Remember Their Summers
I am only one generation away from the 19th century.
My mother was the youngest child in her family. She had siblings born in the 1890s. So did my father. The grandmother who took care of me when I was a child was born in the 1870s, married in the 1890s, and was still running a household in the 1950s — running it as she had in the 1930s.
I was born 20 years late — when my parents were in their forties. I thought everyone’s parents talked about bathtub gin, roadhouses, Model T Fords, cranking the truck, and the thrill of driving on a paved road.
The aunts and uncles who read me the comics, built me a bicycle, and took me to the movies and on vacations with them were born in the 19th century.
A Moon Landing and the Wright Brothers
In 1966, my Uncle Bert and I watched television together as Surveyor One made a soft landing on the moon. My uncle said, “The first newspaper article I remember reading — reading all by myself, you know, not with help — was about the Wright Brothers flying an airplane.” Coincidentally, the first word I remember reading in a newspaper was “jet” — in a headline. (In the early 1950s, people still pointed to the sky with excitement when a jet streaked overhead, leaving a surprising white line of cloud behind it. We were used to prop [propeller] planes, which didn’t leave a vapor trail.)
Watching Sputnik from a Spinning World
I remember an evening when my father took me outside to watch a satellite crossing the night sky — a tiny moving star among all the others. It wasn’t just staring up at the sky that made us dizzy; we could feel the world changing. My father, who remembered plowing with a horse and team — and much preferred plowing with a tractor — taught me to appreciate scientific progress.
So, on a black and white TV set, in 1966, I was eager to watch the first time a man-made object made a soft landing on the moon. I watched it in the company of a man who had made his own “cat whisker” radio set, who was born before airplanes even existed.
I want to tell the stories my family told me, to pass on some of their tales — tales that were told and retold when they and their friends sat around the kitchen table, sometimes forgetting the child playing among their feet. My parents, their siblings, and their friends lived through World War I, the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, the fifties, the space race, the sixties…. They went from iceboxes to refrigerators, from homemade radios to VCRs.
They are all gone now. I want to remember their summers.