One Time, One Night In America

What I remember about the moon landing is we got to stay up late to watch it. Some of my friends were over. I think Andrew van Pelt and Becky Morrow – I could be wrong but its my memory so who’s to correct. I was 6 and I guess Becky was too. Andrew was 8 and I thought it was cool to have a big kid as a friend. Someone had given us a huge pad of paper and told us to draw spaceships on it. Andrew’s were the best – as usual. I thought everything he did was the best.

July in Chicago meant nights so hot my mother would spread an old canvas tarp on the porch and we’d sleep there, hoping for a breeze. Air conditioning was for people with more money than we had. So were color TVs. We had a black & white as did nearly everyone else I knew.

(The Tates were the only people who had color, which is why I liked to go over there on Saturday morning – the only time cartoons were on. This did not make up for the fact that they named their son – my other best friend – Ira. Ira Tate. Honestly you’d think they’d never gone to elementary school.)

Read the press today and you’d think Walter Cronkite was the only TV person to cover the landings. With only three networks to choose from though families had enormous loyalty to their preferred network. We were ABC not CBS, and so I remember Frank Reynolds narrating. Reynolds had silver hair and a voice like dark silk. (Cronkite’s voice grated on my ears when I was younger. The loss of the 6-year-old demographic did not seem to hamper him much.) If I could have picked what I would look and sound like when I grew up it would have been Frank Reynolds. He was teamed up with the ur-nerd, Jules Bergman – there was something Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin-like about them together.

I do not think I remember the landing itself, just Reynolds’ voice. I say think because I have watched it so many times since that I’m not sure. But all the memories I have of the event itself are aural. The statically crackling of Neil Armstrong terse phrases. Even at the time I thought it was stiff but I also thought it was amazing.

The moon landing was a big deal but it wasn’t surprising. I was a nascent sci-fi geek and learning to read from my brothers’ comic books. I had already seen the Fantastic Four defeat Galactus, the planet-eating villain. It was a year when anything seemed possible – the Cubs were in first place, five games ahead of some expansion team from New York. I was going to be an astronaut or a fireman. Either way I’d get to go into space. We’d all be in space by the time I grew up.

All that is why I wrote this short story.

     “Told you so!” Cholly shouted with a seven-year-old’s self-righteous glee.

      Isaac’s skepticism was near total. Not only was he nine and doubting everything, but he had never ever admitted his sister was right. Then there was the matter of the room they were in. It was huge and dark and at the back of an old building, with aisles and aisles of shelves that reached to the ceiling where the light bulbs gave off a dim, green light. They had been let into the room by a woman who seemed as old as the building. She had very little hair and wrinkles everywhere and had smiled at Cholly, but only lowered her eyelids and snorted when she met Isaac. In short, Isaac was scared. And the more scared he felt, the more he couldn’t possibly admit Cholly was right.

      But there it was, in a permanent book. That made him even more nervous. Almost every book he’d ever seen was printed out then cycled when you were done with it. His parents only had one permanent at home. It was very old. Bible, they called it. Which was the story of God. Isaac wasn’t sure who God was, but knew God was big and dangerous. As much as possible he avoided being alone in the room with Bible. So books scared him, too. And he had been telling Cholly it was all impossible since yesterday. People gone to the moon. Not really.

      Yesterday Cholly had come home and that was all she would talk about.

      “I saw it. I saw the pictures.” She was whining because instead of wanting to go see it, he just said it never happened.

      “I’d have known about it,” he said with a nine-year-old’s unshakable certainty.

      “I’ll show you,” she said, making it sound like a threat.