Moon Landing was Momentous Event Signifying Limitless Opportunity
Growing up in the baby boomer generation there were several signature events that we remember in detail no matter how foggy memories get of other things in the past. The first, which is discussed quite often is how vividly most of us remember the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember being in an assembly for a television science program in my elementary school auditorium when a news report interrupted with the horrifying news. I was in fourth grade and remember wondering why the president had gone to war, because that was my only frame of reference to getting shot and killed.
The second, was the day the Beatles performed on Ed Sullivan. Whether you are a Beatles fan or not, this event was so large in our world at the time that most people remember it down to the finest detail of where they were and who they were with. I was at home watching it with my dad on black and white TV. My dad called them “long-haired weirdos” that night and later became one of their biggest fans.
The third, for me at least, was the miraculous day of the July 1969 moon landing by our astronauts. Ah, the summer of ’69. Bryan Adams had a terrific hit song with that title, and it was fittingly and appropriately about the more innocent days of youth – a coming of age song.
I have a mostly freakish memory for details, although my short term memory is going. So not only do I remember where I was and who I was with when the exciting moon landing event occurred, I remember that entire summer quite vividly -as if it was one of those coming of age movies set in that era such as “Stand By Me.”
Well, it is a movie in my mind, at any rate, even if it’s not worthy of a Hollywood type scripting.
My youthful carefree summers were a thing of my past by 1969. I began filling up all of my free time with babysitting jobs three summers before to keep up with the Joneses at school in clothing and accessories -which were very important to the upwardly mobile middle class families in my area.
In the summer of 1969, at age 14 I had just graduated junior high in the ninth grade, and was looking forward to my first year in high school. I was not old enough to work in retail or as a waitress, which I found more financially lucrative when I was of age, but I settled on maximizing the money I could earn as a “mother’s helper.” This involved living with a family as their full time babysitter. (Cue: poor waif)
It was the first time I tried this new role, and when I first arrived at the modest home of an upper-middle class family with three young children, I was very homesick and lonely. Little did I know in those first days as I adapted to my new role, duties, and my babysitting charges, what a utopia of a neighborhood I stumbled into – known as 2nd and Cheltenham in the Philadelphia area.
All I knew about the neighborhood prior to this was that it was three buses away from my own. The homes seemed a bit larger but were row homes just like in my neighborhood, albeit more recently built. This was more of an upper middle class development, and a young neighborhood, filled to the brim with families with children of all ages. My own older neighborhood was mixed with many older people as well as young families, so I had never seen anything quite like this.
Besides, as I would later learn – the camaraderie, cohesiveness and “it takes a village” mentality of these neighbors was another phenomenon I had never experienced before. Every neighbor was the best of friends with all of the other neighbors, and events like July 4th were a festival of sharing good times together. Now as a live-in Mother’s Helper, I was part of the mix.
Just a few days after homesickness tears stained my pillow at night (on a bed stuck in the baby’s room in true Cinderella style) I was walking down the street towards a playground when a few friendly girls introduced themselves and I made some instant friends.
These two girls my age were an absolute perfect cure for my homesickness, and as the time progressed, whatever free time I had was spent with them. Sometimes, the two younger children I was in charge of accompanied me just to hang out with them. We were all “good girls” and didn’t get into any mischief, so it seemed luxurious to be able to combine some social life with my job such as walking to the local luncheonette called Pauline and Eddie’s, where we would all get ice cream treats.
One of the girls had an older brother who was tall and tanned and athletic, and who was the object of my summer crush. He was usually busy playing sports and didn’t give me the time of day, but I got to see him a bunch just because I was with his sister so much. (This was an adorable family of kids anyway – there were three or four very handsome friendly children, all with names starting with “J.”)
Do you see the movie plot here – I even have a love interest!
This time in life was the height of my gawky, awkward, early adolescent growth spurt and though I wasn’t very confident, I was extremely social. My summer was rescued by these two wonderful girls. They introduced me to an increasingly larger circle of kids from their neighborhood who hung out by a stone wall. I remember these days as fun rather than filled with the drudgery of my work, and mostly this was because I was in a neighborhood that was rich in terms of quality, friendly people my age.
One boy even developed a little crush on me – not reciprocated of course because I was pining for my friend’s older brother.
The magic of a summer of fun surrounded by a whole new crowd of -to use 60’s lingo- “groovy” kids- some extremely funny, under the guise of working, was a real coming of age for me as I learned I could juggle responsibility with fun times and lots of laughter. Being welcomed into the warm folds of this special neighborhood was a true gift.
The culminating event of the summer came on July 20, 1969 – near the end of my working there because I was set to go off to my last three week session of overnight camp while my employers were leaving for a long vacation.
The moon landing was the buzz of the neighborhood. We knew it was imminent and the day finally arrived when we would see Neil Armstrong and the other astronauts land.
Several neighbors crowded into my friend’s house to see the moon landing on their color TV with excited anticipation. (This would never have occurred in my own neighborhood) All eyes were glued to the grainy video on the TV as we listened to the scratchy but strong voice of Neil Armstrong saying “The Eagle Has Landed,” and let out cheers. And as we all watched in wide-eyed wonder together, the first steps on the moon were taken. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” indeed.
Just as this incredibly momentous event perfectly signified for us baby boomer kids the limitless possibilities and opportunities for a brighter future, for me personally, it was a fitting culmination of a special, coming of age summer.
Would love to hear your memories of what you were doing when you saw that special televised event that summer.
Footnote: RIP Neil Armstrong. You were an American hero to all of us.