One Small Step

Hank got home from work late. His 1969 Buick Riviera—metallic blue—rolled into the carport of a nondescript one-story-one-bath in Suburbia, USA. He stepped out of his car. He stretched his back.

It was nighttime. The moon was out.

He was tall, lean, with salt-and-pepper hair. More salt than pepper. He wore a tan suit and a striped necktie because this was the uniform of the American desk jockey.

In his den, Hank found his son and daughter sitting cross-legged before a glowing television screen, their two noses practically smooshed against the tele-tube glass.

Hank’s wife was perched on the edge of their sofa, smoking Camels, her eyes focused on the RCA console.

“Hi,” said Hank.

“Ssshhh,” his wife said.

She didn’t say “Hello.” Neither did she say, “Hi, honey, how was work?” It was just “Sssshhh.”

“Sorry I’m home late,” he said. “Traffic was just—”

“Sssshhh,” everyone said in unison.

He left the den and entered the vinyl kitchen. He placed his briefcase onto the enamel kitchen table. He retrieved an Old Milwaukee from the Kelvinator refrigerator.

In the oven was his Swanson TV dinner, baking on low heat, still boiling in its volcanic-lava gravy. He took one bite of his unevenly heated turkey-and-mashed-potatoes and the roof of his mouth was ruined forevermore.

This food reminded him of the MRE field rations he ate when he was in Italy, fighting Hitler. Except, the field rations tasted better than this flash-frozen slop.

He returned to the den to find his family still rapt before the screen.

He said, “What are you all watchin—”

“SSSHHH!!!”

The voice on the TV sounded like it was coming from a walkie-talkie. The voice said: “This is Houston, Roger. We copy. And we’re standing by…”

His family was lost within the black spell of the boob tube. He didn’t understand these people. How had they let technology invade their lives like this? Look at them. They were vegetables.

But then, Hank was from the old world. Born in 1928, under the Coolidge administration, back when pennies were made of steel, and Babe Ruth was still the Sultan of Swat. Silent movie theaters had in-house pianists, and Al Jolson was swell.

In those days, men living in Hank’s little Illinois hometown were still using horses and buckboards to transport feed corn from the mercantile. Gasoline was two dimes per gallon.

The walkie-talkie voice on TV came again. And the text on the TV read, “Col. Edwin Aldrin Jr.—Moonship Pilot.”

Moonship.

On the screen was a man clad in what appeared to be an atmospheric diver’s suit. The suit was pure white. The bulbous helmet was the size of a beachball, and there was a large pack on the man’s back.

Dad was about to ask another dumb question but was met with a sharp “Ssssshhhh!”

“This is history,” muttered Hank’s wife.

History. The year before Hank was born, history had been made by a young man from Little Falls, Minnesota, who completed a nonstop flight across the Atlantic.

Hank still remembered the newspapers explaining that Charles Lindeburg made wee-wee into a little funnel, mid-flight, whereupon the waste was expelled somewhere off the coast of France. Schoolboys in Hank’s era had fun with that particular tidbit of trivia.

“Lucky Lindy tinkled on France!” his pals would all say, howling with laughter.

Meantime, Hank’s living-room television was broadcasting something much more compelling than a Minnesotan urinating on France. This was history.

The TV’s image was grainy, hard to make out, but the man in the suit was descending a ladder from the moonship. When the man’s feet touched ground, the TV voice said:

“That’s one small step for man—” long pause, “—one giant leap for mankind.”

Mom’s eyes were wider than tractor tires. Her cigarette ash had burned all the way to her knuckles. Hank’s daughter was covering her mouth with her little hands like she was about to either laugh or weep.

Hank’s oldest son shot to his feet and tore out of the house. Hank followed him. He found the boy standing on the front lawn, looking upward at the moon.

In the darkness Hank could see other dads, and other sons, standing in nearby yards. They were all looking at the same sky.

“Can you believe it?” said one of the neighbors. “We put a man on the moon.”

“Heck of a thing,” said Hank.

“You ever think you’d live to see the day?”

“No.”

“Really makes you think, don’t it Hank? I mean, where will mankind be in another fifty years?”

“Don’t know,” said Hank. “But it don’t much matter, does it? You and me won’t be alive in fifty years.”

Which just goes to show you how wrong he was.

