Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong

I was 14 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  Everyone in our house gathered in front of our TV set to watch the broadcast.  I was into science fiction and science and UFOs (yes, I know that interest doesn't go with science, but, hey, I was 14), and I was bursting with excitement at the prospect of watching the first human take a step onto the moon. 

Mrs. Phillips, a woman in her late nineties who lived down the street, joined us.  She had ridden west as a child in a covered wagon, became a nurse, was too old to be a nurse in World War I, and retired into the first house in our neighborhood.  She was a good friend who helped me get lawn-mowing customers and who taught me a great deal about how a person should behave. 

Right after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon's surface and spoke his immortal line, I glanced around the room.  Everyone else was still watching, but only two of us, Mrs. Phillips and I, had tears in our eyes and mouths open in wonder. 

Years later, when they announced the first shuttle mission-specialist program, I applied.  I was turned down early; having one arm shorter than the other from a very bad childhood break disqualified me.  I knew it would, but I wrote an impassioned essay anyway.  I had to try.  I'd seen a man walk on the moon, and I wanted to do the same. 

Neil Armstrong showed up at a few SF-related gatherings, but not many, and none I attended.  I never had the chance to meet him or even hear him talk.  His influence, though, on a 14-year-old Florida boy was profound, and so I am grateful to him and to all the people who did all the work that made his famous mission possible.

With Armstrong's death, we've lost a national treasure and one of the few humans to have stood on another rock in space, looked up at the earth, and known a wonder still unavailable to almost all of humanity. 

Good-bye, Neil Armstrong, good-bye. 

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I was at summer camp and they had a b/w tv in the rec hall and we watched the moon landing. We were all crowded around the console and I remember the cheers and cries after his "One Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind" remark. The newspaper ran the headlines "Moonday" the day after. No other space landing was quite as thrilling or as vivid in my memory. What a wonderful moment in history.


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