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?

When it All Began – 1961

I’m interested to know what you might recall if 1961 was the year that you graced this planet with your presence.

Personally, I don’t recall anything from that year except the vaguest sense of a speech delivered in May, by then President John F. Kennedy.  In it, he outlined new goals for America during the height of the Cold War.

Click  to hear John F. Kennedy snippet

I don’t know if my parents heard the speech on the radio in their tiny German apartment in what must have been the middle of the night for them. I’d like to think I heard the muffled version of his Bostonian tone and inflection while in utero, still comfortable with all of June and July to pass before I was fully baked.

I was a kid, or about to be one, so what did I have to look forward to aside from the space race, fear of a Russian nuclear attack and desegregation?


A quick search led me to the impressive knowledge that in 1961, several of the most popular Christmas gifts (toys) were:

LEGO Building Sets – I never owned any but my friends did and I think my brother had some.  In any case, I never managed to construct more than a simple staircase.  I was unable to visualize and build anything amazing.

Stratego – a game that I never owned because it is a battle strategy game.  Anything war-like would have been unwelcome at our house.  This is only a theory of mine, but I suspect my Mom—a pacifist, would have been protesting the war in Vietnam had she not been raising kids at the time.

Ken Carson (Barbie’s boyfriend) – What ?!?!?  Ken had a last name?  Where’s my memo? (More when I discuss “Ken issues” I had in 1968 and 1995.)

Slip ‘n Slide water slide – our family never owned one primarily because it was a big waste of water.  The few times I got to try one at a friend’s back yard party, I got brush burns when I careened off the slide onto the yard.  Another time I slipped and landed on my coccyx.  That hurt for days.

And I remember the painful feeling of every little rock that was formerly buried deep underground but suddenly worked to the surface when the grass became matted down with a sheet of yellow plastic and water.  I don’t care, they are still fun.

Trolls – A supposed waste of money, so I did not own one.  I envied those who did. Trolls were cute because they were so ugly.  I once got a mini troll with pink hair from a bubble gum machine.  That was as close as I ever got to the Holy Grail or the Geller Cup if you will.


What happened then?