I wish I was at my parents’ table this morning. I want coffee and shredded wheat, toast with Mum’s marmalade heaped high and Dad’s stories. And I’d ask them both again about the moon landing. That’s the story I want to hear this morning.
They were young parents in 1969. In the photograph, they were ridiculously young. But I suppose photos of your parents being young always look ridiculously young. If I do the math, Mum was six years younger that I am now, and six years ago, I, too, had a baby in arms. So, not that ridiculous. Their bundle of baby was number 1 – my biggest sister, Janet. The photo shows the three of them on the beach, Mum and Dad in silly bathing suits. Whenever people mention the moon landing or Neil Armstrong, I always I think about that photo. I imagine the lake behind them, the bright sunshine, sand and grass, and a red picnic blanket. A far cry from the moon. July 1969.
The photo was taken up at Gracefield on Lac Castor in the Gatineau Hills. It’s a place where I spent all my summers as a child, and then as a teenager. The kind of place that epitomizes summer so much that you get lonesome for it every time February rolls around. I went there without my parents – a duffle bag and a big hug and there I was, shipped off on the camp bus to my extreme delight. Sure, my sisters worked in the kitchen, and later my brother was around the place, too, mucking about with canoes. But I had a place there almost outside the lines of my family. All of our orbits shifted in the summer. We were creating our own definitions, listening for God’s specific call in our own lives. Our parents would come up to visit, and I remember taking them on a tour of the place, pointing everything out. It was almost impossible to remember that this was a place they had been before I was even a twinkle. History and geography are strange in families.
But, in 1969, my parents were already there.
I can’t remember why they were there specifically. Maybe it was a group that went up from their church or maybe they were just on their own. And I don’t know if they were there for weeks on end or just for the night. But that night, they watched the moon landing on a television set in Beaver Lodge. They watched Neil Armstrong take his step. They held their breath and watched.
I want to hear Dad talk about that. My dad likes to tell stories, and he likes to remember the specifics. And space is important to Dad – he had a long career as an aerospace engineer. There are pictures of my sisters as tiny tots standing beside satellites he’d worked on. For a while, he and Mum lived in out of a motel in California so he could be present for shuttle launches. And he played a part in building the Canadarm, as I’m sure every kid on my primary school playground could tell you – yeah, I was a bit like that. Dad isn’t. Like Neil Armstrong, my Dad is a humble and gentle man, an old-school engineer, pleased to be a part of work that makes the world wonder. I remember nights when Dad would wake us kids up and take us out to stand at the bottom of the driveway just to watch satellites pass over our heads.
Watching the first moon landing would have been significant for Dad in interesting ways. I wonder what it was like to sit with him in Beaver Lodge that night. I wonder how he spoke about it. I wonder what he watched for, what he wondered.
And I wonder if Janet was sleeping during the broadcast. During Obama’s inauguration – another slice of American history writ large for the world – I danced my tiny Blue a hundred miles around the living room chez my dear friend Darlene as she did the same with her daughter, and we watched history on the television. I wonder if it was like that for Mum and Janet.
But when Mum tells the story of the moon landing, she doesn’t mention Janet, so maybe she did sleep through it. She was very little. Mum does talk about the teenagers around who weren’t interested in watching TV that night. That surprised Mum and disappointed her, too. One fifth of the population of the planet were watching, but this group of teenagers in the Quebec wilds preferred not to. But maybe it was a golden opportunity to get some unsupervised time while the adults were firmly planted with their eyes fixed elsewhere. This was one month before Woodstock, after all.
After the broadcast was finished, what did they all have to say? Was it a clear night in Quebec? Did they go outside and look up? And then later in the night, there would be the cry of loons, wouldn’t there? I still hear them sometimes when I’m half-asleep and half a world away. Janet would have heard them, too, and would have woken because babies do. And my mum, a young mum, would have woken, too, and held her close, walking with her to the long window in the lounge where they could watch the lake together and see the moon’s reflection quiet on the water.