My grandfather was career Navy. He spent most of his adult life at sea, and the majority of the memories I have of him center around his chair, the newspaper and a glass of bourbon. He didn’t talk much – ever. I had a very difficult time reconciling the quiet man I knew with the smiling man from the photos my Nan had hanging all over the house.
When I was 7, I asked him to tell me the story of the exciting photos hanging in his office. I’d stared at them in awe for as long as I could remember, but Nan had always told me it was PopPop’s story to tell.
I remember the way he pulled me into his lap and asked me if I could keep a secret. Eyes wide, I nodded.
“Those pictures are of the last men to set foot on the moon. I was there when we picked them up. I got to shake the hands of Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.”
His voice cracked a little. Even now – more than 25 years later – I am still shocked that his voice cracked. The very model of stoicism was my PopPop. I never heard him raise his voice, and I certainly never saw him cry.
“But PopPop, what’s the SECRET?” I asked.
“This is my secret, baby. I cried when I met these men, because I wished it had been me. I still wish it had been me. I still dream of space, you know.”
No, I’d had no idea.
Earlier this year, I received a box from my aunt. She sent me a few pairs of my great-grandmother’s earrings and a ton of old pictures.
I started crying when I discovered among them the pictures that had been hanging in PopPop’s office when I was a child. I treasure them more than anything else that was left to me, because my PopPop told ME his secret dream. I realize that I’ve just broken my promise to him, but I don’t think he’d mind.
Please enjoy these photos of the Apollo 17 pickup, taken from aboard the USS Ticonderoga in 1972.
They still inspire my dreams of space.
Bob, this is Gene, and I’m on the surface; and, as I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I’d like to just (say) what I believe history will record. That America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus- Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. “Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”
- Gene Cernan, the last words spoken on the surface of the moon
(This post was written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: A Few of my Favourite Things)