Part I – Apollo – Age 7
As I’ve reached, and whizzed past, the mid-century mark of my own existence, I’ve begun to wonder, among other things, how Einstein’s Theory of Relativity might apply to memories. The faster and further I go through time and experiences, the more my earthbound brain ages, but the truth as it happened in the 1960s, and how I witnessed it, may still be there in its pristine original form.
The best I can do, all these years later, is attempt to capture the emotional essence, whilst questioning certain details, such as whether my grandma was visiting us in person on her birthday Sunday, July 20, 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, or whether we merely talked to her on the phone and my mind, thinking it would be cool to have her present in front of the black-and-white TV screen of my memories, photoshopped her image in there.
What is certain is that it was indeed her birthday, and that I had turned seven that spring. I had recently also made my First Holy Communion, having reached what the Catholic Church determines to be the age of reason, where I could be taught to form my conscience, to know right from wrong. I could begin to grasp the concept of a Sacrament, and know that the round white Host, once consecrated at Holy Mass, beheld mysteries luminous as the full Moon and even more amazing than the prospect of human beings landing on Earth’s satellite and leaving footprints in the dust. That little white circle of sweet-tasting bread became the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
As with my catechism classes in preparation for that great mystery, so had I led up to this day. For some time preceding, I had eagerly arisen to watch Gemini and Apollo missions being launched. I, the sleepy, cranky little girl who never did grow up into a morning person, had actually been willing to get out of bed when Mom told me a rocket launch was on the agenda. The litany of the countdowns, the excitement when the numbers reached zero and we had liftoff . . . the jettisoning of spent rocket stages. It was real, it was adventure, and I was watching it live. And this was the day of the Real Deal. These astronauts were really going to land their craft, step outside it, and walk around.
So, with each successive step leading up to that lunar landing on my grandma’s birthday, my excitement had built. It would continue through subsequent Apollo missions, and among many books I read in elementary school were children’s science fiction titles. I remember reading about Space Cat in a series of books by Ruthven Todd, and others that were probably written by such familiar names as Heinlein, Clarke, or Asimov, though specific names and books elude me.
The screen of our black-and-white TV gave off a bluish glow. The astronauts in their bulky suits moved like figures in a dream. One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. And a sense of possibility and progress was born in a young girl’s imagination. But what would happen to that excitement as that girl grew and life down on Earth went on around her? At the time, recall, there were no female astronauts, and soon I would learn that it was considered “dorky” to be into science. How I drifted from the wonder, and how I returned to it on an ordinary August day eight years later, will be the subject of my next few posts.