Landing a new story

When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, I was in Rome. An appliance store employee had thought to point a television toward the street and turn up the volume. A circle of excited Italians was gathered around me.

I didn’t speak Italian so it was only later that I heard Armstrong’s now-famous sentence: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (The “a” in that sentence is not a misprint. Nearly forty years later, sound analysis confirmed what Armstrong always insisted he meant to say.)

Summer of 1969 was not the easiest time for young Americans to be backpacking around Europe. The War in Vietnam stirred anti-American sentiment to a high pitch. Hitchhikers who could be identified as from the US waited longer for rides. The French conveniently swept their own colonial presence in Vietnam under the political rug. German youth, weary of the long shadow of Nazism, were happy to have another target for finger pointing.

I’d had a year of political debates as a graduate student at the Université de Clermont-Ferrand. When the academic year ended, I just wanted to enjoy some carefree travel months before returning to the States. The fierce questions followed me into every youth hostel across Europe.

But not in Rome, on July 20, 1969. On that day I could wear my heritage proudly. For a short time, I could bask in the congratulations of an impressed world. I was part of a new story.

Stories. That’s how we remember major events. We set them into the context of our lives, give them personal meaning, exchange them like precious stones, ask each other, “Where were you when…?” The stories allow us to circle around a momentous happening, turn over the stones of our memories, and share our own perspectives.

That’s what Jay O’Callahan did when NASA asked him to create a story in honour of the space agency’s 50th anniversary. One of the three stories he chose for his extraordinary work, “Forged in the Stars”, is the 1969 Apollo moon landing.

Jay’s story adds a new stone to my collection. He tells the story through Neil Armstrong’s voice, recounting what it felt like to see the blue ball of Earth from the bleak landscape of the moon. He has generously shared an excerpt on YouTube.

I love the story he tells, both for its grandeur and artistry and also for its power to take me back to a street in Rome, in the summer of 1969.

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peggy b - October 28, 2010

catherine what a cool story about the moon landing i remember that well i watched the t.v. like everyone else, except iwas working at the time i was a waitress in an italian resterant i worked their for years until i bought an italian deli for myself late 70’s early 80’s that was a fun job

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C. Lee McKenzie - October 29, 2010

Ah, that incredible year when everything was in turmoil, yet with Armstrong’s moon dusty steps, the universe seemed to be opening up and everything was possible. I was in Laos–so far from my home and family and so excited about the change that had happened in our world. It was as if where people were located around the globe didn’t matter anymore. We were on planet earth and looking beyond the stars.

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storyroute admin - November 5, 2010

Wonderful – you were working in an Italian restaurant, and I was traveling in Rome. Our Italian connection on a memorable day in history. I didn’t know you’d had an Italian deli!

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storyroute admin - November 5, 2010

In Laos? Now there’s a story!

I loved your observations on how small the world felt when Armstrong walked on the moon.

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Jim Green - November 30, 2010

An Inuit man I knew was living in a small community on the arctic coast of Canada on July 20, 1969. He listened to the moon landing on the radio. An old Inuit man was over at his house for tea that afternoon and my friend explained in Innuktitut about the Americans shooting a big bullet with a man in it right up to the moon. The bullet landed on the moon, my friend said, and an American got out of the bullet was walking around on the moon at that very moment. The old guy didn’t seem very impressed so my friend told the story again, concluding with the man walking around on the moon. What do ya think of that, he asked the old man in his own language, a man walking around on the moon? The old man took another sip of his tea, looked over at my friend and said – “Yea, we used to do that in the old days.”

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storyroute admin - November 30, 2010

Puts it all into perspective! What a delicious response to our technological hubris.

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Billy Dees - November 30, 2010

It is amazing how many people still doubt that we went to the Moon. With all of our technological advancement, the Moon landing so many years ago is still a benchmark of success.The space program has given us so much in medical research, electronics, (computers had to get small for space travel), GPS, aerodynamics, firefighting, weather research, I could go on and on. The space program has not only been worth it but yielded a rock solid return.It is our greatest adventure, Mars anyone?

Billy Dees

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sterling haynes - November 30, 2010

Jay is a great story teller. I liked it when he said “the earth is like a silver dollar.”
Perhaps a US silver dollar with an eagle on the obverse side. On the head side “In God We Trust” !!
The Eagle has landed with the three exceptional men. The story is etched in my mind.

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storyroute admin - November 30, 2010

Well said, Billy. I can count on you for perceptive observations. Thanks!

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storyroute admin - November 30, 2010

Jay’s story made me see the story in a new light. He is a gifted writer and storyteller.

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Bob Kanegis - November 30, 2010

Jim Greens story response is a circumpolar joke with Inuit and other Eskimo peoples. I was on the Yukon River in 1971, in Yupik territory and an elder came up to me and asked, “How long does it take your astronauts to get to the moon?” I wasn’t quite sure, but I told him 3 or 4 days. “How long does it take an Eskimo Shaman to get to the moon?” was his next question. But before I even could begin to think about it, he snapped his fingers in front of my ears, and said, “Just like that!”
Bob K
Tales & Trails Storytelling

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storyroute admin - December 1, 2010

This is fun. I love the sly sense of humour behind it.

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Jim Green - December 3, 2010

Bob Kanegis’ submission doesn’t surprise me but neither does it change the fact that my story was and is true. I lived in that arctic community for three years and knew both the gentlemen involved. But that it happened in other locations or occured to other people doesn’t surprise me either.
Jim Green

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