Dolce Zitella's Latest Post, Life Lessons

Walking on the Moon

Although it happened fifty years ago, I vividly remember the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  I was eight and my brother was five and my father woke us in the middle of the night and hurried us downstairs to the family room and our large black and white television set.  The screen’s blue glow was harsh on my sleepy eyes, and although it was summertime, the air conditioning gave me a chill as I stood there in my pajamas.  Mom ran and got my bathrobe.

This was not the first time my father had summoned us to the television to watch the astronauts.  I knew their names: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.  I knew this mission was Apollo 11, and I knew that they had landed on the moon in a place called the Sea of Tranquility.  My father loved this stuff.  He read nothing but science fiction paperbacks by writers like Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury and he talked to my brother endlessly about UFO’s and what supposedly happened in Roswell.  Me?  I found the whole idea of space a little bit scary, but as I watched the contrasting images on the television screen – David Brinkley; the men in the control room, who all looked alike with their short haircuts, black-rimmed geek frame eyeglasses, white shirts and skinny ties; and finally the spacecraft itself, which was partially shrouded in darkness – I felt the same anticipation that comes on Christmas Eve.  In a few minutes we were actually going to see a man walking on the moon.

Even in the best of circumstances, our television reception was only so good.  Now add to that the quality of the moon-to-earth image, and it was no surprise the picture was snowy and no amount of adjusting the rabbit ears would make it clear.

“There he is!  There he is!” my brother exclaimed when Neil Armstrong emerged from the lunar module.  We couldn’t see his face through the shiny black face shield of his huge bubble helmet.  Instead, we saw a reflection of what he saw – the spacecraft and the spotlights.  When Neil Armstrong finally walked down the steps of the spacecraft and stepped onto the moon, we all cheered and clapped our hands.

As the coverage continued the next day, the clip of Neil Armstrong stepping from the ladder onto the surface of the moon was replayed again and again.  And we all watched it as if we hadn’t seen it before.  When I finally asked my father, “Why did you make us get up in the middle of the night to see this when we could’ve just seen it today?” he answered with a crack in his voice, “Because last night it was history.”

My father has always been a pragmatic man, but with his because last night it was history remark, he’d managed to be poetic.  I took his words to heart, realizing that big things were happening in the world, many of which I was still too young to fully understand or take part in.  Just like Roswell, the names of places had taken on new and deeper meanings.  No longer simply locations, Vietnam, Chappaquiddick, and Woodstock referred to a war, an accident, and a concert.  Even more than history, that summer I became acutely aware of pop culture, and began to understand how art, music, and literature reflected all that was happening.

I was twelve years old when knew I wanted to be a writer – something my practical yet perceptive father already surmised.  He once admitted to me, “Ever since you were a little girl, I knew you marched to a different drummer.”  I don’t know if this path is what he would have chosen for me; I’ve never asked him that.  But he’d accepted it without question and, realizing why it was so important for me to witness the moment in history when a man walked on the moon, had encouraged it.

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Life Lessons

July 4, 1959

Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary.  Their 60th!  I’m both proud and amazed.  Proud of them for sharing such a loving and enduring marriage, and amazed at how quickly time has passed.  It hardly seems like it was 10 years ago that we were celebrating their 50th golden anniversary.  We had a big party, with all of our extended family, and their many friends.  My brother gave the customary champagne toast and I told the story of how my parents got together.  Today seems like the appropriate time to tell it once again:

Have you ever heard the story of how Babe and Freddie got together?  Sure, they were both living on 91st Street in Jackson Heights. But Babe was a freshman at Bryant High and Freddie a senior at Newtown.  Besides, he was dating this girl Barbara, his mom, Filomena, didn’t like much.  Barbara wasn’t Italian, and she had something of a reputation.  Anyway, Filomena supposedly suggested to Freddie, “Why don’t you date a nice girl like Louise?” although this claim has never been substantiated.

One night in May 1953, Freddie and his crowd were busy at work under the hood of one of their jalopies.  Babe still recalls how cool Freddie was.  He wore his hair in a D.A. and rolled up his pack of cigarettes in the sleeve of his white t-shirt.  His crowd – his brother Joe and cousin Bill, George the Greek, Bobby Fitz, Gesner, Benz, and Desmoni – they were all cool too.  And in a scene reminiscent of the movie Grease, this group of teen-aged buddies had just made a wager with Freddie.  They bet him that he couldn’t get a date with the next girl who walked down the street.  If she said yes, they each had to pay him fifty-cents.  If she said no, he had to pay them.

Meanwhile, Babe’s father, Mike, asked her to go down the street to buy him a pack of smokes at the corner candy store.  Despite being only fourteen, Babe was pretty cool herself.  She wore cat’s eye frame glasses which only accentuated her penciled in high arching eyebrows, and her bright red lipstick.  And when she wasn’t wearing a poodle skirt, she wore peddle pushers!

Freddie took Babe completely by surprise when he approached her because she figured he thought of her as a kid.  When he asked her to go out with him that Friday night she said no.  What else could she do – she was young and her father was strict.  But Freddie persisted, “What about Saturday night?”  Again she refused.  “What’s the matter?” he asked, “Don’t you like me?”  And Babe was forced to admit that although she did like him, her father wouldn’t let her go out on a date.  Without missing a beat, Freddie suggested, “Okay then what about Sunday afternoon?”  And Babe, realizing how easy it would be to sneak out of the house on a Sunday afternoon, finally accepted.

On their first date, Freddie took Babe into the city to Radio City Music Hall to see the floor show and the western, Shane.  After the movie they went for a bite.  Babe was so nervous that she couldn’t quite enjoy herself.  The older girls on the block had coached her, advising her not to order the most expensive thing on the menu or the cheapest.

Apparently, Freddie never technically asked her out for their second date – it was just understood.  And every week it went on, the guys continued to pay Freddie another fifty-cents.  His buddies thought it was all a joke, and didn’t think the relationship would last.  All the while, Babe had no idea about the bet.

Then, Memorial Day Weekend, Freddie took Babe on Newtown’s Senior Boat Ride on the Hudson Day Liner.  When Barbara saw Babe, she got a little crazy and threatened to throw Babe overboard.  Later that day, Freddie asked Babe to go steady.

In June, they were still dating on the sly and Babe couldn’t figure out how she was going to sneak out of the house in a Prom dress, so Freddie finally had to ask her father for permission to date his daughter.  It so happened that Mike was painting the house – a job he didn’t relish – so Freddie offered to help him paint, and we all know how Freddie loves to paint.  And that seemed to do the trick.

The following year, Babe transferred to Newtown and Freddie was going to L.I.U.  Most days, he picked her up after school in his old green Studebaker, which Freddie’s buddies nicknamed The Babe Mobile.  You see, they realized that Babe and Freddie’s relationship was getting serious, so serious in fact, that by the time Babe found out about the bet, it didn’t seem to matter very much.

So how long did the guys keep paying Freddie the fifty-cents?  Well, nobody really remembers.  But they do remember Babe and Freddie’s wedding on July 4, 1959 and how all the guys were flipping Freddie quarters at the reception.

Congratulations, Mom and Dad!

 

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