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Forty Years Ago Today

[this is a repost from some years ago, but seemed appropriate]

Back in July 1969 things were not so good in the little family on the lake. Massively bad health on the part of mommy and brother during the winter and spring had wiped out family finances. There was a bitter strike looming on the horizon at GE (finally hit in October--strike lasted over 100 days, over Christmas and through a rough winter).

The frig had died the year before, and we hadn't replaced it yet. During the winter the TV died, and we hadn't replaced it yet. Sometime in 1968 we stopped having a phone. I was wearing the same clothes I had two years before. There was no money to spare for anything except food, power, and medicine (well, they always had money for cigs for both and beer for dad and my allowance--spent on comic books).

Come July, my mom started nagging my dad about replacing the TV. Two weeks, nothing but nag. Dad just tuned her out, getting angrier and angrier in his silent brooding way. Then one afternoon my mom announced that that evening we were going to Mrs. Howlett's. I couldn't understand why--we never went anywhere at night, I didn't really like the Howlett kids, and they didn't have any kids my brother's age.

After dinner (which we had unusually early), my mom said to my dad "So, are you coming?" My dad replied with a sullen "No."

"Then I guess we're walking. Rosemary, put on some socks with those sneakers and let's go."
"Why? It's hot."
"Put on some socks." No negotiation, no reasoning, just an order. Very rare for my mom.

So, she took my 7 year old brother's hand, and we started walking. To the Howlett's. Three miles. In the evening. A 5'2" woman, and her two children. (I should point out there had been 4 roadside abductions in the area that year, which added to the tension level.)

Towards the end, my mom was pushing us to walk faster.
"Mom, what's so important about going to the Howlett's tonight. We can go another night. Daddy could drive us."

"We're going to watch television. There's something I want you to see."

So, we walked, and when we finally got there, out of breath, shin-splinted, bathed in sweat, the Howletts let us in.

"You walked???" Mrs. Howlett said.
Grimly, "Tom didn't want to come."
They exchanged a look that any married woman will recognize instantly. "Oh."

"Kids, make a space for Rosemary and Lee in front of the television."

As I sat down, there was a grainy black and white image on the TV, and this figure wrapped in marshmallows was climbing down a ladder.

"What is it?" I whispered to Debbie, the Howlett girl in my 4-H group.

Behind me I heard my mother say "Ssh. It's a man. On the moon." And I started listening and realized what was going on, and realized why it was so important for my mom to have us see it.

After about an hour of vaguely interesting images and increasingly boring commentary from Walter Cronkite, it was full dark and mom said we needed to go. Mr. Howlett drove us home because Mrs. Howlett wouldn't even listen to the idea of my half-blind mother leading her children home in the dark on twisty country roads.

Daddy was sitting right where he'd been when we left. He looked up when we came in, still angry at my mom but glad we were all home safe.

"It happen?"

My dad, who was one of the technicians on the Atlas rocket, stayed home that night. Pride, shame, anger--all three--kept him home instead of putting him where he could see a man from Ohio make footprints in moon dust.

Much of my gentle-hearted father's life was like that. Moments of bitter poetry.

Today, as they talk about the moon landing, I remember a fierce, determined woman pulling her children through the twilight so that they wouldn't miss history being made. And I remember a quiet, sad man, alone in the silence, dreaming of the sky.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 20th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you for re-sharing this.
Jul. 20th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
I did not know. Thank you. I will never forget the day myself.
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:24 am (UTC)
I vividly remember getting to stay up - and even though it was all I could do to keep my eyes open at the end, I watched all I could. Shortly after, we took a trip to Nebraska to visit the cousins. We spent every evening in the back yard, with the lawn chairs tipped so we were lying on our backs, sitting in the chairs, looking up at the stars and pretending we were in the spaceship. Cousin Mark grew up to work at NASA as an engineer. He has framed photos all over his house of the different crews with thank you messages on them - including Columbia. I envy his getting to be there, work there.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )