My youngest sister once gave my father a book entitled “Dad’s Memory Book.” Each page give a prompt. Beth hoped that my father would complete the book, as she wrote, “for your grandchildren.”
Pop completed two months, and at some point in March quit writing. We all regret that he did, because there is so much family history and information that he could have provided. My sisters and I did not know our father well in many ways; this book could have helped.
I’ll leave it to those more eloquent than me to write paeans about the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
And I’ll link an article later.
On this day 50 years ago, I had just turned eight years old. Space launches were a big deal in the late 1960s, and I remember watching almost every lift-off . . . the thrill of the countdown, the excitement of all that smoke from the launch pad, and then the amazement of seeing that Saturn rocket take men toward outer space.
July 20, 1969 was a Sunday. I don’t have any recollection of the afternoon, of the live broadcast on all three channels (imagine that!) of a simulation of the moon landing.
But I do remember being ready for bed after church that evening — we attended Fifth Street Baptist Church in Hannibal, and Sunday included two services — but my parents wisely telling me to stay up and watch the telly. “You will want to remember this, to tell this story some day,” they said.
So I’m telling the story.
Thus it was that on this day, 50 years ago, my eight-year-old self watched Neil Armstrong take a step onto the moon. And heard those immortal words: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
I don’t recall how long I stayed up that evening. But I do bless my parents for requiring me to stay awake to see this world-changing moment. As I age, the memory of this moment, now distilled through 50 years and sentimentalism and my own tendency to revere life-changing moments, reduces me to tears. As it does right now, as I write.
I was dimly aware of the turmoil of the last three years of the 1960’s. I remember asking my parents about Viet Nam and death counts on the news, about Bobby Kennedy, about who they were voting for in the 1968 election (they wouldn’t tell me, but Mom said “I think our votes will cancel each other’s” and I’ve always assumed Mom voted for Humphrey while Pop voted for Nixon), about why students were killed at Kent State. I was a precocious kid.
And easily moved, too. The Olympics opening ceremony made me cry. So did “My old Kentucky home” at the Kentucky Derby. Still does. Still do.
So the memory of the moon landing and what happened 50 years ago today is emblazoned in my formation. Thanks be to God.
I have said for decades that I am God’s most un-athletic creation.
Witness: somersaults were difficult for me. Coach Lang told my mother (I was in 8th grade) that I had the body of a 40-year-old, even though I was 14. Last one picked? Always me or two other guys in my gym class.
Years of therapy have helped me overcome the emotional trauma.
And then last week, traveling with Kevin, I got to reminiscing about learning how to swim.
We lived in Hannibal. The YMCA was across the street from Fifth Street Baptist Church where we attended. I have a dank recollection of an even danker basement pool, and swimming lessons. Unsuccessful swimming lessons.
We moved to Lee’s Summit in 1971. Either that summer or the next, I was yet again enrolled in swimming lessons. Beginning lessons, mind you. Lee’s Summit Municipal Pool, corner of 291 and 3rd Street. The lessons were unsuccessful.
I splashed in the pool well enough. And I dog-paddled brilliantly. And the diving board was not a problem if I could hold my nose when hitting the water.
The problem: I hated getting water in my nose. And I still do. Just this weekend I sniffled while showering, got some water in my nose, and went to a paroxysm of hacking coughs. So, the freestyle stroke was a problem. Put my face in the water? Not on your life.
The next summer dawned, and Mom again had me in lessons. This time at White Ridge pool, a private pool in the White Ridge subdivision on the other side of town. And thus it was that, as I finished 6th grade, I took swimming lessons for two weeks before the beginning First Baptist Church vacation bible school. The teacher was patient and kind, and knew what to do with awkward, un-athletic, no-nose-in-the-water pre-pubescent types who later turn out to be decent swimmers, but who would rather be playing the piano.
And I passed beginning swimming lessons just before turning 12 years old.
With today’s blog entry, I’m starting a series of reminiscences, based on some prompts I’ve bene reading.
I grew up singing in church. That much I know for certain.
My mother couldn’t carry a tune if she tried. My father sang in key, but when notes got too high, he’d plop down an octave. His singing range was limited. His rhythm, however, was flawless, as befits someone who played drums growing up.
I remember going to the organ console after church services, and watching the organist. This would have been at Calvary Baptist in Columbia, and then at Fifth Street Baptist in Hannibal. At some point in Hannibal, I got to push the cancel button after the postlude was complete, and watch all those pistons return to their off position.
In Hannibal, my music teacher was a Mrs. Froman. Music classes at Mark Twain Elementary were held in the homeroom classroom, rather than a separate music classroom.
We moved to Hannibal as I started first grade. At some subsequent point, my parents gifted me with a Magnus chord organ. I was probably in second grade. I taught myself how to play “Long, long ago.” This was my first keyboard experience that I can remember.
But G-ma Blocher owned a massive old upright grand piano, and I probably banged on that at some point.
There was also most likely children’s choir at church, but I have no clear memory.
