Fifty years ago, our family of five loaded up the light green ’63 Chevy Biscayne and headed out for our last family vacation.
By 1970, jobs and hectic schedules had left us all too busy to coordinate a day-long outing, much less a two-week vacation. As it happens, the summer of ’69 was one for the record books in more ways than one.
I’ve written in this space before about our dad’s “scared straight” launch of this trip. In his law enforcement days (remember that I’m a “P.K.” – policeman’s kid), Dad knew all kinds of folks in that field throughout the state. At the time, Leonard Meacham was warden at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins and Dad had arranged a tour. I was 16, my sister was 15 and my brother was 14.
Now this was Wyoming’s first prison in Rawlins, opened in 1901 – very much an imposing place, right out of a horror movie. Picture this: Two teenage girls walking briskly through the cell block and yes, there were inmates in those cells. To this day, I’m not sure what Dad was thinking.
No one was incarcerated on Death Row at the time, and Mr. Meacham led us along the route where an inmate would trudge to the gas chamber. I cannot describe the strange feeling that came over me in that small room. Was I scared straight? Well, if I wasn’t before, I certainly was when we drove away, that chilling prison in the rearview mirror.
Eventually, we made our way to my aunt and uncle’s home in Portland, Ore., where we watched on TV as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, July 20, 1969. It was amazing to watch – especially with our two cousins. As I reflect on that event 50 years ago, I first wonder how it’s possible for me to say that I was anywhere 50 years ago. It seems like only yesterday – cliché, I know, but so true.
Second, I’m not sure as a junior in high school that I totally grasped the monumental nature of this historic event. I viewed an Apollo 11 documentary recently and discovered that I had so little knowledge of all that transpired to make that lunar landing possible.
It was also many years later that I learned of a small debate about Armstrong’s words as he set foot on the moon’s surface. It seems he was misquoted. “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” is what he really said. But, as media reported the words, the “a” before “man” was omitted, making the statement redundant.
However, in 2006, computer programmer Peter Shann Ford downloaded the audio of Armstrong’s man’s words from a NASA website, according to an Aug. 27, 2012, story by Natalie Wolchover on Space.com.
Ford “analyzed the statement with software that allows disabled people to communicate via computers using their nerve impulses,” Wolchover wrote, “[finding] a 35-millisecond-long bump of sound between ‘for’ and ‘man’ that would have been too brief for human ears to hear.”
Regardless, everyone knew the gist of Armstrong’s words.
Yes, that was an epic vacation, that reminds me of the words of songster Bryan Adams, “Oh, when I look back now, that summer seemed to last forever. And if I had the choice, yeah, I’d always wanna be there. Those were the best days of my life…back in the summer of ’69.”