To the Moon and Back

We recently marked the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing. It reminded me of a story.

20th July 1969 is a date that will forever be etched into my memory. Firstly, my 14th birthday was coming in six days and I was excited! The news came that Neal Armstrong and crew were set to land Apollo II on the surface of the moon! The moon!

Apollo 11 Liftoff

All else was forgotten. I knew I had to see this thing. So, into my Mawmaw’s house, I went. “Mawmaw, is it okay if I turn on the television set?”

She never looked up from her work in the kitchen. “You can if you want to, but there ain’t nothing on but that moon malarkey!”

I dove toward the TV, hand grasping the knob that would bring it to life. “Oh yes, that’s what I want to watch!”

At seventeen minutes past three, our time, the grand machine settled into the lunar dust. My eyes never moved from the grainy screen as I listen to Walter Cronkite, and God knows who else, commenting on the story.

“Mawmaw! Come see this! They’ve landed on the moon!”

Moon Flag
Mawmaw came into the living room unhurriedly, drying her hands, to look at the pictures being miraculously beamed back to Earth. She gazed at it for a full minute. “Oh bosh! They ain’t on the moon, boy!”

My jaw dropped. I was seeing it! “Of course they are; look at it!”

My grandmother sat on the edge of her chair and said, “Look at me Ol’ Big Jim.” I reluctantly turned my attention from Mr Cronkite to look at her.

“Son,” she said patiently, they can’t land a rocket on the moon. If you’ll just wait until it gets dark, I’ll show you.”

Mawmaw and Pawpaw
With that, she got up and went back into the kitchen to finish her work. My mind began working overtime. How could she “show” me NASA couldn’t put a man on the moon? Why did it have to be dark when she showed me?

I wandered out to the store to spend the rest of the afternoon pumping gas in Pawpaw’s grocery store/gas station to wait for sunset.

By and by, the day ended and Aunt Willie and I closed the store for the day. I trudged out the dirt path to wait for the sun to go down so Mawmaw could show my why Apollo couldn’t land on the moon.

I got myself into the house and Mawmaw called out to me, “Did you eat yet?” I continued toward the kitchen. “No ma’am, not yet.” She started up from her chair, reciting what was available.

Now, I made some pork chops and gravy, turnip greens, and stewed potatoes. O’course there’s some biscuits and cornbread. I set a place for you. Wash your hands and eat. I’m goin’ back in here and finish watching the news.”

As it happened, I was hungry, but it didn’t really matter whether you were hungry or not. Anyone entering Mawmaw’s house was going to eat. No refusal was countenanced. Every morning, as soon as the breakfast things were cleared, she started preparing dinner and supper. Just to be clear, dinner is what we ate at mid-day, and supper is what we had at night. Lord knows, she cooked enough every day for a log rolling. Somehow, though, by days end most of it had been consumed by the steady flow of traffic through her house.

The news went off and we watched some sitcom. I’ve no idea what it was. I had half an eye on the front door, waiting for darkness to fall. At last! I jumped up from the couch. “Mawmaw, it’s dark outside now. You want to show me something about the moon?”

She unhurriedly looked at her wristwatch and then through the window. “I reckon it’s dark enough. Get my flashlight off the television and let’s go outside.” Mawmaw’s vision was quite poor, so she kept a large, heavy flashlight on top of the TV. I handed the light to her and as we started out the front door, I switched the porch light on. Mawmaw switched it off. “This flashlight is the only light we’ll need.”

I helped her down the steps and into the yard. She immediately switched on the flashlight and aimed its beam toward the sky.

Now, Son, do you see that light going up into the sky?”

Yes, ma’am, I see it.”

Now, do you reckon you could land a rocket ship on that light?”

No, ma’am, of course not.”

Well, that’s all the moon is. It’s just a light for the night like the sun is a light for the day. You can’t land anything on either one of them. Bible says so!”

For Mawmaw, that final statement meant the subject was closed. No further debate would be heard. Nevertheless, I tried to set her straight, bless her heart, but she just shook her head and began to walk away.

Ol’ Big Jim, you’ve got to get your mind right. What God says in the Bible – the King James Bible, mind you, you’ve got to accept it or endanger your immortal soul!”

Mawmaw and I had many lively debates over the years. Not one time did I change her mind. Not once was she convinced by the overwhelming scientific evidence. Not once did she ever change my mind. The beauty of it was that even though we disagreed on so many things, it never affected our relationship. I loved her with all my heart until the day she shuffled off this mortal coil. And, I am most assured that her love for me never waned.

 

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