We moved to Lee’s Summit as I started the last quarter of fourth grade. There I found
Mrs. Verna Boten (now Dr. Verna Brummett), the music teacher at Pleasant Lea Elementary School. She had her own classroom! And she noticed my musical ability right away.
Vance Riffie, who was not only the high school choral teacher, but also Minister of Music at First Baptist Church, who also led the 4th/5th/6th-grade children’s choir. And I learned from him how to read music on the staff, and how pitches relate to one another.
And beginning a few months later in fifth grade, the initial ability to play a brass instrument, initially cornet, and then French horn. Russ Berlin was the instrumental band director at Pleasant Lea.
These are my earliest musical memories.
Piano lessons came later, starting in 6th or 7th grade.
I grew up singing. And I grew up staring at keyboard instruments until I was old enough to play them, and my parents had enough money to provide for lessons.
I spent a few hours at Mizzou this weekend. State solo/ensemble festival is held in various buildings on the campus.
And I visited my great-nephew and niece. My sister Karen had driven in for the day, and we chatted about gardening while enjoying the sight and sound of a baby boy who represents the next generation.
And I found myself thinking about my father.
Pop used to tell me stories about time spent in this Union building at Mizzou. He and Mom met at the Baptist Student Union just a few blocks away from Memorial Union.
When I was a child, my parents had tickets to home football games at Mizzou. They’d bundle us kids up and leave us with Aunt Esther and Uncle John (I saw them more than my grandparents, thus cementing that life-long bond between me and Aunt Esther). In 1969, we were driving in from Hannibal. In 1971, from Lee’s Summit.
I realize now, of course, that those season tickets to football games represented my parents’ wish to stay in touch with their college friends. If I remember correctly, that would likely be Bob & Shirley, Bill and Ruth Ann.
At some point, the connection to Mizzou faded in its intensity. Family, career, location — all have a way of altering the DNA of our inner lives.
For years now, whenever I am at Mizzou for an event, I have this sense that this is the place that allowed me to be. I would not be here were it not for the Baptist Student Union, and Calvary Baptist Church, and the University of Missouri where my parents ended up at the same time, in the same room.
And as much as I bleed crimson and blue and fly my Jayhawk flag proudly, I’m grateful for Mizzou.
I was also thinking yesterday about shadows and memories.
Any drive around Columbia, Missouri is filled with them. I spent summer weeks with Aunt Esther in the tidy little house on Clinton. I went to West Boulevard Elementary School for one year. The first house my parents ever owned was on Clayton Street in Columbia. My youngest sister was born there.
But I also found myself thinking about my father’s last days sixteen months ago, about his decision to cease treatment for leukemia . . . his concern for his wife and my sisters and the effect of this decision on them . . . his stubborn refusal to let go in his last minutes of speech and lucid thought as he said “I’m not ready.” . . . his lack of tying-up-loose-ends preparation for the end . . . his incredible loyalty to my step-mother who had saved him over and over in those years after my own mother died, and who he was now saving from her own increasing frailty.
There’s no moral here. No great revelation. Just shadows of thoughts. And perhaps some self-awareness too. We shall see.
As I leave Lee’s Summit today, some closure is evident.
My sisters and I sorted through family items last evening, after 2+ days of sorting/packing/tossing/donating/loading into our own cars.
I am returning home to Saint Louis with scores of letters I wrote my parents, as well as letters and cards to me from my grandparents (all collected and saved when I was a child). Birgit the Volvo is loaded the manual Royal typewriter on which my father typed letters in the 1960s, and on which I typed my high school term papers; some ties and cufflinks; two bedside tables purchased by my parents in Argentina; three small lamps; and all sort of other memorabilia.
Some more furniture awaits another trip.
I also have the first quilt my mother ever completed herself, which will be swell on the bed in my guest room.
Over the last three days we have touched and remembered items from the china cabinet, from the walls of the homes in Hannibal and Lee’s Summit, from our parents’ dressers and clothes closets, and from the kitchen and library. Beth is satisfying her ‘sorting’ heart to no end. And we’ve all shaken our heads more times that we can count, and simply muttered “why?”.
I kept saying “I remember dusting that as a kid”!
Pop kept things in boxes, literally and figuratively. He and Mom both were packrats and nesters, each in their own right. When Mom died, Pop packed up her life and kept it in boxes, never again to be opened until now. (On Thursday, I discovered his love letters to her from their college days!) Between the boxes packed and left in Lee’s Summit in 1986, and what he brought home from Buenos Aires in 1999, we had a trove of family memories to sort.
Over the next year, I’ll be trotting out all sort of things to frame my days on earth so far. I’m going home with their missionary ID cards; contracts from Lee’s Summit Public Schools; photos galore; and SO many letters that help explain me.
Lee’s Summit Historical Cemetery is lovely in mid-May, with peonies blooming everywhere.
And my father’s stone (2017) is now joined on a plinth with my mother’s (1998):