My moon landing memory.
My family ran a campground up on Island Lake, near Spooner Wisconsin. Back then it was basically in the middle of nowhere. The television, like everyone’s, got its black and white image via an antenna that was outside on the side of the cabin. Since we were far from a larger city the reception was always horrible. No cable, or internet connections in those days, the idea of a perfect picture was not even an idea. There was always "fuzz" or static. The particular TV set we had at the cabin was also old, the image was always stretched out and people had pointy heads. Sometimes one of us kids or my dad would have to hit it hard to sharpen up the picture, this sort of temporarily improved things. It was the same TV set that I recall watching The Beverly Hillbillies and Johnny Carson. Or, horrifying images of the war raging in Vietnam, civil rights protestors being beaten, fire hoses pummeling them down, dogs attacking them. Yet that night, fifty years ago, something very different, something hopeful and beautiful was on the TV.
There were some campers staying with us so my dad ran a feed from our antenna to another TV set he had put up outside for the campers to watch. This seemed like an amazing luxury to me, another TV set up OUTSIDE! It was a marvelous localized technological advancement that seemed even bigger than what we were witnessing ON the TV's.
We sat there, a warmish summer night, on our screened in porch watching Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. I recall his head being a bit pointy, the black and white picture was really hard to see, it was like snow falling. Yet it was magical moment burned into my 12-year-old brain. As I ponder it here at 62 I suddenly have an image of my Granny Frink, who around that time would tell us kid’s stories of seeing her first airplane. She had a bit of wonderment in her voice. And we were amazed, not that she had seen an airplane, no. What amazed me was that there was a time when airplanes DIDN'T exist. There was a time before when our imaginations could only fly. It was a hard thing to believe. I think there is another subtler point here to make. That is that we were watching an amazing feat of technological advancement ON a similar feat of technological advancement…the TV set itself. My Granny witnessed the flying plane with her own eyes. My similar experience was mediated by another medium. As Marshal. McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message”. A prophetic statement that still resonates and has become even more entwined with our collective and individual experiences and memories.
Now my grandkids can look at me as I tell them the story of watching people-on the tv-walk on the moon. The amazement I felt, and still feel. When there was a time when my imagination was the only way to go to the moon. The moon still lives large in my imagination and it is in my art. I think we are always treading some weird fragile line of truth, myth, poetry, thought, rationality and prescience. The stories we tell each other balance on this line. There are momentous events that shift reality, that alter our very imaginations. For my Granny Frink it was an airplane, for me it was fifty years ago watching the little pointy headed people jumping around on the moon.