Thursday, July 17, 2014

Congratulations to Neil, Buzz, and Mike

It was forty-five years ago this week that Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins touched down and then cavorted on our planet’s sole satellite, the Moon. “That’s one small step for a man; one giant step for mankind,” Neil Armstrong intoned upon first touching the Moon’s surface. I don’t remember all that much about this obviously newsworthy goings-on—I was only six years old at the time—except that my mother composed a makeshift banner from a rather large scroll of yellow paper my uncle had purloined from his place of employment, the “phone company.” Yes, people back then worked for the “phone company” because there was only one of them. The paper banner proudly flew above our front door—fortunately, it didn’t rain—and read, “Congratulations to Neil, Buzz, and Mike.”  

I recall, too, a neighbor—the local rabbi’s wife—querying a group of us playing on my front stoop as to whether we were related to the “Banner Woman.” I proudly said I was. She appreciated the fact that my mom, without fail, recognized both holidays and historic national events with decorations and, in this instance, a somewhat crude banner celebrating the achievement of three valiant astronauts. After Neil, Buzz, and Mike's mission was a done deal, President Richard Nixon said, “As a result of what you’ve done, the world has never been closer before.” That may, in fact, have been true—for one brief shining moment at least.

In retrospect, though, what I find most fascinating about July 1969—and growing up in the Bronx’s Kingsbridge—is the evident duality. My youthful memories are of a gritty urban lifestyle organically commingling with a small town charm. The late-1960s and early-1970s were tumultuous times in the country at large and, to a great extent, in Kingsbridge as well: the Vietnam War, social unrest, drugs—the whole kit and caboodle. I, though, was spared all of the above. Three men actually walking on the surface of the Moon—and my mom commemorating it—is just one of many fond recollections from my boyhood. I don’t think there is anything that could occur today that would generate a banner of congratulations in the old neighborhood. A leisurely walk on Mars wouldn’t even do it; wouldn't come near capturing that singular Apollo 11 snapshot in time.

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