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Mister B.: Living With a 98-Year-Old Rocket Scientist

Mister B.: Living With a 98-Year-Old Rocket Scientist

Mister B.: Living With a 98-Year-Old Rocket Scientist

Mister B.: Living With a 98-Year-Old Rocket Scientist

Paperback(Large Print ed.)

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LARGE PRINT edition.

Blessed are the engineers who give us some answers to life's little perplexities.

This is the #1 Best Selling, Pinnacle Award Recipient. Mister B's jaunty calculating rhythm offers timely subject matter. Mister B proves he could care less about being politically correct. That's not his style.

A tender little laugh, a swept floor in reticence, a literary window into the home of a surviving physicist and his caregiver.

Can these multi-generational housemates discover why they still matter? Find out now, for a celebration of full life.


Mister B springs from earthbound corners of immigration and poverty in rope-tied-baggy pants, into a self-made man who learns to defy gravity. Born in 1916, Joseph Byk, the Rhode Island son of Polish immigrants, charms the bejeebers out of the Greatest Generation, World War II, and the Cold War. In 2013, an old man's new companion begins to journal Mister B's bygone era. His family ideals confront the independence of a younger generation as he reveals a lifetime of secrets.

"Who is helping whom?" is the million-dollar question. This instructive and comedic memoir of story shorts on aging offers historic photographs. It can be found in the grumpy ol' men's section at your local bookstore.

Living with a 98-Year-Old Rocket Scientist inspires us to learn from history and science and to give a little more to multi-generational relationships.

Like The Life We Bury, Red Mountain, a novel; Where the Crawdads Sing; Sold on a Monday; Little Boot; Before We Were Yours.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780997162509
Publisher: Capture Books
Publication date: 07/09/2017
Edition description: Large Print ed.
Pages: 462
Product dimensions: 6.69(w) x 9.61(h) x 0.93(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Prior Berean Bookstore manager, Graduate of Denver Paralegal Institute and Colorado Christian University with a B.A. in Contemporary Composition, Contributor to Psalm-Hymns Worship Leader, Books 1, 2, & 3 (2016)

Joseph Byk received his PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of Alabama. He taught pilots in the air corps with Spartan Company and then worked through WWII and the cold war with Martin Company performing projects for NASA and the Department of Defense.

Published books: • Changing the World through Media Education (1998) • Media Alert! 200 Activities to Create Media-savvy Kids (2000) • EYE SPY Program (Early Youth Education Program): An Interactive Coloring Book (2000) • Get Them Thinking! Use Media Literacy to Prepare Students for State Assessments (2005)

Read an Excerpt



Memorial Day, 2013

It's four o'clock in the afternoon, time for us to visit Joseph John Byk. I climb into the passenger side of my husband Paul's big boy Tonka truck. My hubster received this 1977 F-150 industrial yellow pickup from his parents on his fiftieth birthday. Now, at age 58, he's still a big toddler zooming about with a toy truck in hand. This time, however, he gets to ride inside of his Ford collector series. Does sex make Paul as happy as his industrial yellow truck? I wonder. He muscles it around hairpin curves in the mountains. He makes up chores just to drive the junkyard canister around town, and he limps it the three blocks to work and back when his legs are giving him fits. It isn't that I haven't enjoyed playing farm girl in his yellow truck, propelling it for construction or landscaping needs, yet it's waaaay down on my list of "best consumer picks," mostly because the roar of the engine always shocks me, and because the passenger's side of the long cab seat slopes into Neverland. Of course normally, I am the passenger trying to hold onto my seat.

"We're taking your dad's car to dinner." This, I pronounce as a flat humorless order as I work open the side vent. Even under the friendly puffy clouds, it feels like the heat of summer already; but that's Colorado for you.

"I know," my husband returns cheerfully. "He won't mind. I just wanna unwind on the way over, okay?"

We've planned to take Mr. B–Mr. B being the nickname his wife gave him–to dinner at the Garden Club. It's his favorite restaurant, I surmise, because the cashier honors his senior coupons for all three of us or okay, because, he can top off his salad with as many bowls full of tapioca as he likes. He's not used to being told "No". Once, he told me that his marriage consisted of "sixty-seven years of getting my own way". He is not only the headwaters of the family, but he is what I call a brainiac, or more particularly, a retired aerospace engineer.

At the top of a curved suburban street, full of houses built in the '70s, my own father-in-law's two-story, reverse-gabled home comes into view. It sports an exterior color of today's unsure Colorado sky. I sigh. Pulling into the concrete drive, my soul quietly curses the appearance of the outmoded facade decorated with a giant X under both of the front bedroom windows. The X's appear like a boxer's puffy face after a match, with two widespread black eyes.

"X marks the spot!" Paul announces. The worn family joke gripes me.

Paul's father is waiting inside, seated in his favorite blue velvet rocker, arms crossed. Tonight he's wearing a pink and teal plaid shirt, blanketed with the light blue fleece we gave him last year, decked on top of his navy blue dress pants. I've seen Mr. B's muscles, sinewy thin. He is altogether on the petite size, but we never let on that he should wear less than a large shirt.

When he sees us walk into his domain, he pulls up his pant leg and sticks out his bird ankle so that we can admire his colorful, striped, cotton knee sock. Thus, he continues to affirm my style choices. Nearing Christmas a year and a half ago, I determined to fulfill Mr. B's meager solicitation for warm knee-high socks. To my dismay, it became apparent that men's knee-highs were out of fashion. Shopping, admittedly, is not my forte, but I had finally located a couple pairs of Pippi Longstocking socks. After buying them, I stumbled upon a tuxedo store selling men's silk knee-highs for a penny prettier that we could really afford. In the end, I stuffed three pairs of them into his Christmas package with the other two pairs of the riskier, striped, long-stockings. As a back door, if he hated them, I'd planned to tell him that they were a joke. To my relief, Mr. B was delighted with all of the socks, but mostly, he got the Christmas jollies from the colorful striped ones. He wears them fashionably under his blue dress pants or his summer Khakis.

"You still wearing those crazy things?" I tease. "Aren't you hot?"

"No, ma'am," Joe shakes his head quickly. "I keep it cool in here."

I look at his thermostat which says "76" in bold letters.

June 20, 2013

First, I must drag myself away from the ongoing minutia to head over to Joe's again. Paperwork swaddles my life like cloth on a mummy. I've been trying to get our silent and deflective insurance company to pay the damages promised in our umbrella policy. Paul's been helping in hiccups, but he's mainly been transplanting bushes to reestablish "curb appeal" at our war- weary hospitality house.

At Joe's, I lay a card on the dining room table while explaining in a loud voice that we can all write something to his great-granddaughter who is spending her summer far away at camp.

"Oh, no. What do I say to a nine-year-old girl?" he asks behind a wrinkled brow. "I don't think that asking her to write a letter tome will help her penmanship. I think that she ought to be journaling in a diary all the things she gets to do, like horseback riding and acrobatics, and the dog training that she's learning."

"Go ahead. Why don't you suggest that she begin a diary, Mr. B?"

"I'll get around to it." He sighs and pushes the card away from him over his dining room table.

Joe takes the dinner conversation way back to his old workplace, explaining to us the difference between titanium and steel bolts on a project he once analyzed. Pauly and I look at each other impatiently, wondering once again how to respond to a rocket scientist.

He begins by telling us that at one point in his career, his services were loaned out to McDonnell Aircraft for a rocket capsule project. "First, they asked me to figure out what was going wrong because the capsule kept separating from the rocket shaft in simulated flight. Then, they showed me the blueprints, and later they took me to the actual capsule itself.

"Well, I had to assess the drawing specifications to see if they were correctly engineered. Then, I had to compare the L-brackets they had installed all the way around the shaft to hold the capsule and shaft together." His finger makes a circle platform in the air. He explains this dilemma as if we need to know such details for work in our world. He explains it visually, folding his table napkin into a two thirds angle like an L, thumping the base of it with his forefinger to show us where the bolt went in.

Though he quit smoking cigarettes cold turkey at age fifty, Joe still yams from the side of his mouth as if his lips are clenching that smoke.

"The L-bracket was thick, see, as thick as the diameter of the bolt going through it. So, I examined the bolts themselves. They were made of the new titanium material because titanium was lighter weight and strong, and lightweight is what everyone wants of a flying machine, but see the drawing specifications called for steel. Aha! I had the answer!" he exclaims, slapping the tabletop.

