For years, we had talked about, heard about and stared at the moon.
And why not? It was such a faraway place – so far beyond anything we knew – that we could make the moon whatever we wanted it to be.
The moon was made of green cheese.
Jimmy Stewart, aka George Bailey, asked Donna Reed in “It’s A Wonderful Life” if he wanted her to lasso the moon, drag it down to earth and give it to her.
Jackie Gleason, aka Ralph Kramden, yet again losing his temper when he stumbled and bumbled into another dicey situation, would threaten his wife, the cool, calm, collected and so much smarter Audrey Meadows, with, “You’re going to the moon!”
Animals would howl at the moon.
Moonbeams and moonlight were almost mystical.
The moon was even given a face. When it was time for a sliver of the moon to go to bed as it appeared to be reclining, we gave the moon a nightcap.
The expression, “Once in a blue moon,” meant hardly ever, as in, “Democrats and Republicans say nice things to, or about, each other only once in a blue moon.”
A full moon caused all kinds of strange things to happen. Plus it lit up the night like a street lamp.
Every child had heard the Mother Goose nursery rhyme, “Hey, Diddle, Diddle,” end with the line, “and the cow jumped over the moon,” adding a whole new meaning to the word, “milkshake.”
One of the coolest revelations of science was that the gravitational pull of the moon controlled the tides on earth. Who knew?
And the song and movie names with the word “moon” in them, such as “Moon River,” the rendition of which by Andy Williams made people cry? Well, they were as plentiful as … well, the amount of green cheese there would be if the moon were really made of the stuff.
We could go on and on, but you get the picture.
The moon was a big deal. We could see that even from this far away.
But it was all in kind of a make-believe way. It was almost a fictional big deal. Most of the things involving the moon were of the pie-in-the-sky variety. By the way, have you ever had a Moon Pie, which have been around for over 102 years? I have. Yum! Good stuff! Try one.
I digress, though. The moon was part of our lives, but at the same time, it wasn’t. We had never touched it, smelled it or walked on it, and on some nights, especially in Northeast Ohio, the cloudiest place in the country (why do you think the Ravenna Arsenal was built here to make and store munitions during World War II?; because enemy planes would have a hard time locating it if they were flying over, looking to bomb it), we couldn’t even see it.
But all that changed 50 years ago this weekend when, just after midnight as a hot, steamy Saturday turned into a hot, steamy Sunday in the middle of July in the middle of summer in 1969, we watched – on TV, no less, and in my case, on the nearly brand-new Motorola works-in-a-drawer color set – as Neil Armstrong from tiny Wapakoneta in Western Ohio get out of a spacecraft and actually walked on the moon.
Ladies and gentlemen, even all these years later, and despite the fact I’m supposed to be a writer, I can’t put into words just how surreal that was, and still is.
This wasn’t some Flash Gordon episode from the 1930s, some Alfred Hitchcock weird, science-fiction thriller, some Superman comic book or a spin-off from Orson Welles’ “The War of the Worlds” from 31 years earlier.
This was real, although it was so crazy that it was happening that we didn’t really totally grasp what we were seeing. It would be years later before it began to sink in what, exactly, had happened that day.
John Kennedy said at the start of the decade of the 1960s that we wanted to put a man on the moon by the end of it, and while we all stood up and applauded and cheered, we didn’t really believe it because, first of all, politicians say a lot of things, and, more importantly, because putting a man on the moon seemed impossible, at best, if not also ludicrous and silly.
But golly – people back then, in that much-simpler time, said “golly” a lot; they didn’t have to us crude words or phrases to show their amazement or exclamation – the late, great JFK was right on point. It was indeed attainable and doable to have a human being stroll around all that green cheese, and we had just watched it take place.
When I think about that long-ago night -- that experience -- this is what I think of. I had never seen anything like it before, and I have never seen anything like it since. I never will, either. And I would imagine I probably speak for a lot of people my age – or thereabouts – who watched it in real time.
It has stood the test of time and is still our biggest wow factor, which, with all the technology and bells and lights and whistles that have come down the pike since then, is nothing short of incredible, just like the event itself.