2012-08-30 / Opinions

Watching Neil Armstrong on the moon made me work to tell folks good stories

By KIP BURKE
news editor

The death of Neil Armstrong this past weekend brought back strong memories for me. Like a lot of other Baby Boomers, the summer of 1969, when Armstrong walked on the moon, was a very big and scary year.

The night we watched Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon, my mother, my sister Becca and I were on a long car trip, visiting family in Charlotte, North Carolina, before moving on to Maryland, to visit my big brother Charlie and his family, and my sister Pat and her daughter.

Like the Apollo 11 crew, on this trip I was on a voyage to the unknown. It was the first time I’d been a driver, newly empowered as I was with an official, genuine, Alabama learner’s permit and several months of experience. I wanted to get out on that freeway and put some miles under my wheels, even if it was in my mom’s Ford Country Squire station wagon with her gasping in the passenger seat, applying imaginary brakes and white-knuckling the armrest. Killjoy.

It was also a trip when I realized that some grown-ups were, well, kind of thick-headed. We were all sitting in my relatives’ den in Charlotte, watching the moon landing, and admiring the clear picture on the new Sony Trinitron console color television. I remember there erupting, while we were holding our breath waiting for the lunar lander to touch down on the surface of the moon, a discussion over whether we should change channels to see a re-run of “Lost in Space.” Seriously. We were watching a great historical event happen before our very eyes, but some family members were getting bored by something longer than a sitcom and wanted to watch something they understood. They were still jabbering when Neil Armstrong said his famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” We missed the moment entirely, and Uncle Bill chastised the ladies with uncharacteristic firmness, causing a hush to fall about the place in time for us to hear Walter Cronkite intone a more resonant repetition of Armstrong’s famous words.

Yeah, giant steps. Those of us who were teens in the summer of 1969 barely understood what a worldchanging year we were having, but we knew it was an exciting and scary time to be alive. Huddled around our console TVs, we not only watched the first men landing on the moon, we saw the Manson mass murders, enormous demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, and half a million regular kids rocking in the mud at Woodstock. Teddy Kennedy was trying to explain how a girl drowned in his car, while Bobby Kennedy’s assassin was on trial for murder. Walter Cronkite told us history was in the making, and that’s the way it was. It was all those heady, world-changing stories on the news that set the hook for me to be a writer, reporter and photographer. Seeing Neil Armstrong making history on the face of the moon – while some audience members lost interest – made me want to tell stories in such a way that nobody wandered off during the telling of it, and it’s a challenge still.

There are so many voices competing for your attention now, so many other places you can turn your attention to, that I know I have to work hard every day to write stories that deserve the attention you pay to them.

Although I’m not writing about earth-shaking events like the first man landing on the moon, I appreciate the time you spend reading my news stories and columns. After all, you could be watching a rerun of “Lost in Space.”

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