I turned ten the summer that an American astronaut took that giant leap for mankind. Being young and a child of the New Frontier, it seemed (almost) a perfectly natural event. With Neil Armstrong's death this weekend, I wonder if maybe, just maybe, beyond the moon and well into the heavens, my dad's already given Armstrong a handshake or a pat on the back.
My mom is from a seaport town in New England and we were vacationing there that July... Catching up with favored cousins, body surfing at Hampton Beach, and squealing with both horror and delight through visits to the lobster pound. The banded claws didn't convince us that the creatures wouldn't break through the brown paper bags on the floor, crawl up the back seat, pinch our sunburned skin and never let go.
One thing I really looked forward to that year was my first trip to Fenway to see the Red Sox... Carl Yastrzemski, Tony Conigliaro, Carlton Fisk... But when the day came, the executive decision came down--no Green Monster. So, baseball fan or not, for my dad it was like "Holy crap! A man is going to walk on the moon!" For me it was more like , "Of course. Why wouldn't a man walk on the moon?"
Dad was born to Irish immigrants in New York City in 1922. Obviously he grew up without television. He sailed, not flew, to Europe and back as a young man. And I would guess his image of space travel was formed by comic book aliens.
"We're going to stay here and watch a man walk on the moon," my dad declared. I was disappointed but soon yielded to the excitement around me, joining the masses around the world as Neil Armstrong backed down a ladder, planted our flag and bounced around on the lunar landscape. I can still see the staticy, grey-scale images on my great uncle's then-fancy, now-vintage, console TV.
It's hard to put history into perspective when you've barely lived a decade on this planet. The moonwalk was cool and all, but it wasn't until well into my adulthood that I truly appreciated what that moment must have meant to my dad, a man whose generation may have been the first to say "What'll they think of next?!"
I still haven't made it to Fenway, but Neil Armstrong's "small step" is no longer lost on me and, much to my children's eye-rolling amusement, hardly a day goes by when I don't look at my iPhone and say, "What'll they think of next?"