"Titanium may save weight on the rocket, but titanium is only strong when stress-tested vertically. In flight, the projection of speed was forcing the L-bracket to rise and the joint to straighten, making the bolt flex. Steel bolts would have flexed with the L-bracket's force, but titanium bolts were popping their heads off rather than flexing."

"Bolts can flex?" I doubt it.

"Yes, Ma'am. But, substituting titanium for the steel that was called for in the design caused the capsule to break off of the rocket, and that was their problem. McDonnell had to accept a new weight factor by exchanging the titanium bolts for steel bolts if they wanted their rockets to hold together."

"Um, that's nice, Dad," Paul clears his throat and pauses before changing the subject to what happened in his workday at the hospital.

Joe listens with interest, nodding. He seems to drink in anything his son wants to tell him. I'm assuming since Joe has no personal friendships made known to us, that dinner with us is his only meaningful opportunity to use his voice and other social faculties of conversation each week.

In the early '90s, while he still wore large oval glasses, we teased Mr. B that he resembled the grim-faced cartoon character, Mr. Magoo. He'd shrug with a smile and a leaning of his head, open palm raised as if to imply, "What can ya do?"

When he traveled without eyeglasses in the '90s, people stared at him for a religious reason. Some would approach him to ask if he might be the Pope. When Pope John Paul II visited Colorado, we got Paul's dad a sweatshirt that proclaimed him, indeed, to be the Pope, so that people didn't have to embarrass themselves. Joe particularly liked this joke because he had spent an entire childhood of Sunday mornings confused, as an illiterate second-generation Pole, sitting in an American Polish Catholic church. When it burned to the ground, he had an immediate excuse for swearing off religion. There are very few Polish Catholic churches left in America. The notoriety of looking like someone famous, however? He liked that. Occasionally, Joe would even invite the gawker to make his or her confession.

June 22, 2013

Paul surprises his dad by delivering a new pair of fancy wool socks tonight. The souvenir socks are from our visit to an alpaca ranch, managed by a friend of his. They are brown wool, and slipping into them, Joe exclaims, "I finally made it. I feel rich! They are so soft!"

"Have you signed the card we brought last time, Mr. B?" I ask.

"No, no. I don't think a nine-year-old girl wants to hear from an old man like me. I feel silly. Besides, I don't write cursive anymore. I forgot how! My printing is pretty nondescript, too."

"That's all right, Chief," Paul chimes in. "She'd love to know you are thinking about her. Just write about the journal idea. We all need to sign it and get it in the mail tomorrow."

Joe sits down. He studies the card like a student forced to write a book report. Finally, he proceeds to print his suggestion using his architectural box styled hand, to his great-granddaughter. His thoughts require a fifteen minute wait time, and almost the whole inside of the card, both sides, are written over. Then Pauly writes a joke, leaving me with less than an inch at the bottom.

"Hey!" I write. "Your grandpa confiscated the whole card. I'll write more later. Love, Aunt Lynn." Paul wonders if putting in a stick of gum like his aunt used to do in his birthday cards is still appropriate. Writing letters by snail mail is so outmoded, I'm thinking; it now takes a whole family to safely get one card into a stamped envelope and mailed. We are still wondering if we did it right when Joe digs inside his wallet.

"This is what that card needs!" He shoves into the envelope a folded twenty dollar bill. "If I'm bold enough to suggest she write in a diary, at least she won't have to cough up for it!"

This summer, the old man has decided to take on a new project. Sewing isn't exactly new to him, because he's made slipcovers and has mended pants. He's sewn together a swimming suit, mended socks, even hemmed his wife's old skirts, but he no longer has a sewing machine. He leads us outside to the back porch and shows us his aluminum glider. "The cushions are beginning to show their stuffing through these worn holes, here and here," he points out with his hard and weathered middle finger. "I've done the upholstering of these cushions once before you know, so I'm assuming I can do it again."

I look at Paul carefully to hide a harried expression. I don't have time to babysit him with this project! I'm wrapping up our lawsuit. I'm talking to realtors and construction guys and a stager for our house.

Paul closes his eyelids against me. Out of the side of his mouth, he quietly sidesteps an argument, "Let's just see how far he gets on his own."

