Where were you when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?
It’s the question of the week. I have been searching my cache of memories for an answer. But I can’t remember the event. Andrew says he remembers it clearly. He watched it on TV. It was night time, he says, someone roused him from sleep.
I always believed him, until this week. Until I found out the moon landing took place at 13:50 AEST, which is ten to two in the afternoon, if my time-zone converter isn’t lying.
So what was he watching? Remembering? Who roused him from sleep?
We may never know the answers to those questions. It’s a black hole in our family history. But it set me wondering. Where was I when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon? Why can’t I remember the momentous event?
I would have been five years of age at the time. I did a quick finger count. Yes, five. The catechism of my family history says I came to Australia at the age of four and a half. That means I must have been in Geelong on July 21st 1969 at 13:50 AEST.
But why can't I remember? And when exactly did we emigrate? For some reason, that date is also missing from my cache. I don’t know why? It was the AD of my childhood. The beginning and end of everything.
I remember my Aunty Jean crying at the airport and Mum being airsick. I remember Dad eating Mum’s airline meals. Ian walking up and down the aisle of the Boeing 747, even at that age unable to sit still. I remember Darwin airport, too, with its high ceiling fans. Mum being take away for re-hydration. Soldiers from Vietnam. I even remember pulling up in front of the Carrington Hotel in Geelong. It was Khaki Green and located next to used car yard. Mum vomited in the gutter at the sight.
I remember everything – except the moon landing.
I decided to ring Mum.
‘Hey Mum,' I asked. 'What date did we emigrate?’
‘We left the 31st of August, 1969,’ she said. It was a bank holiday. You were four and a half years of age.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘That’s strange. I must have been in England for the moon landing?’
‘Yes, dear, you were.’
‘But I came to Australia when I was four and a half, didn't I?’
I had a strange kaleidoscope feeling at this point. My identity breaking up an shifting. Last week, I did my first ever author interview with a magazine called Venue. It has a readership of around 20, 000. I told the interviewer Mum was Welsh and Dad was English. That we emigrated to Australia when I was four and a half years old - had I lied?
‘But, Mum,’ I said. ‘I would have been five years of age on 21st of July 21st, 1969.’
Silence on the end of the line.
I did a quick finger count.
‘Are you sure you’ve got the date right? Mum, can you hear me?’
‘I might be seventy two, Elizabeth. But I know when we emigrated!’
I did another finger count, slower this time. Mathematics has never been my strength. But I know I was born on July 3rd 1964. I’ve seen the birth certificate. I also know that nine take away four equals five. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but that makes me five years of age the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. It would have been 3:50 on July 21st, GMT, and I would have been tucked up in bed.
No wonder I don’t remember the moon landing? I was asleep. Mum and Dad were preparing to emigrate, selling furniture and packing boxes. About to embark upon their own momentous journey, leaving home, family, friends, and flying to the other side of the world. Henceforth to communicate with loved ones by infrequent letters and breathless three minute phone calls. The moon landing would barely have crossed their radar. Let alone an insignificant detail such as their daughter’s age.
But it matters to me – I was five years of age when I emigrated. Did you hear me, five!
Why has it taken me forty five years to work that out? I can’t answer that question. It’s a black hole in my experience. But I do know where I was when the moon landing took place, even if I can’t remember it.