Happy 94th birthday, Hank.

37 comments

  1. Lisa K Riley - January 29, 2022 8:04 am

    Happy Birthday, Hank! Thank you, Sean for reminding us we need to be grateful for lots of not so little things that have happened in our lifetimes.

    Reply
  2. Cathie Fowler - January 29, 2022 10:52 am

    Wonderful this morning! I had just graduated from high school and lived near Kennedy Space Center (not sure they’d changed the name yet, but that’s what it’s called today). So exciting for the entire area, and he walked on my dad’s birthday. Thanks for the happy memories this morning! Happy birthday to Hank…wish I could share this with my dad. Lost him many years ago, so enjoy your day, Hank. Eat cake!

    Reply
  3. Ann - January 29, 2022 11:55 am

    Happy birthday,Hank!

    Reply
  4. Debra Walter - January 29, 2022 1:16 pm

    Wonderful story that caused the world to pause for a moment and look up! I live in FL and remember that day well. We have looked up my entire life as rockets, space shuttles and SpaceX ships are hurled heavenward. Still takes my breath away.
    Thanks for the memory, Sean, as always!

    Reply
  5. Joy Jacobs - January 29, 2022 1:30 pm

    I was in high school. I’m only 70. Happy birthday Hank.

    Reply
  6. Becky - January 29, 2022 1:55 pm

    Happy Birthday to Hank! No Swanson dinner for you today; get that man a steak!

    Reply
  7. Paul McCutchen - January 29, 2022 2:01 pm

    Have a great day Hank! I was at my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Alabama when it happened. We were in a state of wonder. My Uncle said it was hard to believe that they traveled 4 days to get there but only two got to step out then 4 days back.

    Reply
  8. Sarah - January 29, 2022 2:13 pm

    Happy birthday, Hank!

    Sean, God has given you an exceptionally large portion of artistic gifts: your writing/storytelling, music, and your drawing skills. Your talents/skills are so impressive! And I love how you shared them with the world. Thank you!

    Reply
  9. Jan - January 29, 2022 2:30 pm

    Happy Birthday, Hank! So many memories … my son and I were remembering the Challenger and the sadness of that day just yesterday. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  10. Connie - January 29, 2022 2:55 pm

    Happy birthday Hank. The men of that era were and are something else. My father in law is 93 and I’m a little in awe of the changes he’s seen in those years. Just in my lifetime the world has changed but that generation saw history being made. God bless them all and you too Sean. You make us remember.

    Reply
  11. Max Reno - January 29, 2022 3:17 pm

    Good column. Happy birthday to Hank. However when Hank was in Italy fighting Hitler the army issued K rations or C rations to the soldiers. MREs did not appear until 1981

    Reply
  12. Stacey Wallace - January 29, 2022 3:49 pm

    Happy Birthday, Hank!

    Reply
  13. Richard Owen - January 29, 2022 4:00 pm

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HANK!
    I remember that day (07/20/69) very well. I was a romping, stomping 3rd class submarine sonar tech attending sonar A2 school in Key West, Florida. My wife and first born (a 3-month old daughter who turns 54 this year) were both asleep in the bedroom of our 1-bdrm, 1-ba apartment on Catherine Street. I was sitting in the living room watching the landing on TV and could not believe that they were sleeping through this! I was like Hank’s family and totally enthralled at what was happening right before my eyes!

    Reply
  14. Susan Marler - January 29, 2022 4:42 pm

    Happy Birthday Hank! That night in Florida my Mom, Dad, my boyfriend and I sat rapt in front of the TV too. You’ve seen a lot of amazing things in your 94 years. Here’s to the next ones!

    Reply
  15. Sheila G - January 29, 2022 4:51 pm

    It was a Sunday night in California where we were living at the time. Will never forget.

    Reply
  16. Ernest Moyer - January 29, 2022 4:57 pm

    I remember sitting in a small bunker perched on top of Hai Van Pass in Vietnam watching Armstrong walk on the moon on AFTV. We had a small black and white TV with a 9 inch screen. It was a hell of a contrast with what we were doing that day guarding the Pass.

    Reply
    • Stacey Purcell - February 10, 2022 2:07 pm

      Bless you and thank you for your service!!

