"Tell us, Primly, tell us what you felt during the blast-off, at the very moment when your husband's rocket began to rise from the earth and take him on this historic journey."
"To tell you the truth, Nancy, I missed that part of it. I'd sort of dozed off, because I got up so early this morning and I'd been rushing around a lot taping the shades shut, so the TV people wouldn't come in the windows."
"And finally, Primly, I know that the most important prayer of your life had already been answered: Squarely has returned safely from outer space. But if you could have one other wish at this moment and have it come true, what would that one wish be?" "Well, Nancy, I'd wish for an Electrolux vacuum cleaner, with all the attachments …"
Armstrong had also told his parents that it would be better not to come to Kennedy, so they had stayed home in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Unlike almost any other American celebrity, however, astronauts were of modest income, with backgrounds in the military, where they had all been trained. There is in fact a great history in aviation of 'ordinary' heroes — the Wright brothers made bicycles and Lindbergh was a mailman, after all. But the astronauts were the first to be in such a position, and then come face-to-face with the worst of American hero-worship.
Think of your son being the first man to go to the Moon; could there be a prouder moment in any parent's life?
Instead, Neil Armstrong's mother and father found themselves living in a Spielberg horror movie, their small town and their modest home under attack by a ceaseless horde of reporters and photographers, the broadcast networks even parking an eighty-foot transmission tower in their driveway. At the least, when it was learned they only had a black-and-white TV to watch their son's historic moment, a big color set arrived, courtesy of ABC, CBS, and NBC.
By Tuesday, July 15th, every room for let within fifty miles of Kennedy's pad 39A was taken; a thirty-mile swathe of highway was quadruple-parked end-to-end with untold thousands of cars and trailers and motorcycles and campers stocked with beer, Pepsi, and bikinis. It was the middle of summer in the middle of Florida, meaning a heat that melted asphalt onto the soles of barefoot children and a humidity that made women sweat like Teamsters, especially that remarkable gaggle of lithe and adventurous females that made their way to Cocoa for every shot, pretty young things on the hunt for astronauts, or their best buddies, or somebody who worked at NASA, or somebody, sure to have a swinging time at the Satellite, Vanguard, Polaris, Rocket! or Space Girls taverns, drinking liftoff martinis and moonlanders of vodka, soda, lime juice, crème de menthe and crème de cacao. Legend has it that a woman known as "Wickie" would trump them all by sleeping with six of the Original Seven. Cocoa's innkeepers knew what they were doing for, even under this giddy torrent, the town never ran out of liquor, gasoline, or food. It did, however, run out of alarm clocks.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from ROCKET MEN Copyright © Craig Nelson, 2009