This excerpt is part of a novel, Jack Miller's Story, which I started writing more than fifteen years ago. It has undergone many changes since then, but now is in a form that I find suitable for publication. It contains biographical elements, no doubt, but it is not biographical by any means. Memory, unlike mathematical operations, does not always produce the same result.
In Part 7, Jack heard some news that would change the way he viewed the world. Now, he would watch on TV an event of such historic significance that it would increase his interest in science and the exploration of the unknown. The manned missions to the moon were the spark that fueled that interest, that curiosity to know.
Sunday July 20, 1969
It was a beautiful summer day on Sunday. Like all nice Sundays, Jack and his family went to the mountain that afternoon, to a spot in front of Beaver Lake, armed with picnic basket full of sandwiches, fruits, juices and salads. They also took with them a large checkered blanket, which they would place near a large maple tree, supplying enough shade.
It was a journey that Jack and his brothers knew well, walking from their house on Park Avenue, crossing Mont-Royal Boulevard, and then upward to the spot his parents favoured. It was always the same spot, and the same routine. After a twenty-minute walk, during which Jack and one of his brothers, Benny, would alternately ask every few minutes if they were there yet. His father would ignore their questions, yet his mother would say patiently if not slightly irritated, "Almost there. It's the same place we always go to. We're almost there."
Once they got to the right spot in front of Beaver Lake, his father took off his shirt and started relaxing, while his mother unrolled the blanket and started getting out the food. "Do you want a salami sandwich," she would say to Jack's father, using the Yiddish word, wurst. His father nodded his head, and he ate the sandwich with gusto. His father enjoyed eating, and Jack understood that was in some part due to him being deprived of food during the War. For Jack, food wasn't as important as play and observation. He was now eleven and entering Grade 7, taking more interest in nature and the world around him.
After his father ate another sandwich, he started peeling an apple, a skill which fascinated Jack, in that his father was able to make one continuous peel, an unbroken chain of apple skin, thinly sliced. And then with an equal skill, he would slice the apple into even smaller pieces, and enjoy them one by one. It seemed as if even eating an apple was important to his father, when it was less so for Jack and his brothers.
Benny and Jack threw the baseball for a while, after which Jack felt that he had somewhere else he had to be. "What time is it, Dad? Jack asked, running over breathlessly to his father, baseball glove and ball in his hand. "A little after three fifteen," his father said in Yiddish.
"Oh, no," Jack said. "Yosef told me the moon landing is going to take place at 3:30, less than 15 minutes. I have to go home and watch it on TV. I have to go. I can't miss it. All my friends will be watching it."
Jack's father looked at his mother and asked in Yiddish what was so important. After explaining in some detail about the manned space mission to the moon, and the race between the Soviet Union and the Americans, his father better understood that this was an important day for history. At least for Jack and his friends.
"Do you remember the way home, Jackaleh? his mother asked.
Jack was already running, when he shouted "yeah" and then stopped. "Benny, are you coming or staying?"
"Staying here with mom and dad."
Jack ran down the mountain as if his life depended upon it. He had to make it back to the house in time. When he got to his front door, he rang the bell impatiently, breathing hard. After what seemed like minutes, but was more likely 30 seconds, his oldest brother, Yosef, opened the door.
"Did they land yet?
"I made a mistake about the time. It's on TV now, and I think they said they are scheduled to land in about 30 minutes."
"That gives me enough time to go to the bathroom."
After making a sandwich and a pouring a glass of coke, Jack and his older brother sat in front of their black-and-white TV in their living-room, as many millions of others were doing around the world. They spoke little and heard the voices of the broadcasters and, more important, Houston's mission control and the astronauts themselves.
Jack and Yosef had been following all the Apollo missions since the first fateful mission of Apollo 1, when Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White, Roger B. Chaffee died from a mishap on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 27, 1967. The two had read the speech that U.S. President John F. Kennedy made in 1961 about his goal for humans in space: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."
President Kennedy never lived to see that dream, but it was about to be achieved now, Jack thought. Neil Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin left the Apollo 11 command module, which was piloted by Michael Collins, in orbit and piloted the lunar module Eagle on the Sea of Tranquility. At 4:18 p.m. EDT, Armstrong announced to a watching and waiting world, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
Jack looked at his brother. His brother looked at him, and said, "They did it. They it. The American landed on the moon. Wow, what an accomplishment. It's hard to believe it's happening." They danced around the room screaming in excitement. they heard many of their neighbours doing the same, screams of jubilation and excitement coming from the open windows of Park Avenue.
They then both sat down and looked at the TV screen in silence. Something big was happening. It was a sign of hope, of progress, of conquest, bigger than Christopher Columbus' discovery of America.Or at least of the Europeans' discovery of America. "If man can land on the moon, imagine what else man can do?" Jack thought. "The possibilities are endless."
When his parents came home with his brother, Benny, Jack excitedly told them the news. Even his father seemed to get caught up in the news and excitement. The family ate their supper in front of the TV, something they rarely did. Almost seven hours after touching down on the lunar surface, Neil Armstrong carefully walked down the nine rungs of the lunar module's ladder, and at 10:56 p.m.stepped onto the powdery surface with the words:
That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.These would later become one of the most famous words in modern times, analysed for their meaning. He didn't understand the fuss. For Jack it was clear. It was the dawn of a new and hopeful era for humanity. Buzz Aldrin soon followed Armstrong down the ladder to become the second man to stand on the moon. It was then and there that Jack knew that he wanted to become an astronaut. He would be able to explore space, to go into the great unknown. To become a pioneer. It was all new and exciting and full of possibilities. Jack Millerman could hardly sleep that night; as he looked up at the moon he realized that man was on it.
To be continued.
Copyright ©2011. Perry J. Greenbaum. All Rights Reserved.
Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. While the author might have been inspired by some true-life events, names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.