Where were you?
If you grew up during the 60’s, as I did, this is not an uncommon question for you. Originally, you probably heard it in reference to the shooting of JKF. Personally, I have no idea where I was when President Kennedy was shot. Perhaps, terrorizing my older sisters or placing a piece of wood over my pet turtles and stomping on them because I supposedly wanted to see them without their shells. My family loves to tout this story to show proof of my deviancy but once again, I have no recollection. In this case I find my lack of memory convenient.
When I hear “Where Were You” I think of one event…The Apollo 11 mission and man’s first steps on the moon. To me, this is the quintessential event of America’s “coolness” as it clearly defined things that were important to me.
I have always been interested in the stars and what is out there. As a young boy, there were many nights I laid on the ground looking up at the night sky and letting my mind wander. The chance that we were not alone is the recipe of great fantasies. If aliens did exist, what did they look like? Did they have cool spaceships? Which people on earth would they eat first? Other life in the universe was the fuel for the imagination of not only me but surely many of other nerdy young boys.
But where we were when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon helps to frame up our lives. For me, where I was at the very moment of Man’s Greatest Achievement became such a part of my future but there was no way for anyone to have known at that time. And who really does know how much the present will affect our upcoming lives? Many things happen to us weekly that have an impressive impact on our coming days but it’s the truly big events that help to mark the calendars of our own personal timelines. If you need proof of this just think back to your life when you heard Elvis or John Lennon died. What were you doing when you found out the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded? What was going on in your life the morning of the 9-11 attacks? These types of monumental events help to take a snap shot photo of your life during this time period that is recorded in your brain. Unlike mundane everyday happenings, these types of pivot events help to imprint not only big but small details of your existence at that time.
On July 20th, 1969 the background for me was the State Park of Lake Cushman in NW Washington State. My parents along with my three other siblings were enjoying the great outdoors with another family we often camped with. We were eating outside, sleeping outside, suffering 2nd degree burns from the campfires outside and overall enjoying all that Washington’s Olympic National Forest had to offer. But this was no ordinary lake we stayed near, as later years would show me. There was something special about this setting that would become a very important part of me…of who I would become and my very happiness.
During our stay at Lake Cushman this week was also one of the most important personal achievements in my life. I learned how to water ski. And as I went on in my youth, I discovered I not only I liked to ski but I was good at it. Not being what you would call a natural athlete, when I found a sport or activity I could excel at I would embrace it. Skiing became my single best sporting activity I would ever do. It truly helped me discover that when you are good at something it gave you the confidence you need in life. I liked being good at something.
When I think of all the things that happened at Lake Cushman during the summer of my 8th year, I wonder if my memories would be as clear if we would not have stayed in the campground next to the older couple in a pick-up camper (They were probably younger than I am now). There was nothing particularly special about this couple other than the man had somehow shimmied up one of the huge Douglas fir trees at his site and attached a TV antenna as high as he could. Then, he hooked the wires up to a 10 inch, black & white TV that was plugged in to the cigarette lighter of his pick-up. To today’s standards, we would laugh at how primitive this viewing device was but to me this guy was Captain Kirk. Who had such cool gadgets in 1969? How did he have the foresight to bring them camping? Why couldn’t my dad be this cool? This would have been a good question to ask my dad except I knew better than to ever ask my dad a question. It was a survival thing. But the idea that all of us could be living our lives in the great outdoors and could witness an event that I think is akin to the discover of fire was awesome. Thanks old dude…and thanks Neil Armstrong. That thing you did on our only permanent satellite really helped me remember the things that were important to me that summer.
Lake Cushman has gone on to be my “happy place” in life and in my mind. My parents bought property on the other end of the lake the very next year and years later built a cabin there. I spent many summers skiing and spending more time on the water than on dry land. But my journey to adulthood also started there. My first game of truth or dare was there. My first game of hide and seek for the sole purpose to sneak a kiss was there. My first real experience with a girl was there. And at age 14, I met a boy on the lake that is still my best friend today. This lake played such a crucial role in the formation of my life but its funny how its beginning started with One Giant Step.
So when you look at the big occurrences that happened during the course our lives, think of not only that historic event itself but what was going on at that time in your life. It might just have been as important to you as a man landing on the moon.
So, where were you?