Sunday, July 19, 2009

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

There are places I remember all my life,
Though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain.
All these places have their moments
Of lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I loved them all.

-- The Beatles

Most of us remember certain occasions. Where we were, who we were with, how we felt. When I was growing up, my grandmother talked about the 1937 flood as if it happened last Thursday. Of course it happened 23, almost 24 years, before I was born. Later generations speak of November 22, 1963 with a sense of deep reverence and true loss for our country at the assassination of a president. Others can tell you about the loss five years later of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or that a few months later of Senator Bobby Kennedy.

My first memory of a national political event was when I was in 6th grade in the Spring of 1972. The wife of United States Senator George McGovern, who was then running for president, came to Louisville to speak to local Democratic women. The event was held in the New Gym of what would be my high school alma mater, Durrett. My grandmother, along with a few other women-politicos from southern Jefferson and northern Bullitt counties, were in attendance along with their children and grandchildren, of which I was one.

Another memory of mine is being taken to my high school principal's office to hear the results of my race for Student Government president. Teresa Stanton, Drew Chuppe, and I waited for Mr. Smith to announce the results. For the record I won. It was April, 1977. I remember the day I decided to quit UK and return home to Louisville. It was a bittersweet and ultimately incorrect decision. I was in the field between the South Commons Cafeteria and what was the north parking lot of Commonwealth Stadium, where my car was parked. Rick Lusardo and I were walking together through that field. He was a dear friend in those days. There is a tennis court there now.

I remember being in Frankfort in the Capital Plaza Hotel, there in front of the indoor waterfalls, standing with Aldermanic Clerk Linda C. Janes, lobbying for the City of Louisville, when the annoucement came down that Mr. Bingham planned to sell the C-J and dissolve the 5B companies here in Louisville. I believe it was January 9th, 1986. Just a few shorts weeks later on January 28th, and again with Linda Janes, we were driving back to Louisville and stopped at the McDonald's in Shelbyville on US60 at KY53. While there, we learned of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. We drove on back to Louisville in silence.

On a happier note, I remember being in the ballroom of the Galt House East when Bill Clinton's electoral college numbers passed the magic 270 mark; it was a middle western state, perhaps Minnesota or Montana. It began with an M. We partied well into the night, even though I had been a Jerry Brown supporter in the primaries. I was with a very special person in my life at that time, which made the win all that much more special. Clinton was the first (and presently the second-to-last) person I had ever voted for who was elected president.

I was in the Floyd County (Indiana) Recorder's Office doing a residential title search when the clerks' attention was drawn away from the desk to a TV. That was early the morning of September 11, 2001. I immediately left and went back to my office just in time to see the second place hit the second tower on the big-screen TV in the lobby of my then-employer, the J. Bruce Miller Law Group. I couldn't talk about that subject for nearly two years and it still haunts me.

People will argue that I couldn't possibly remember all the events of the night of John Yarmuth's first election as Congressman in 2006. I started drinking, something I rarely do, Old Forester Bourbon about 5:30 pm, a half hour before the polls had closed. I had been convinced since the rainy day of the Fairdale Parade in late September that John would win. Standing before our wall of information in headquarters, I told Jason Burke and Aaron Horner about 2:30 on Election Day that we would certainly win. They took off for a pleasure ride - I think a cigar and a drink. I had been assigned to the West End HQ for the day and as I made my way back, I took a circuitous course, stopping at several polling stations along the way to reassure myself my earlier beliefs were true. I remember that evening at the Seelbach Hotel on the 7th floor, about 6:35 p.m. verifying the numbers as Aaron, Jason, John, and I got into a quiet space away from the staff hotel room, being on the phone with Tom Barrow at the Baord of Elections, checking to see which were the sixteen precincts still outstanding and if, in my opinion, the votes in the those precincts could overcome the lead we knew we had. They couldn't and we began to change our community, our Commonwealth, and our country that night. Those few minutes were the most remarkable I've ever had in politics.

Finally, I can tell you about the night two years later, in the 3rd floor party room at the Waterfront Plaza Condos, where with many others I watched state after state, all across the country, change the nation and the world by electing Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States of America. It is best thing my country has done in my lifetime, perhaps.

These are the events I clearly recall: day, place, moment, and emotion. I began this entry with the mention of the 1937 flood, JFK, MLK, and RFK. Those things I do not remember. I was seven when Dr. King and Sen. Kennedy died in 1968.

My first clear memory of something I knew I would always remember happened forty years ago, July 20, 1969. I knew then, at eight years old, this was big. I still remember the scene clearly.

