Remembering a Hero

Rest in peace, Neil Armstrong.

Everything I learned in third grade



The “Uh Huh” Moment of ‘69

With the Presidential election over and Nixon in the White House, for our class of bright-eyed, second grade southerners, space travel and rockets had begun to capture our imagination.

So much of American culture focused on the heavens. We studied the solar system in school and made our mandatory science projects of the planets revolving around our sun which, by the way, included Pluto. (I’m generally adaptable to change, but I refuse to give up Pluto as a planet. It’s been a planet for most of my life and I’m keeping it.) The boys in my class in particular, were obsessed with Uranus.

We dreamed, collectively of what it might be like to travel into space, weightless. It seemed as though the futuristic idea of living on a space station was possible. Lunar wallpaper adorned my siblings’ bedroom walls; a red, white and blue affair with a repeating pattern of the moon and rockets. My ceiling had glow-in-the-dark stars which I watched at night as I fell asleep.

Television’s nightly news gave us one of our first sound bites…”The Space Race,” which would be forever etched in our minds. “An astronaut,” quickly replaced “fireman”, “policeman” or “cowboy” as the top choice for what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up for the neighborhood boys. And so it was that one evening in July 1969, I was allowed to stay up late to watch the astronauts walk on the moon.

In those pre-cable days for TV reception, we relied on rabbit ears. These served only to relieve some of the black and white graininess of the images on our tiny television. I futilely struggled to stay awake until finally, my parents aroused me from my sleep, face imprinted with the upholstery pattern from the couch and drooling, to see Neil Armstrong step onto the moon.

To me, this defining moment in history was an anti-climactic interlude to a peaceful night’s sleep. I managed an, “Uh huh,” before falling asleep again. My bedtime went back to normal after that, but the moment allowed me to dream bigger.

For Christmas that year I got a lunar module model to build, which I did with some frustration and without getting completely high on the glue fumes.

Then what happened?