Chapter Four: The Man on the Moon
From Letters to my Mother. It was July 20, 1969. We knew of the moon - of course - but a spaceship? On the moon? A spaceship from America. On a moon, on a television.
It was July 20, 1969.
I was nine, skinny, leggy, freckly, gangly, and awkward, with wayward thick, long, dark curls right down my back. My eyes were blue and my teeth crooked. My hand-me-down clothes never fit right; they were always either too big or I was growing out of them. It bothered my mum more than it bothered me. She told me I just had long arms, that's why my wrists were always sticking out. And that sounded perfectly feasible.
We were a big family living in a sleepy shore community full of kids, young families, and old people whose names we knew and whose houses we visited and whose secrets we invented.
Our school was called Westshore School. Did I tell you about our primary school? It was just up the road. It was a beautiful little school on the beach with an enormous playground that reached to the dunes. The playground had bars for climbing on and three tall metal maypoles with long sturdy ropes attached that we would twirl round and round on, flinging ourselves about until we were dizzy; screaming with delight. Our skirts flying up to show our sensible white cotton knickers. Not that we gave a toss.
The school was one long, low wooden building painted cream with green trim and a red corrugated iron roof. It was divided up into six classrooms and an office, with a long, wide verandah running along the front like a outside corridor linking all the rooms. The verandah was deep and cool and faced the sea. All the classrooms had strong, tall concertina glass doors that the teachers would have us open up on nice days. One entire side of the classroom would open to the morning sun, and the sea air. I loved school.
The school was four or five blocks from home, really close. We always walked to and from school by ourselves. If no one was watching and the tide was low, we walked up the beach. But when we walked on the road above the beach, we would wave to Miss Jack (I must tell you about Miss Jack soon - she was scandalous), we would wave and chat to Mrs. Van and Mr. Rodgers by the shop.
Even at that age I hated being late so I made sure my brother and sisters and I left early enough so we could walk in a leisurely fashion to school. Chatting to our people. Walking on their fences and picking their flowers.
We would saunter along singing or fighting (mostly fighting to be honest) but always in a dream world of our own making. We had angels and fairies and ancestors and dead people and ghosts and saints and gods and dragons and knights all walking to school with us. We would talk to them and talk about them and our feet were as much in the fantasy world as they were in the real world.
In 1969 the outside world barely existed to us. We did not have a television. We never went to the movies or restaurants. My Dad was an only child and all Mum's relatives lived on another island so there were no big family gatherings. There was the old valve radio that Dad tuned very carefully every morning. (Valve radios have a very specific tone to the sound - so mellow - can you remember?) Dad would listen for the fishing boats to call in with their boat names and ‘alls well’ then Mum would listen to the concert programme.
I would have walked to school on this day. With my brother and my little sisters.
It was winter, so I would have been wearing my woolen pinafore over some kind of skivvy and a wooly cardigan with socks to my knees and hand me down buckle up shoes. My hair was only ever tied into a low ponytail - I detested plaits and Mum used to wack our legs with the hairbrush if we were wriggled so we did not like to spend too long getting our hair done. Her sitting behind us with a weapon meant we were very compliant.
Once we got to school we went straight to the cloak room to drop off our bags and lunch and coats. We all brought our own lunch and drinks to school. And later we would eat sitting outside on porch on the benches no matter what the weather.
Once I had delivered my little sisters to their classrooms I ran to mine.
My classroom were big and airy, with that huge wall of glass and the walls lined with our artwork. The floor-boards were shiny dark timbers. We had a wooden desk that was ours for the whole year, it had a hinged lid and a space to store our exercise books and pencil cases and a little hole for the pot of ink from the old days. We sat in old curved wooden chairs that always had little splinters to stick the unsuspecting kid so we smoothed our dresses under as we sat so our bare legs did not touch the seat of the chair.
We all assembled and stood by our desks that morning and gravely greeted our teacher - good morning Mrs Jones.