That Spring, in anticipation of bringing his World War Two buddies to Louisville for the bienniel reunion of the 114th Seabees, my grandfather's navy batallion, he had built a family room on the south end of our house as a place to entertain. My grandmother's living room was always a very formal place and she did not want his war buddies and their wives, girlfriends (or both) overeating, overdrinking, and generally having way too much fun in her crisp clean living room. It was the second addition to the house he had originally built in the 1950s for his wife and daughter, my mother. The plans had called for a basement but for whatever reason, probably economic, no basement was built. In 1965, my grandmother had requested a garage. My grandfather and his nephew built an oversized garage which included for him a workshop, and for her a space to house two cars, but has instead been the world's largest closet, or at least the biggest one in southern Jefferson County. In mid-1968, he added a redwoood deck across the driveway from the carport. Then, in early 1969, the carport was enclosed to make a family room, or den as they were popularly called.

It featured two built-in couches underwhich could be stored any number of things. God only knows what is under those couches as they haven't been checked in years. At the other end was a desk and bookshelves, also built-in, which housed among other things the new 1968 editions of the World Book Encyclopedia, the google-search of its day. There was a telephone jack and a small all-in-one TV, telephone, and a clock-radio attached, the absolute latest in technology. The room had something called indoor-outdoor carpeting which my grandfather allowed could be sprayed down with a hose and allowed to dry by way of a big cafteria style fan which he kept in the garage. Fortunately my grandmother never allowed him to test that theory. The room was decorated in an autumny orange and yellow decor, with all the woodwork painted chocolate brown. The cushions and pillows were of the same material as the curtains. In the middle of the room was a Library Table, whose legs had been shortened, which had been "liberated" from salvage when the old Manly Junior High School, at Brook and Oak, was abandoned. That old school is presently being restored as condos. By the door which led outside to the above-mentionred redwood deck was a little two-leaf table which my grandmother regularly reminded us had made it through the 1937 flood.

The room itself was set three steps below the kitchen. The wall between the two had been knocked out and a wrought-iron rail ran between the two rooms. There was also a lamp hanging from the ceiling made from the wheel of an old covered wagon - the interior hull gutted and replaced with electrical gadgetry. It was that lamp that caused a fire in the house on July 4, 1975. To get a taste of the decor, one today can visit the Fountain Room of the Galt House Hotel downtown. It is the only large space remaining of the Schneider propeties which hasn't been redecorated. The Galt House was built about the same time as the family room - and the decorating serves to prove such an idea.

Up against the 1/4-high wall by the kitchen, in the middle of that space, sat our big ol' TV, or TV set as they were then called. It was a brand new big-box thing, made by Philco-Ford, brown in color with gold trim, about 4' x 3' with a 3' foot depth and a set of rabbit ears on top. It was elevated off the floor by four screw-in legs which tapered from top-to-bottom. My grandmother was always irritated if we put our legs underneath the TV for fear of radiation. Strangely, I still have one of those tapered TV legs in the top drawer of my bedroom chest-of-drawers. I had not thought about that leg until I just now started describing the TV. The best thing about it - it was a color TV. That's what you called them then, a "color-TV." Not all shows were in color. You had to look in the TV listings or the TV guide for a little TV screen with a "C" to know which shows were offered, as the saying used to go, "in living color on NBC." Remember the chimes, "N-B-C, the full-color network."

It must have taken a lot to get us kids in from the outside in the middle of the afternoon and settled in front of the TV. That was my grandmother's work. But there we were, me and my brother, the Gutermuth kids from next door and Kesler's from across the street, and a handful of Priddy's and Peyton's from up and down the street. People all across the country and I suppose around the world were doing the exact same thing we were. It is well-recorded that President Nixon spent the day in front of a TV in the Oval Office.

And there in our family room in front of the Philco-Ford was where we all saw the lunar landing - Man on the Moon - to quote the late Walter Cronkite, "Wow!". And that's where we remained well into the night. I do not remember leaving - I'm sure we got fed, some went home, or to sleep. It was 6 1/2 hours from the landing of the lunar module to that historic moment when Neil Armstrong became the first man (that we know of) to step foot on the Moon.

Everyone remembers Armstrong's words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." According to those in the know, he actually said for a man but the "a" was lost to a glitch in transmission. What I clearly remember was six hours earlier, when he spoke the words "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." Cronkite was right. Wow!

For all the malaise of the 1960s, at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, America had done this one up right and ahead of schedule. It was a very good feeling. I hope to have it again someday.


Rest In Peace, Walter Cronkite, 1916 - 2009.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

One of your best, and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

I have a few years on you, so I do remember the Kennedy assasination, and to some extent the subsequent events. (I was not into politics then, and my family was an R/D split, so it didn't come up. Like many other things.)

I do remember thinking during 1968 that the country was coming apart. I distinctly remember wondering if the US would still be around when I graduated high school.

And I remember the moon landing. In contrast to my earlier times of fear, this was a time of complete amazement. I watched those scenes on television and was just speechless. It was, and still is, other-worldly to me.

Monday at staff meeting I'm probably going to use some executive / manager / senior / old-fart privilege and share a little about the event with my team. Most of them are in their 30s and get the Beatles and Glenn Miller confused, but they will be tolerant of the old man and his memories, as long as I don't go on too long.

Thanks for the entry. I'm thinking of writing one myself, but I'm afraid you've put the bar too high.

The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.