I woke up to the sound of the bus bell, ringing out at the end of our block, signalling the first stop for the beach. Kids shrieked with laughter as they played catch in a neighbour’s yard and I heard Ma mumbling to herself as she twisted the knob back and forth on the new washing machine back before it finally chugged into gear like the Saturn V Rocket roaring from Cape Kennedy. In the room next door, Jinni was tapping her tiny plastic horses’ hooves on the window ledge and humming Let the Sunshine In for the millionth time while downstairs, on the back porch, Pop switched off the voice of Nixon on the wireless and replaced him with Davis’ Porgy and Bess on the gramophone. The Dickermans’ had a portable turntable for years now while we still had to make do with grampa’s old gramophone even though we’d more money than anyone on the beach side of Branford hills.
Jackson, Haines and Todd Tierney turned up as Ma cleared away my breakfast tray and the gang were allowed stay all afternoon. Jackson, the only out-of-stater in our little group, had just come back from camp with a newly built Estes Big Bertha model rocket, standing almost 2 feet high. It was big, black, bold and my, oh my, was it certainly yare. I watched from the bedroom window as they set it up in the yard and followed the trail of white smoke as it soared into the air before the red parachute burst out and returned her to the ground. Ayah, I thought, Bertha was wicked enough but, for me, the shiny white Trident model with its sleek line and red stripe was much more akin to Armstrong’s awesome Apollo.
Ma kept the smiles on our faces with afternoon snacks; a long grinder packed with cold meat, lettuce and tomato, her best-in-the-town cherry lemonade and double helpings of apple pie. Pop turned on the Linkletter show and cracked up the volume for the neighbours to hear and Haines ogled at Jinni through the window as she cartwheeled around the yard as if she was deliberately orbiting his imagination. We wrapped the rest of the afternoon up in Monopoly. Tierney, the old nutmegger, cheated twice, Jackson spent almost the entire time in jail, just like his own grampa, and yet, somehow, I still lost even though I’d managed to trade Short Line railroad with gumball-brained Tierney early on and had been the lucky son-of-a-gun to call shotgun on Illinois Avenue before anyone else, and usually only jail is more popular than this place, usually!
The boys set off home after they’d brought me down to the parlour in time for the news so we could check in with our three bravest countrymen. Turned out that our Space heroes were no more talkative on a rocket than they’d been on land. They’d spent their second day in space cooking, sweeping, making coffee and forecasting the weather. Cronkite told us that no news was good news but Jeez, give us a little something, I thought. This was Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, for real. I’d been dreaming about this moment from lift-off to set-down and no sweeping brush or coffee maker had got in the way of the weightlessness of my body floating through space. The final news report was some story about someone who said sorry to someone else who had once said something about spaceflight not being possible even though someone else had said it would be and now that someone was embarrassed because someone else was actually right and three humans were now in space. Phew!
Pops returned me to bed at 9pm that evening with a tummy fit to burst from Nelly’s creamy clam chowder, whose smell couldn’t even be matched by the blueberry cobbler she’d made us for dessert. Once Mum had helped me with the final duties of the night; toilets and teeth, I took my torch and elbow-crawled my way under the blankets, dragging Pops childhood copy of Amazing Adventures with me. In Pop’s day, when Buck Rogers was called Anthony for a reason I never understood, the coolest toy was Rogers’ Rocket Police Patrol Ship, which he now had locked behind a glass case in this study which smelt constantly of spicy flowers, the lasting residue of his Connecticut shade cigars. I wasn’t often allowed play with the ship, unless a doctor’s visit had left me too unsettled, but I always pictured it in my head when I went swashbuckling with Buck and his galpal Wilma Deering. Rogers had miraculously awoken after a sleep of over 400 years and within days was battling the Han race with rocket pistols and jumping belts. Suddenly it was turning out that science, space and super heroes were more real today than yesterday. A man was now on his way to the moon and there sure was nothing more wicked than that. You know, plenty of people who couldn’t imagine it yesterday now believed in it today. Who knows what else could happen with a little time and imagination, perhaps a crippled boy of today could rise up, all by himself, tomorrow and take one small step.
All words by Damien B Donnelly
Photographs taken at La Lune exhibition, Grand Palais Paris, 2019
This is a reblog of an earlier post.