This day promised to be different. The big wooden concertina doors between our two classrooms had been pulled open to make one really big classroom. One that could fit the whole school. And the principal was soon wheeling in a small black and white TV on a trolley. It was round-looking with ears like a rabbit.
Very few of us had even seen a TV let alone watched one. So we all stared in delight. I remember this rush of excitement about the television. I desperately wanted to know how they worked.
We re-arranged the classroom per the Head Masters directions, Mrs Jones calling out orders. Children from other classes began to file in. All gaping at the little box with the glass screen and the wiry antennas.
Soon we were all sorted. A couple of classes sat cross legged on the floor. Another class sat on chairs behind them and another class sat on the desks behind them. Teachers leaned on the walls. The whole school was arranged with a view of this tiny television far off in the front of the room. Like an alien had stood up from a book preparing to speak.
We did not have a television in our home though sometimes we would sneak down the road and watch through the front windows of the Mitchell’s place opposite the surf life saving club. The Mitchells were rich and had only recently brought a television so we would gather under the tree across the road and secretly watch over their hedge and through their windows after tea.
The headmaster shuffled the bunny ears around and turned the trolley this way and that way and then all of a sudden there were people talking from the box and a picture of sorts, black and white and flickery. He twiddled with a dial and the voices were louder and to our delight they were American (which in itself was fascinating). The headmaster began to interpret and we were informed that those flickering images were the moon. And that men had landed there.
The room went totally silent.
Just the idea of America was pretty far-fetched in our fishing town. But the moon with men on it?
I looked around and the teachers were watching the little box with their mouths slightly open barely breathing. They were stunned.
The blurry black and white images coalesced into a person in a funny white suit in a black and white world bouncing down the steps of a spaceship. I caught my sisters eye. We believed in ghosts and angels and spirits and talking to each other with our minds so why not walk on the moon, I thought. Surely, what is all the fuss about? If we could have a guardian angel of our own and there were knights and princesses with hats like cones without ice-cream, then why were the grown ups getting so excited about a blurry man on the blurry moon. Of course we could walk on a moon. Or float on a moon if we wanted to.
This began a whole lecture about the moon from the headmaster but I hardly listened; dreaming instead of that light unhurried bouncy walk the man had on the television moon. Maybe I could fly like that. The almost casual weightlessness of it seemed so natural. Flying in a spaceship to the moon seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
On the way home from school that day we bounced in slow motion, waving our arms about and greeting our knights and dragons and war-men with slow-motion moon bows and sing song moon voices. Laughing. Flying just a little bit every four or five bounces. Then a little bit more.
Letters to My Mother, The Collection, is a series of stories from my childhood growing up on a beach on New Zealand many many years ago. They are interesting to untangle because they are written by an adult (me) using the memories of a child (me). Which makes them as interesting to write, for me as I hope they are to read, for you.
I would also like to gently offer that I am presenting these stories to you from my solitary desk in the midwest and I would be ever so grateful if you were able to throw a few dollars into my hat via the subscription.
To keep me off the streets and in tea and cranberry shortbreads, of course!
Pop in every Monday - have a cup of tea and a story with me.
If you want to catch up with what happened on the farm TODAY. Go here to thekitchensgarden.com. I write at the kitchens garden every day. All about my sustainable life on a homestead in the midwest. (and sometimes travel)!! Life is good. c
You are so descriptive when you write- something I love because it's so easy to see your world as it was in the words you put down. July 1969- summer break and 2 months before I turned 10 years old. We had a cabin on a lake that typically turned into our summer home so I imagine being there. I have no memory at all of sitting on our big second or fourth hand purple velvet couch that furnished the main area of the cabin so I wonder if I watched the whole thing then, or later on a replay. My days at the lake were typically about forest exploration or in the water or rowing myself around the mucky green coves out back. I suspect though, given the significance of the event that our TV was on and the family, including my aunt and uncle and maybe my cousins 2 properties down were all gathered to watch.
Looking forward to connecting with you down here in the comments! I would love to hear where you were during that week in July, 1969!