We sat there on my girlfriend's porch on the night of July 21, 1969, astounded by what we had just seen on television inside her house.
Men were on another planet, and as we gazed at what was almost a full moon that night our amazement grew. It was like catching stardust in your hand and being able to look at it.
The evening had started as many summer evenings did in Salt Lake City for me. I got off of work at my summer job at a furniture plant near my home in Murray, and drove my car up to Harvard Avenue where she lived. At the time I-15 had not been around a long time and as I passed the Cheyenne Cutoff to go to 1300 East I crossed onto I-80, which as a seven year old a decade before, I remembered it being built down from Parley's Canyon.
When I reached her house, her mother offered me dinner and we ate something and then went for a drive. I was approaching my senior year at Murray High, while she would be a junior at East High that fall.
I don't remember where we went, but at about dusk we returned and went in the house. As we walked in there were wisps of smoke everywhere as her father sat and smoked a cigarette, along with having a glass of whiskey. This seemed to be his nightly fare. He and her mom were seated in front of the television, and there on the moon was Neil Armstrong walking through the dust.
It was a science fiction reader's dream. Being that I was one then it was so exciting I could hardly contain myself. There I was watching one of the most momentous moments in the history of man, seated by a beautiful girl, with my bright blue Galaxie that I shined up daily sitting in the driveway and a full stomach from good home cooking.
What more could a guy want at 17?
It was then that we went out on the porch. We sat there talking about what had happened and our future. We wondered what it would be like? We wondered once this was done, how long it would take for us to be seeing live television from Mars with men strolling along the surface? We wondered what our college years would bring and what successes we would achieve?
In the end I ended up having two reasons for remembering that night though. One was historic, the other, was personally hurtful. She told me as I left to go home that night that she was breaking up with me. Up to that time I had never had a girlfriend like her. It was a blow to the stomach. Suddenly a historic night felt empty. I had been going out with her for over a year and I wondered what was I to do now.
Young and stupid I drove home upset, crying much of the way. I was lucky I lived to see July 22.
Of course the grief ended, actually rather quickly as I found there were other girls in the world to go out with. However that night has stuck in my mind ever since.
So when I found out that Neil Armstrong had died last weekend a lot of feelings came rushing back.
When you are 17 your world is so small. Despite the fact you think you are an adult in all ways, you are not. Yet the impressions of the world you get at that age last a lifetime. What was important to me then has little relevance now, 43 years later.
I was listening to an NPR show the other day that had people calling in about where they were when they watched Armstrong walk on the moon. One guy said he was with his girlfriend watching the events on the television with her 92 year old aunt somewhere in Colorado. He asked her, knowing she had come across the plains in a covered wagon, what she thought of the fact that a man was actually walking on the moon. She said "I saw the trains, the cars and the planes come over the years. But what amazes me more about this is not that he is doing it, but that I can watch him do it."
Another woman said that her husband was stationed with the Air Force in Okinawa at the time and that she was living with her mother in Virginia at the time. She had a 17 month old son and her mother took him out on the lawn and laid and looked at the moon all night while they talked about what had happened.
At least half the people that are reading this column are either too young to remember that night or weren't even born yet. But those readers have their times too, things that they remember where they were and what they were doing. Some of those memories are good, some are tragic.
Armstrong takes with him a legacy we have not followed up on. No one has landed on the moon in 40 years. In fact no one has ventured more than a few hundred miles into space since the time of the last Apollo flight in the early 70s.
Sure there are starving people in the world; sure there are people out of work; sure we have a lot of woes in this country and around the world. But the kind of events that make us grow sometimes need to transcend our problems and those of the world. I'm not sure we could do that again, because the human race has become more self absorbed than ever.
When will we endeavor to catch that stardust in our hands again?