"I called Sandy," Joe begins, "when I started thinking about this project, and she was kind enough to return my old Singer sewing machine to me this week." Joe's granddaughter, Sandy, lives north of Denver in the foothills with her husband and with Joe's nine-year-old great-granddaughter, Christina, and his namesake toddler grandson, Joe-Joe. He leads us into an upstairs bedroom where we see he has set up a card table, a pincushion, and the old gray Singer. Sandy has indeed already managed to find the time to return Mr. B's sewing machine to him. He smiles proudly at the setup.

Then, Mr. B scores a look as bashful as an old mountain goat when he asks us to take him fabric shopping. "Look at me, a man wid an agenda!" He tells us, "Things are too expensive, and I can't remember what kind of material to buy. So, I'm asking for your young folks' opinion." Then muttering, "The last place I went, I walked around and around. Couldn't find one person to talk to me or show me where the sales were."

Joe's balance has been pretty bad these past two years. "They probably didn't want to be liable if you toppled over at their elbow, Mr. B!"

"Well, there's that." His head weaves the air between his shoulders considering this possibility. Then again, he refuses to use a walker or a cane because to do so would be to give in to the dictates of old age. He pins us into the corner of his sewing room. "Do you or don't you have a few minutes to help me find some upholstery on sale?"

We agree, and Mr. B eagerly reminds us that he prides himself on bargain hunting. "My aerospace pension is a case in point. The engineering firm set it up 36 years ago, but I don't mind bragging on myself. I won the bet they made against my longevity. See, they offered to pay me a pension every month instead of disbursing it in one lump sum!" Joe turned 97 in January. He still smiles every time he reminds us, "Those buzzards still have to cough up a paycheck every month for me, yeah, huh!"

Based on his older brother Eddy's advice in the early '70s, Mr. B once tried to invest in the stock market. It was just after Joe moved the family to Colorado, but after more research, he quietly removed his money and continued his usual course of saving through measly interest rates earned on bank deposits and government bonds. He, rather, chooses carefully what to spend his money on up front. When we asked him why he continues to forfeit the larger stock market returns for the bank's dwindling interest rates, he shrugged.

"Why would I pay a bunch of industry pricks to manage my hard earned money? They don't have any loyalty to me. We have never looked each other in the eye. They only care about what's gonna make them a buck. No, I don't trust 'em. I don't trust 'em one bit wid my money."

Mr. B has a softer side to his thriftiness, though. For each summer holiday we've ever hosted at our house, Joe would pick, cut, and bring to me his own bundle of flowers to grace our table. He always tended them in his backyard. He typically busied himself through the friendless hours of summer days with his favorite nursery projects, cutting rose stems to cultivate new roses from them, or transplanting the two varieties of lilacs in his yard, forsythia alike, into the boundaries of his three-quarter acre lawn. After the blooms die, Joe harvests the seeds from his poppies, snapdragons, zinnias, and Johnny jump-ups, propagating and sharing with namely us, his grandkids, and neighbors.

Finding the fabric store by Joe's navigation, we all traipse in together and search out material. He growls. The regular upholstery material we show him is too expensive, so he chooses a black and white checked tablecloth material instead.

Paul and I shrug. At least it'll keep him busy.

Back at home he tears apart the old cushions and begins struggling to sew together the back cover with the enlarged front cover. It is one of those things that is better made by pinning the pattern of the pieces he has ripped apart, to the new material and cutting out the pattern, than by trying to work out the mathematical science of the curve before sewing. I try to help him by pinning the front, carefully gathered, to the back. I tell him that some things cannot be figured out mathematically and must be taken on faith.

"Use the pattern of the old ones, Mr. B."

He attempts to sew "in faith," as he says teasing me, but faith is diametrically opposed to his mathematician's mind, honed by decades spent in the engineering hole at the Department of Defense.

June 24, 2013

I've set up a dinner date for Mr. B with Betty, my 78-year-old book club partner. Betty's house is located near Joe's, so we are taking him to meet her at the garden club for dinner.

"Lynn, you know Dad won't approve."

Mr. B is not what most people would call a gregarious person. We have photographs from many celebrations, including his own fiftieth wedding celebration, where he is looking at the camera with a pug Yoda face held in a parenthesis between fanning ears.

I shrug. "So, we simply don't tell him she'll be there." He's still a good-looking man, I think, with a full head of straight white hair kept cropped at what his hairdresser calls "a one on top and a two on the sides."


Excerpted from "Mister B."
by .
Copyright © 2017 Capture Books.
Excerpted by permission of Capture Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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