1969: Followed by a Moon Shadow
I’m being followed by a moon shadow
Moon shadow, moon shadow
Leaping and hopping on a moon shadow
Moon shadow, moon shadow.
Where on earth were you when Neil Armstrong touched down on the moon and took that “one giant step for man, one giant leap for mankind”? The question arose when our All-American astronaut recently went “other worldly.”
That question is a cinch for this sissie. I was 100 miles south of New Orleans with my mama—on Grand Isle—watching her scratch a roux and enjoying laughter and love with her family —the funniest, zaniest, wackiest Cajun clan you can imagine. There she is with her Old Milwaukee—a staple with all the adults in our family.
The “Greatest Generation” that raised me had fought World War II, returned to the the GI Bill—and a bent for beer. Buckets of it—especially when our family went south to Grand Isle for weekends. I didn’t realize until I was fully grown that with our parents, and aunts and uncles, the permission we were granted was directly proportionate to the number of beers they drank. It was after a case or three of beer, and some boiled crayfish, that the “war songs” were warbled from the home grown Cajun chorus—“Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Hey Look Me Over,” “On Top of Old Smokie”—and by then we kids could ask to drive to the moon and it would be okay.
But that summer, everything came to a halt when our Neil Armstrong touched down on the moon on July 21, 1969. More important than a coveted LSU touchdown—and that’s saying a lot in Louisiana—this touchdown was in a different league on a different planet.
If Neil had been able to see Grand Isle from his space station, he would have seen the tiniest of teenagers—me, at 14, trying desperately to fit in. Each of my male cousins wanted to dress like the astronauts. Here I was watching Armstrong, worried about my weak arms that uncontrollably threw like a girl. I yearned for an apron, and to concoct tall cool glasses of Tang for the astronauts. Hindsight is 20-20 for a 14 year old—I should have waited until the third case of beer and asked if it was okay to be gay.
I’m relatively certain it escaped my family that just three weeks before Neil donned his astronaut suit and headed out of the ozone, Sylvia RIvera put on her highest drag, and headed out to the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Sylvia became famous for the police bitch slap heard round the world that started the Stonewall riots. One small step for drag queens, one giant step for the LGBT community. Hmmm...was it even covered in the local paper? As with most gay teens my age trying to contain every instinct, I was being followed by a mood shadow as well. Here’s an old Cajun joke: Question: What is the loneliest bayou? Answer: By you self. A grammatical hardy har har, but in reality, no joke for a lonesome homo.
Time heals everything, and the Blue Moon here in Rehoboth is a great place to reflect on all this. Why settle for a moon shadow when you can bask in a moon tan—that glow after two tall gin and tonics with your friends who’ve all made it to safe ground—and gaining. Sipping a big sissie cocktail, and watching pictures from Mars on the TV, I think about my mother and what a wonderful, kind, strong, and wise woman she was. One of the- guilty pleasures we shared was reading humorist Erma Bombeck—and in particular The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank. So I can laugh now—four decades later—that a crappy adolescence lands me here where the grass is so green. Out on the patio in the newsstand are stacks of Letters and in them, my little column—Erma Bombeck lite.
A local D.C. restaurant recently offered a hilarious, albeit politically incorrect, cocktail named the White Trash Mimosa: equal parts Old Milwaukee and Tang. Very clever. If mama were here, we’d mix one, toast Armstrong n’ Rivera, those two heroes of the summer of ‘69—and then hoist a glass to the new adventures of Old Milwaukee. Here’s to finally leaping and hopping on the Blue Moon. No shadow.
Surely my mama—and Erma—would laugh.
Brent Mundt resides in Washington, DC, but lives in Rehoboth Beach. Photo: Summer of "69: Mama, with Old Milwaukee.