Paula Shablo: In Living Black and White

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In Living Black & White

By Paula Shablo

Pamela was nine years, two months and twelve days old when the Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy. “I’m writing it down in my diary,” she announced, scribbling in the battered little book. “When I’m old, it will be history!”

“We’re watching it on TV,” Rob scoffed. “It’s not like we’re there in person or something.”

“Quiet, you,” Tim scolded. “Just appreciate that we’re able to watch it in living black-and-white.”

Minnie, Pamela’s little sister, giggled at Pamela’s friends. “That’s funny, ‘living black-and-white,’ Timmy!”

“Yeah, I’m a laugh riot,” Tim agreed.

“I can’t believe your mom let us in this early,” Scott said. “My mom about had a hissy fit that I was going out before breakfast, but our TV is on the fritz, and I didn’t want to miss it.”

“Yeah,” Tim said. “Our ‘what I did this summer’ themes are practically written.”

Pamela rolled her eyes. “I hate those things.”

No one disagreed with that.

Dora and Ronnie, the littlest siblings, showed no interest at all in the television screen, which featured a long view of the launching pad accompanied by a droning voice talking about preparations and the countdown that would soon commence. Minnie was bored, but was determined to hang out with Pamela and her friends as long as they allowed it. Mostly, they didn’t, but today was different. It was history.

“So,” Rob speculated, “the Jupiter Two launches in 1997…”

“It’s just a TV show, Rob,” Tim scoffed.

“But it could happen,” Pamela argued. “First the moon, and then — who knows?”

Scott shook his head, dubious. He and Tim were really smart, especially about science. This had not stopped either of them from watching shows like “Lost in Space” and “Star Trek,” but they were both quick to point out that none of the technology in those shows was anywhere near being available in 1969. “I don’t think we’ll even make it as far as Mars by then,” he declared.

Pamela sighed. “I want to go,” she said. “Even if it takes until 1997 and I’m an old lady like Will Robinson’s mother.”

“Ooo, yuck!” Minnie cried. “You can’t be a little old lady in space!”

The boys laughed, but Pamela was indignant. “I can so!” she said. “I can do anything I want!”

“Shhh!” Tim said. “They’re starting the countdown!”

Pamela’s mother heard that, and came to sit on the sofa and watch as the children, all seated in a semicircle, too close to the television, began to chant: “Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! ONE!! BLAST OFF!!!”

There appeared to be a pause, and the ship was engulfed in smoke. It seemed to hover just above the launch pad, eternally frozen in time.

The children exhaled loudly as it took flight and rose into the air.

There came a lot of excited chatter, some in the room, some from the TV.

For a short whil,e they were able to watch as the cameras followed the flight path into the sky, but soon Apollo 11 was too far away to see.

Pamela felt exalted and let down at the same time. She could see that her friends likely felt the same way. Tim was flushed, Scott was pale, and Rob was fidgeting enough that it seemed he might launch himself at any moment.

“Well!” Pamela’s mother rose from the sofa, and brushed her hands over her skirt and apron. “Wasn’t that exciting? Who wants waffles?”

They all did, and followed her into the little kitchen. Pamela felt antsy with anticipation. “How long until they land on the moon, Mom?” she asked. “Dinner time?”

“Oh, no.” Her mother shook her head. “It will take a few days.”

Tim and Scott nodded knowingly, but Rob and Pamela both jumped up and yelled, “What?”

“It’s really far,” Tim explained.

“But, rockets are fast!” Rob protested.

“Which goes to show how really, really far it is,” Scott replied.

“Oh, wow,” Pamela sighed. “Now what?”

Her mother put a plate of waffles on the table and said, “Now, we wait. We wait, and we pray that everything goes right, so those men come home safely to their families.”

Over the next few days, Pamela and her friends ate their meals and played their summer games, but mostly they lay on their lawns and watched the sky, wondering what was happening up there.

It was a Sunday, and the fathers were all home. Pamela and her family found themselves gathered at Rob’s family’s house, along with Tim’s and Scott’s families. Rob’s family had a color television set, but everything was broadcast in glorious black-and-white.

“Living black-and-white!” Minnie cried, and Tim laughed. He sounded a little hysterical.

Everyone was nervous, even the grownups. They were drinking alcoholic drinks, every one of them.

The children sat too close to the set, clutching bottles of cold Dr. Pepper.

There were plates of chips and crackers and cold cuts, but no one was eating them. No one spoke much, and rarely above a whisper, as they all listened to whatever was allowed to be said over the live broadcast.

“I think they’re keeping something from us,” Scott’s dad whispered to the other adults, and they all sipped their drinks simultaneously.

Whether or not that was true, it was finally announced that the Eagle was setting down.

Pamela was nine years, two months and sixteen days old when the Eagle landed on the moon, and a few hours older than that when Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface, declaring “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

She wrote it all in her diary. When she was old, it would be history.

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 Please visit Paula on her blog: https://paulashablo.wordpress.com/