Saturday, July 20, 2019

Flashes of Image and Sound

You know the way memories play in isolated flashes of image and sound, honing in sharply on some details and graying out others. I have a lingering memory like that which recent events have recalled. It was 1969 and I was soon to turn 16, probably the last family vacation I went on before I headed off to college. We had gone to Door County in Wisconsin. We stayed in one of those little motels that dotted the roadways in those days. Basically it was a room in a string of rooms, all on one level. The door opened to a sidewalk and a strip of grass. I recall a screen door filtering the mottled light of the dark interior where my father sat watching television. My memory recalls only grass at my feet, sunshine, that dark space beyond that screen door and my father’s voice.

“Come here,” he called out.”History is being made!”  

And it was. Man was walking on the moon. As I recall we were not especially impressed, inured to the mysteries of anything that appeared on television and certain that anything important would be replayed. Vacation awaited and there he sat watching television!

He was 44 then, a young man by my yardstick today, more than 20 years younger than I am now. I somehow don’t recall him as young, the lens of my own youth obscuring any possibility of parental youth. When I think of the world he came from I realize that two things were part of how he experienced this event, that man walked on the moon and that he could watch it live on television.  My dad was a TV guy and watched it come of age in the course of his lifetime. A few years after this day he brought public television to Central Illinois. I’m quite sure the element of watching the moon landing live on television was part of his enthusiasm.

As we look back on that moment in history, I consider that fleeting moment in my own history. I wonder what was so important that we weren’t glued to the TV along with him. In one version of my memory I recall poking my head in for a second to see what had him so engaged before I traded that dark space and fuzzy black and white imagery for the sunny day that awaited in vivid technicolor. 

CNN has a video online titled “See the moon landing as they did 50 years ago.” I must confess it made my heart beat a little faster, as if I could step back in time to that day, my personal day. I pushed play and imagined myself back in time, this time in that dreary motel room watching history along with my father. 

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