      Reply
  17. Shelton A. - January 29, 2022 5:56 pm

    I sat rapt when Armstrong set foot on the moon. MY dad was a mechanical (read electrical) engineer with an aeronautics minor. This was huge to him. He explained all the orbital info to me as best as I could understand. I remember very well. My dad was proud of our country. God bless you, Hank, I hope you remember every moment. Thanks for sharing, Sean. God bless you and Jamie (and the four-footed family). I pray your nephew is improving and getting closer to going home with your sister and dad.

    Reply
    • Caroline Conner - February 3, 2022 2:37 am

      I remember it well. I was teaching summer school at Saint Andrew’s Elementary in Panama City. Have a picture holding the newspaper with big headlines. Wishing Hank a very happy 94th birthday!

      Reply
  18. Linda Moon - January 29, 2022 6:39 pm

    Al Jolson WAS swell and so are silent movies. Thank you for the shout-out for both. Not to diminish anything historically important, but my Baby Moon took her first small step on the same day of mankind’s leap. Mama’s eyes (mine) were open wide for both events! Hank, you and my “Baby” are still here, so Happy Birthday To You!

    Reply
  19. MAM - January 29, 2022 7:16 pm

    I remember the day well. We were a year married, young and couldn’t afford a TV, but some fellow students had one and invited all their friends over. We all got to watch that historic “one small step for man—one giant leap for mankind.” We were probably shushing chatters, too. What an awesome night! And Happy Birthday to Hank! Thanks as always for your wonderful storytelling skills, Sean!

    Reply
  20. Pat - January 29, 2022 7:35 pm

    Sweet memories for those of us who watched it!!!

    Reply
  21. Belinda Byrd - January 29, 2022 8:17 pm

    Our lives are definitely in God’s hands. 🙏🏼❤️

    Reply
    • Susie - January 30, 2022 12:23 am

      i fear that too ku h of that kind of thinking, Belinda, will be the downfall of this country. Lazy thinking, so people don’t think they NEED to act on their own behalf. So sad for this country.

      Reply
  22. Chasity Davis Ritter - January 29, 2022 9:16 pm

    Happy birthday Hank.

    Reply
  23. Susie - January 29, 2022 11:55 pm

    Yes, Hank, happy Birthday to you! And all the more reason to act on CLIMATE change, so your legacy can help protect your descendants!! And ONLY if you have the foresight,,

    Reply
    • Susie - January 30, 2022 12:04 am

      Hopefully, Hank, your descendants are forward-looking people.

      Reply
      • Susie - January 30, 2022 12:14 am

        Cuz even tho you won’t be here, Hank, your descendants WILL be!!

        Reply
  24. AlaRedClayGirl - January 29, 2022 11:57 pm

    As a 10-year-old, I remember watching the moon walk on our black & white TV. Since my grandmother worked for NASA in Huntsville at the time, I felt especially proud that she had a very miniscule part in the historic event. Happy Birthday, Hank!

    Reply
  25. RHONDA - January 30, 2022 1:18 am

    Cute one Sean!

    Reply
  26. Karen Snyder - January 30, 2022 3:00 am

    Happy Birthday, Hank!

    Reply
  27. Donna George-Moskovitz - January 30, 2022 3:51 am

    Don’t take this wrong, but I love your endings.
    P.S. I prayed that you and Jaime stay healthy and happy. You all touch my heart.

    Reply
  28. Nancy M - January 30, 2022 3:56 am

    Happy Birthday to Hank. We had been married almost a year that summer, and watched the moon landing with friends. It was amazing!!

    Reply
  29. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - January 30, 2022 4:26 pm

    Reply
  30. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - January 31, 2022 6:08 pm

    That’s a good one. Some of us are still here! I was a child then, but I remember!

    Reply
  31. Anne M Robinson - February 22, 2022 2:27 pm

    I was in high school but remember it still. We lived in a better time. Trouble days are head of us today. Pray and than pray harder.

    Reply
  32. Susie - February 22, 2022 3:16 pm

    You are SOOOO RIGHT, Anne R. LOTS of troubled days are ahead of us in many ways. The social climate sucks and so does climate change. I so wish more people were paying attention to both. Care to venture a guess as to most endangered species at the moment?? ANYONE!?!? Try the UNINFORMED CITIZENRY. past time, to wake up, people.

    Reply

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