To be fair, I believe that everyone involved in this story did their best, but geeze…
July 20, 1969 was my twelfth birthday. I was about a year into a four-year Star paper delivery gig which gave me time to read the paper while I folded my neighbor’s papers, packed my bicycle saddle bags and then set off to deliver my load by the set deadline of 6:00 AM and to within 6-feet of the front door. A 4:30 wake up is quite a load and my bike was very heavy, but I got a good deal of fresh air and a view of my neighborhood unseen by most sleepy-heads.
I was a verifiable space-nut. I remember Mercury, and Gemini was my favorite. The fire inside the Apollo 1 capsule was unfortunate, but I had long understood that great achievements often required great sacrifice.
I was growing up at the tail end of the “Baby Boom” with parents who had been through the Depression and a Father who served in the Army from WWII to Korea. Sacrifice was understood as a requirement. My Mom’s sacrifice, raising 6 kids after four 1950’s C-sections was among the highest sacrifices.
So it was odd when I was to receive a roller skating party for my birthday with a whole neighborhood of kids, right in the middle of the day and right at the time when Apollo 11 Lunar Excursion Module would be attempting a historic landing. I was not very popular, but I seemed to be on this day.
I was watching our black and white television, listening to the radio chatter and Walter Cronkite, when the call came to leave for the skating rink. Really? They’re about to land on the Moon! I ignored these unimportant calls as the culmination of my hopes and early morning dreams began to be intertwine.
I remember being carried out of the house by my brother. Maybe the mode of motion is a fit of memory, but it will suffice to say that I missed the landing on the Moon.
Later, during this immensely boring roller skate/birthday party and as I was presented with an actual store-bought cake one of my brothers tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hey Jimmy,” (I hated the diminutive name), “they landed on the Moon.”
“Yeah!” I said.
Noting my attitude, he said, “Well, they almost didn’t.”
“But they did,” I replied.
Later, it appeared that I was for once quite popular in the neighborhood, at least among parents. My roller skating party was designed to get kids out of the house and away from TV sets and radios in case the landing went badly.
In defense of my parents and those within the neighborhood, this was the year after 1968 when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were murdered. It was the year after the TET Offensive, where casualty rates peaked at over 500/week. We grew up with pleas for justice that were met with fire hoses. These were harsh times and they were displayed on our televisions.
1968 was also the year that a Tucson lad commanded the first manned mission to orbit the Moon. Col. Borman was my favorite, but Neil and Buzz would do. Michael, in the Command Service Module was the epitome of cool.
That night, into the wee hours, I watched men walking on the Moon. Today I live in a country that misunderstands sacrifice and holds too many “roller skate parties,” Though I missed the landing, I remember our travels to the Moon as a shining example of our nation’s best efforts within peaceful means.