Monday, July 20, 2009

My handshake went to the moon!

Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, but by then I was old enough to not have a hissy fit over it.

I'd cried a few years earlier, when I was 7 years old, and saw an article in LIFE saying that Jerrie Cobb was very likely going to be the first woman on the moon. Jerrie was a pilot who'd successfully gone through astronaut training until NASA decided in 1960 to bar women from the ranks of astronauts, no matter how qualified they were. I was jealous, and it just wasn't fair that she was going to be able to walk on the moon's surface before I could.

Buzz Aldrin came back to his New Jersey hometown in 1966, to be honored for his achievements in the Gemini 12 mission. Montclair proclaimed December 5 as "Buzz Aldrin Day," with much civic hoopla, and of course, a parade. I played flute in the Montclair High School marching band, resplendent in a uniform that looked like a cast-off donated by the palace guard of some tiny European duchy. If I wasn't in the fast track for showing that I had The Right Stuff, at least I could play The Right Note, even though I was mortified to be seen in public wearing that horribly goofy uniform.

After the parade there was a reception at the high school. I got to shake Buzz's hand. It's funny how memory is so kinesthetic sometimes. We were in the northern corridor outside the auditorium, by the short flight of steps, Buzz to the east of me. It was a short, perfunctory exchange of pleasantries, of the sort that Buzz had probably done thousands of times. I undoubtedly opened with a fervent yet suitably restrained expression of the "Golly Mr. Aldrin, it's great to meet you!" sort, trying not to sound too much like Eddie Haskell. Buzz probably countered with a "Thank you for coming." Hand thrust out, grab, pump, on to the next excited hometown citizen.

Three years later, Buzz took my handshake with him to the moon. I'm sure he didn't know he brought it, he probably had a lot on his mind. Question is, did he leave it there? Does it wait there, waving at me when I look up at the full moon? Or did it return with him, carrying the essence of moondust with it?

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