were mixed. The deciding factor, I discern, is whether you can imagine and appreciate a kook like Farmer. I can. Take Hal, for instance.
Hal enjoyed the same combination of qualities. Incurable optimism, unyielding good nature, bedrock decency. And absolutely oblivious to obstacles. People loved Hal. True to calling, he was a salesman. You'd sooner get his customers to bump off their mothers than buy from a rival. If only I had half his nature.
In the congregation, Hal was fully capable of off-the-wall remarks, as unpredictable as they were nutty, like how you could forget the resurrection if you died on an amusement park ride since you had deliberately risked life and limb. Fortunately no one took him seriously. "That's just Hal," they would say. The secret of human relations is to appreciate folks for their fine points, and cut them slack on the rest.
He'd be offered oversight of this or that department at the circuit or district level. Of course, he'd accept. Never turn down a privilege. They'd dig up some assistants for him. The assistants would putz along, confident in Hal's sure hand and direction. But two thirds of the way through they'd realize, to their horror, that Hal had absolutely no idea what he was doing. So they'd work their tails off, doubletime, tripletime, and as a consequence, all would turn out well. "You see?" Hal would chime in, "Jehovah provides!"
And who's to say that's not leadership? The assignments got done. Those assistants developed skills they never thought possible. In fact, I believe Hal attracted a corps of young Ministerial Servants eager for the challenge.
But I wasn't one of them. We both served for a time on a committee looking into a Kingdom Hall build. Hal was enthralled with those then-new fold down baby changing tables. "We have to get one of those," he'd gush. "Put it right there in the men's room! Why should it be only the sisters who change babies? Times are changing! Not just the wives, but also the husbands should share!" On and on he'd go, so enthused.
For crying out loud, we hadn't even located land yet!