I wasn’t born when Kennedy was assassinated, so I can’t remember firsthand Walter Cronkite’s teary announcement to the nation. I inherited a copy of the Montgomery Advertiser-Journal from Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963. I even know where it is.
I am certain I remember the Watergate hearing. It was summer of 1974. I was nine and old enough to help shell peas—the only time Mama would let me hang out indoors when school was out.
Daddy went to a sales convention in July 1976, somewhere in Indiana, I think. He took Mama and me with him. They had an event in the hotel on Saturday night and left me in the room by myself, crossing my heart not to venture out or open the door to anyone besides them. While I’ve always been able to entertain myself, they fretted a tad because there was nothing on television but the Democratic National Convention. They burst out laughing when they hurried back to find me spellbound by the process.
Oliver North was so ever-present in summer 1987 that I put a picture of him from the cover of Newsweek in my wedding album.
I had just turned four when the astronauts landed on the moon. I think I remember watching it on television. Frankly, the memory probably isn’t real, but for the sake of today, can we pretend it is?
Daddy King had two sisters who lived together in Montgomery for half of the 20th century. One worked for the State of Alabama Department of Revenue, the other for the finance department at Maxwell Air Force Base. Mama King wrote about them frequently in her diary. She called them “the girls.” Aunt Lillian never married. (She gave Angie some pillowcases from her “hopeless chest”—but she said it with twinkle in her eyes.) Aunt Eunice’s husband died young. They spent holidays with my grandparents, so I knew them well. They are buried side by side in the King plot in Pinckard, Alabama. They called me Cissie.
I found the following letter in Mama’s house after my children were born:
20 July 1969
To-night Aunt Lillian and I are watching Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Air Force Col. Edwin E. Aldrin walk on the moon.
Commander Armstrong was the first man in history to walk on the moon.
This has been an exciting week end. The President of the U.S. has given federal employees Monday off, as at first we thought the walk would be delayed until around two o’clock to-night. The holiday was for all to see the pictures to-morrow, and it was a day given in respect to the brave men.
Some day you will be studying about this in history, but remember, Angie, Starla, Mama King and Daddy King, also Aunt Betty and your mother and father saw.
It is 10:30 P.M. Sunday night. Our pastor had an 8:30 service at our church, so everyone could go home and watch T.V.
The moon is like powder but firm. The astronauts are collecting moon samples to bring back to earth. They have planted the flag of the U.S. on the moon. They have been on the moon bouncing around like a kangaroo for 1 ½ hours. They have 30 minutes more to go.
We all pray that they can return safely to the space craft manned by Lt. Col. Michael Collins, who is standing by. We won’t go to bed until they are safely back in the space craft and on their flight back to earth.
They should return by next Thursday.
This letter isn’t well written, but I am so excited and nervous over the event until I just can’t relax.
Some day you can read this letter where it will make sense to you, so until then put away to keep.
From your 59 year old great aunt.
I am enclosing a letter where the President of the U.S. gave federal employees the day off.
Love you Cissie—
What caused her to write me?! How could she know I’d be the one to cherish yellowed pieces of paper from the past?! She never told me about the letter. I wonder if she remembered writing it. I wonder if Mama told her she saved it for me. Maybe she thought it was no big deal.
And here we are 50 years later. And I have a faded treasure that subtly screams I love you to the moon and back.
I am currently a 54-year-old great aunt to six great nieces and four great nephews, whom I think are out-of-this-world. I better get some stationery.
Celeste King Conner regrets that she rarely handwrites letters or shells peas. She enjoys emailing at email@example.com.