My mom is selling her house. She and dad bought it in 1961, and began raising five, then six kids in it. I was two years old when we arrived; I never knew any other home. She lived there for 48 years.
My lasting contribution to the home was a big orange stain of modeling paint, spilled into the carpet while finishing a race car model in my room. It was the kind of day-glo orange a nine-year-old kid would pick out. I dabbed some of it up with a rag, then gave up and left the rest to dry. I never told anyone about it, and it became a permanent part of the house.
My favorite models were the Revells. A latticework frame held tiny, intricate pieces I’d break off and use to assemble an AMC Gremlin Funny Car or P-51 Mustang Fighter Plane. My most ambitious project was a complete Saturn V rocket with an Apollo module on top, that opened to reveal the Lunar Landing Module. I built this while NASA was building the real one. I learned a lot about rockets and modeling glue.
I followed every tidbit about the Apollo missions. I flew my LEM in front of the television as Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. Even as a kid I was amazed that someone had the foresight to install a camera on the landing module, and I was baffled that, for all the required breakthroughs in technology, the historic video was broadcast upside down.
I learned that Moon was the maiden name of Buzz Aldrin’s mother. I didn’t know she had committed suicide only a year before his historic flight, because they didn’t tell kids that.
I wanted to be an astronaut. I was told I didn’t have a chance because, at age 13 and only 130 pounds, I was already 6′ 2″, too tall to fit a jet or rocket. I was also very interested in gymnastics—especially the parallel bars—but again, I was too tall, they said. I also considered being a forest ranger, because I heard they gave you a truck, a radio and a cabin, and left you alone all winter. That sounded good, and you could be as tall as you pleased. But I was told that nobody from Nebraska would get into forestry school.
So I majored in philosophy, until one of my professors jumped out a 13th-story window. I switched to psychology, a department that had no height restrictions and was in a lower building.
While I was in college, 6′ 2″ gymnast Bart Conner won a gold medal on the parallel bars in the Olympics. He was in one of my classes.
That same year, 6′ 2″ astronaut Jim Weatherbee piloted the space shuttle Columbia, eventually becoming the first astronaut to command five flights.
When someone buys my mom’s house, I bet first thing they will do is tear up that spoiled carpet. Of course no one will ever forget the Apollo astronauts. But what will be lost is the legacy of one boy who dreamed of becoming one of them them, but whose only mark in space exploration was an orange stain.