Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Dad and the Moonwalk, 1969
It was Joyce's birthday when Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon. July 20, 1969. She and I had met only a week or so before, and I already knew: She is the one! It would take her a somewhat longer while to think something similar about me.
We had decided to marry early in our relationship, and we had spent some of our summer weeks (after the end of the summer session at Kent State, where we'd met) running around meeting relatives on both sides of the family. We went to Indianapolis to meet my aunt Naomi and uncle Ronald (he would deliver the meditation at our wedding on December 20 that year), to Des Moines to meet my parents and older brother (who was teaching at the University of Iowa at the time), to Stanfordville, NY, to meet Joyce's aunt Kathy and uncle Gene Gilhuly.
We were in Des Moines when the launch of Apollo 11 occurred on July 16, which, coincidentally, would be the birthday of our son, three years later. Dad was watching religiously--a word I don't use lightly. Although he was working now at Drake University (they'd moved from Hiram College in the fall of 1966) and would not retire for a few more years, he had already begun watching lots of television (football, mostly), but the moon shot caught his imagination.
He had always been fiercely patriotic. A combat veteran of World War II (he'd been in both theaters, Pacific and European), he'd been called back to active duty during the Korean War but was sent to Amarillo (Texas) Air Force Base to be the chaplain there. No combat this time.
Throughout my boyhood, when he watched sporting events on television, he zlways stood up, came to full attention, and saluted during the National Anthem. He was not kidding around.
Anyway, Dad was doing a lot of standing and saluting during the Apollo voyage to the moon--not because of the National Anthem but because of his pride in what his country was doing.
My father died in November 1999, but I still think about him, every day. And I think, too, about the changes he lived to see. Born on an Oregon farm in 1913, he sometimes rode a horse to school. Outdoor plumbing at home. No telephone.
As technology swept along, Dad kept up for a while, but I think the last device he learned to use with some dexterity was a TV remote. (His sons had grown up in the era when you had to walk across the room to change the channels.) It was also one of the last things he was able to use.
He did not learn to use an ATM, to use self-serve gas. Self-serve grocery scanners and smart phones were in a future he wouldn't see, but his grandson, Steve, in the mid-1990s, had the first cellphone in the family, and Dad seemed dazzled by it. Or puzzled. Why would you want to be available always?
Mom had one of the first computers in the family, an Apple II. And she became pretty adept with it, and, many computer generations later, was still using email into her 90s. But then her memory began to fail, her fingers wouldn't do what she wanted them to, and she gradually had to give it up, late in 2009. I've been writing snail-mail to her ever since.
Dad had no interest in computers. I think Mom tried to get him interested, but he just wasn't--though I must add that the choreography between them had become so intricate that it's hard to tell exactly what went on there.
But one of the enduring images of my father remains. He stands at attention, saluting the Apollo astronauts, while Joyce and I, commencing our own remarkable voyage, watch in wonder.