This week -- July 20th, 2009 to be exact -- marks the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing. There are many wonderful online resources to commemorate this historic event. Here's NASA's official site. And I'm fascinated with this one from the BBC presenting UK coverage of the mission.
Below is something I wrote in 2005. It's about Apollo 11, and being a boy in Alabama, and someone who changed my life. Out of almost 1,000 posts at clarkblog, this one means the most to me.
Today is the thirty-sixth anniversary of the first manned Moon landing, one of humanity’s greatest achievements.
years ago in Alabama, I was enrolled in a summer kindergarten class
taught by Mrs. Peggy McDowell. She had remodeled the large basement of
her house to serve as a classroom for a dozen or so children from my
We learned about numbers and letters there. We drew and painted and made things from clay. We played games in her yard. After afternoon milk and cookies, we pulled out cots and took naps.
When we graduated from Mrs. McDowell’s kindergarten, it was an actual graduation. With our parents watching, we donned caps and gowns and walked across the patio to proudly accept rolled diplomas from our teacher. She played Elgar’s traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” on a portable record player, and today I can’t hear that song without getting misty-eyed at the memory. I remember feeling for the first time in my life that I was marking an important milestone, even if I couldn’t have put it in those words at that age.
Thirty-six years ago today, my fellow kindergarteners and I followed Mrs. McDowell up the stairs to the house where she lived with her family. These stairs were usually forbidden, and even though we had permission to climb them, we were quiet as mice. Once upstairs, we sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor of her den. And on a large black-and-white TV set, we watched in wonder as a man in a spacesuit bounced across the surface of the moon.
That night after dinner I looked up at the moon from my backyard. I thought about the men bouncing around up there, and wondered what they had for dinner. It was a warm, humid night in Alabama. Were they cold up there? Crickets chirped all around me. What did it sound like on the moon? I wondered what we looked like to the astronauts. I wondered about the universe and my place in it as I never had before.
Not counting my parents, Mrs. McDowell was my first teacher. In many ways, she was the most important one I ever had.
In Alabama, a state that has never put education high on its list of priorities, she devoted 22 years of her life to nurturing hundreds, maybe thousands of children. With love and imagination, she made sure they got off to a good start.
Peggy Bailey McDowell died this week, and her family laid her to rest in the small town where I was born.
Today we commemorate the moon landing, as we should. But in my heart and every action I take, I'm honoring an amazing and generous teacher named Mrs. McDowell. She showed young children that they could dream of the moon on a summer day. And she gave us the tools and encouragement to live in the wonderful world that spins below it.
Thank you, Mrs. McDowell. I'll never stop looking up. Promise.