Good Afternoon, Moon
On Sunday, June 20, 1969, my family was taking a ride to see my grandparents in East Boston, MA. They had moved from the second-floor tenement they had lived in on Federal Hill in Providence, RI. They had lived there practically their entire married life, but the state had plans to develop a highway. The old three-decker was slated for demolition, so they moved to a three-decker in East Boston that had been in the family for many, many years. My grandparents now occupied the third-floor tenement where I had visited my great uncle and great aunt throughout my childhood.
On this particular Sunday, my parents, three brothers, sister, and I bounded into the family station wagon. It didn’t have a third-row seat, but it did have a “way back”. I don’t think third-row seats had been invented, yet. They certainly did not exist in my world. All the families I knew had a “way back” to transport the extra kids who didn’t fit on the seats. These extra kids were not strapped in with any type of safety restraint, but neither were the kids on the seats. For that matter, neither were the adults. Safety belts hadn’t been invented yet!
As we had done so many countless times throughout my childhood, we headed for East Boston. When we drove through the tunnel, we knew we were close.
However, this was no ordinary Sunday. This was the day Apollo 11 was due to land on the moon. Even though I was a “cool” college kid about to enter my junior year, this was a very big deal. President Kennedy had promised us that we would put a man on the moon before the decade was over. Barring any catastrophes, this was the day it was going to happen. The whole nation was waiting with bated breath. It was sobering to remember how emphatic JFK was when he made that promise, and remarkable that the promise would be fulfilled today even though he would not be here to see it.
My father made sure that we arrived with plenty of time to spare to watch the landing live on television. My grandmother’s two sisters occupied the other two tenements in the building. That afternoon, no one was roaming around between floors. Everyone had finished dinner and was glued to the television sets. All you could hear were the newscasters and the static. Remember, it was 1969. There was tin foil on makeshift antennas. Technology was putting a man on the moon, but television, after all, was a whole other story!
We all watched in amazement along with the rest of the country as Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon. There was not a sound in the entire building as he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” You could hear the country’s collective sigh of relief.
It had happened. Everyone was safe. The whole country seemed to be on the same page. How refreshing!
As I write this, we are celebrating the 50-year anniversary of that landing. I vividly remember that moment. Although I frequently use “google science” to check my memory, I did not have to check much here. I checked to see if I had recalled Neil’s words correctly. I had.
This was a true American moment that jumps out at me as I recall the sixties!