It was just a couple of days before I was to celebrate my 9th birthday. As was typical for that particular summer, I was outside working on my pitching technique and living in a baseball fantasy by relentlessly throwing a rubber ball against the front porch to invisible (to everyone but me) batters. Without knowing the constant ball bouncing drove my mom absolutely crazy, she rarely said anything to me about it unless the ball bounced backward and slammed into the screen door. That usually drew at least a glare. On this particular day, however, mom pulled me off the field for something special.
On the morning of July 16, 1969, three men took a long ride in a rocket ship and I was summoned to watch the historic liftoff. Fifty years has caused the memory to fade somewhat, but the feeling that something incredible and full of hope was taking place has not subsided.
1969 started out a bit rough for me. My dad had passed away in late winter of that year and, as a result, I was in somewhat of a fog for a while. My “in-charge” mom saw to it that the fog lifted in short order. As spring approached, Chicago Cubs pinch-hitter Willie smith hit a game-winning home run on opening day, which was the start of a summer of Cub love. Before long, baseball had consumed my life as well as the lives of most of the neighbor kids and adults.
Hot summer days in 1969 began with a series of whiffle ball games played on my neighbor’s driveway. Playing habits, hitting mannerisms and throwing styles of Cubs players were emulated with precision as our games took on the feeling of a stage production and much more than a casual game of “pitch it – hit it”. Scores we tabulated and game statistics were kept as we drifted further off into a world of summer dreams all of our own.
Following our morning games, we traveled to the house at the end of the block owned by the Blackstones. Bea and Mickey Blackstone, an elderly couple, had an open-door policy. Come in, grab a bottle of Pepsi out of the refrigerator and take a seat on the couch as Cubs afternoon baseball was shown on WGN-TV. Their house was a safe haven for the neighborhood kids, even though no haven in our neighborhood was needed. We were blanketed by the hope that our beloved Cubs were destined to win the World Series…no doubt!
Cub Power was paused, at least for a day, as Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were stuffed into the capsule of Apollo 11 and were shot off into space. Why were they flying to the moon, anyway? To an almost nine-year-old, it really didn’t matter. They were going to visit the moon and it all seemed pretty natural. We were hopeful their trip would go as planned, which it eventually did. We were also hopeful that our Cubs would go on to capture a World Series crown that year, which they didn’t. Regardless, we had hope that most anything could happen if we put our minds to it. Maybe it was only through the eyes of a skinny kid, but the world had genuine hope. Turmoil was taking place around the world at the time, but people were standing up and saying “no” to things like unjust wars and unsavory and crooked politicians. It was primarily young people who were taking a stand and their voices were eventually heard and changes were made.
I question whether or not we have similar hope in our country today. I wonder if nine-year-olds of today will in fifty years look back at 2019 with fond memories and a feeling of hope. Through the eyes of an almost 59-year-old, I’m looking for that hope but I just don’t see enough of it. With the exception of a few people who I keep in my ever-shrinking circle of friends, I can’t say I see a great deal of optimism for the future in the eyes of many. We’re basically a people of followers, but who are we following and why? Since we haven’t built a functioning time machine yet, maybe a figurative turning back of the clock is needed in order to recapture our hope…and voices.