Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Repost: Man Walked on the Moon in 1969 and My Grandmother Reminisced about 1899

Note—I wrote this for last year's July 20th post. I'll repost it today for new readers. Another year has come and gone!

R E M E M B R A N C E — I have a mind for trivial facts. Well mostly useless trivia such as the phone numbers of most of my friends from childhood (when we only needed to use 5 numerals instead of the TEN we need now even for local calls) , almost every birthday of college friends I haven't seen in more than 30 years and dates of 'special' events. Don't ask me the title of the book I designed last month though. Some things stick in my head, and some things float in one ear and out the other. July 20, 1969 is a pretty famous day I'm sure most people recognize however—the day a human being first walked on the moon.

I was twelve years old and watching the live TV coverage at my grandmother's home, with Hoohoo (my mother's sister), her husband (my father's brother), and my mother and father. My grandmother was dying of cancer and was bedridden. Everyone was in the livingroom watching on the large color TV (well large for the day, I think it was a 27 inch screen, mostly picked out for it's handsome walnut cabinet almost 4 feet wide—remember when TVs were actually furniture, picked out for their woodwork?) I was in my grandmother's bedroom though, watching on a small black-and-white set (it wasn't for a long time afterward that I realized the actual footage of Neil Armstrong on the Moon WAS in black-and-white by the way, lol.) But I didn't care. I enjoyed my grandmother, Nanny, immensely, and would have gladly missed those first steps if it meant I could spend more time with her. But I didn't have to miss it, we watched together from her bed, chatting and laughing and chatting some more.

I got the best deal of the night, spending it with her. As we watched and listened to all the modern charts and graphs about the telemetry and science of the entire Apollo program on that small TV, Nanny told me about all the other modern things she had seen come in her lifetime: the telephone, electricity and electric light bulbs IN the home, the resultant electric toasters, irons, washing machines, radios, televisions, frozen foods, and of course, cars. She started by telling me about the first car she bought herself, a 1915 Model T Ford Runabout, the smallest version of that venerable car (besides having a difficult to 'put down' cloth top, it didn't even have an opening door on the driver's side—she had to enter the passenger side to drive, and that was only after she hand-cranked it.) She told me about the mid 1920s Buicks her second husband and his brothers owned that she drove after she married into his family. She spoke lovingly of the dark green and black Model A he bought her for their fifth wedding anniversary, the blue 'little Chevy coupe' she had after that ended up having to last all the way through the second world war, and so on and so on. I couldn't ask enough questions about her old cars, and she couldn't tell me enough about them. She loved cars as much as I did, and enjoyed my company as much as I did hers. Boy did we get along!

When it was just a few minutes, maybe even just a few seconds until Armstrong set foot on the Moon, Nanny told me about my great-great-grandfather's funeral she attended when she was only 4 years old in 1899. It was one of her earliest memories. He was lying 'in repose' in his big waterfront home (he owned a large granite quarry, and actually supplied much of the granite for Bedloe's Island—the base of the Statue of Liberty, but that's a story for another time.) Her family took their horse and buggy the short trip to his house where she remembered everyone standing around in black, women and children in scratchy dressed up clothing, the men smoking, spitting and not saying much. They stood outside waiting their turn to go inside the house to see him and pay their respects. 

All of a sudden, everyone heard strange noises coming from the circular drive—chugging and chuffing, clattering and clicking, hissing and squealing. The horses started fussing, which made the buggies start bumping into each other and the men that were still outside ran down to quiet the horses and see what was going on. Nanny remembered her stepmother saying "Why it's an Automobile, a horseless wagon!" and gripped my grandmother's hand tightly as if this new Automobile might snatch the little girl away. Long story short, apparently great-great-grandfather was married three times—divorced twice—and his first wife came all the way down from Newport, Rhode Island to make sure he was well and truly dead, lol—driven in her imposing automobile by a chauffeur and attended to by her two maids that spent a good five minutes just gathering up the lady's hoops and taffetas so she could step out of the back seat! Apparently the first Mrs. Beattie made as much of an impression on my then-four-year old grandmother as her car did.

In short, not only did my grandmother see what was probably the first car to come to Leete's Island Connecticut, she lived long enough to see a man walk on the Moon. Remember, 1899 was a full nine years before Henry Ford produced the Model T for the masses. It was even a couple of years before the Curved Dash Oldmobile. Can you imagine such a huge leap in technology in one lifetime? 

I suppose people will at some point date themselves before the personal computer came into use, or before the Internet, or before Botox or Liposuction, but I'm not sure there will be another 75 year period when such profound changes to our world will occur, and my grandmother was there for it all.


  1. Thanks, Granny! I've got some nice flower photos for tomorrow.

  2. You make such beautiful use of words, Casey! You really have the gift. I LOVED this story. Thank you. And I don't suppose there ever will be another 75 year period like that. I almost hope not!


  3. Casey, I remember your post from last year! Loved it then and love it now! It made me think of my gma born in 1889 (she passed away in 1995 at 106) and how we were truly in awe of all that she had seen and done...from living in a sod house to seeing the first man on the moon.
    Thanks for know we love your words and are just anxiously waiting for our first edition signed book that you put out!!

  4. What a wonderful memory for you, Casey. My Grandma (on Mom's side -- I never knew my paternal grandparents) was born in 1888 and one of her favorite stories was about going with her father and her older brother (Uncle Fred) to Times Square to watch the election returns when McKinley was elected president in 1896. I wish I had the chance now to ask her a lot more questions about "old New York" and the grocery store that my great-grandfather ran on the upper East Side. But alas, I missed my chance! When I retire I think I'll spend some time researching both sides of my family. People seem to find out all sorts of things!

    Paul, NYC