How Twigs Get Bent: A Late Night and A Long Trip

Forty-one years ago today, I was almost four years old, and men walked on the moon.

I had gone to bed already, but my parents woke me up for the occasion. It was nearly ten o’clock, Nashville time, but my parents and I sat on a black leatherette sofa bed, watching the television in the corner of our living room. Dad was 26; Mom was 25, ages that now I still see as being a kid in our ever expanding adolescence, but that then seemed impossibly grown-up. It was our first house, in a working-class neighborhood near Dad’s office and the drugstore where he bought his science fiction paperbacks and the comic books we’d both read. And we knew that we were watching the stuff we had read about in those books and comics, but that now it was real, and it was adventure, and even if we weren’t there ourselves, we could drink Tang and be just a little part of it and part of the future that came with it. After all, Dad worked with computers, and those were pieces of the future as well, weren’t they? I couldn’t have explained it then as the excitement of a seemingly infinite expanse of possibility, but I know I felt it, and my parents felt it as well. Yes, it was dangerous, but that just made doing it that much more of a triumph.

I wish I could say that I remember all the details, but of course, I don’t. I remember my dad telling me that the astronauts had to walk very carefully, because if they fell down and tore their suits, they would die. I think I remember asking if we were the boss of  the moon because we had gotten there first, and my folks told me that Americans didn’t want to be anybody’s boss, but getting there first meant that no one else could be boss either. I don’t remember how much of the two-plus hours I watched, but I remember telling my dad, when I went back to bed, that I wanted to go to the moon one day. He said he’d like that, too.

We don’t seem that interested in going to the moon anymore, or much of anywhere else either, having chosen to turn inward, away from risk, away from adventure, feathering our society’s nest as best we can. Perhaps that’s more mature — I don’t know. And maybe this opens the door for private efforts, driven by wills that aren’t responsible to electorates. Maybe that’s good, too. But what have we as a nation given up by making that choice? My friends and I wanted to go to the moon, or to L5, or at least to help others get there. I don’t think any of us wanted to be apparatchiks of the welfare state when we grew up. And while there may be virtues to what we see as social welfare, I’d argue that it’s not the stuff of adventure, and it’s not the stuff of greatness.

Mom and Dad are gone now, somewhere far beyond the moon, where Dad never got his chance to go, and I know I’ll never get there either — I’m too old, too fat, and have the wrong sort of smarts for the job. And as I said, my compatriots don’t seem to care about it that much anymore, and prefer to expend their efforts elsewhere. But I’m grateful that one night, the three of us had a chance to feel like a part of us had made it there. And I hope that one day my daughter and the generations of Americans to come can feel the way one ordinary American family felt in Nashville, 41 years ago.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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7 Responses to How Twigs Get Bent: A Late Night and A Long Trip

  1. majormaddog says:

    Here’s a liberal who agrees with you that we should go there again (hopefully in my lifetime). I spent half a year back in my days as a Russian linguist doing some space-related things about which I cannot really give much detail in this forum. I was stationed in Turkey and was doing the humdrum Russian linguist job young sailors were sent to Sinop to do. And then there was this other mission they did there as well. I remember working hard to finagle myself into that job. I read all the materials they had and talked to the people working the mission, so that I could be in line to move into the job when somebody left. Part of the reason I wanted the job was because it was a little prestigious. And part was because it was a chance to work with 100% of the Russian language, rather than the 15% we used in the other mission. But I also remember how exotic and exciting it was to do that mission. Ever since I’ve been a big proponent of manned space programs. Since that time I’ve touched the edges of the space program a couple of times. I’ve escorted Russian dignitaries to Washington D.C., where they all wanted to visit and talk about the space exhibits at the Air and Space Museum. I’ve done some interpreting for visiting Russian officials at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. I also worked for 3 years in 14th Air Force – the Numbered Air Force responsible for Air Force space stuff. Still, I’ve never again gotten close to what I did in that mission in Turkey. And I’ve never lost that interest in getting the U.S. to return to big time manned space flight.

  2. Fudd says:

    So I was at the launch, but of course I was all of a year and a half old at the time and remember nothing of it. Unfortunately the things I have been old enough to remember are far less impressive.

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  7. profmondo says:

    Reblogged this on Professor Mondo and commented:

    I wrote this nine years ago, but it’s a piece I’ve always been proud of. Happy anniversary.

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