When I grow up you will see me on the Moon.
Stuck to my childhood wall with sticky tape was a newspaper clipping of the original mercury seven astronauts. These were the guys with the right stuff. Gus Grissom, Deke Slayton, Wally Schirra, John Glenn and Alan Shepard. They flew the greatest period of manned space flight we are ever likely to see. I was a little kid from suburban Melbourne and I thought Gus Grissom looked impossibly suave in his aluminium flight suit. Looking at that photo now they look like they made their own fancy dress costumes.
Before I was born, President Kennedy had promised he would send men to the moon and safely return them to the earth, and I wanted to go. My mother smiled at this suggestion as mothers do, neither discouraging nor really encouraging my fantastical notion. My main concern was the totalitarians father had spoken of, who sounded a little like Doctor Who villans. Also would NASA overlook my eczema when I got to Cape Canaveral?
At kindergarten I was constructing forts out of blocks, with a solid parapet front and importantly, a roof. This was advanced stuff for that age apparently. My playmates were sticking crayons up their noses.
Building was what my father did. It was also what my grandfather had done. I wanted something else. My mother chose me from her six kids to stay home from school, which was almost never allowed, and watch Armstrong on a small television with long spindly legs. A year later this television was stolen and we walked the local streets sure that one of our nefarious neighbours had the loot!. That day it showed a crackly picture of the greatest adventurer of our age walk down the ladder and stepping onto the moons surface in glorious balck and white. Later I climbed our ladder onto the shed roof where we would play. Sadly there was no “one small step for a man” speech just my younger brother at the foot of the ladder ”I’ll tell mum if you don’t let me up ”
I loved the night sky and all things space. I was oblivious to the fact that my tendency to get carsick would not bode well during my eventual rigorous flight training. I spent weekends with my dad at whatever house he was building. He would plan out the day ahead and tell me he needed strange and beautiful things like stillsons, footprints and Hawkins paste. It was the jargon of his trade but I knew it all. I helped him and got in the way, in equal measure. My younger brother was also with us. He wanted to be a carpenter. Strange kid.
We played with the doctors sons next door. Their grandfather constructed a crude lean-to cubby house with an open doorway. It had a little table and a couple of blocks for chairs. One evening as the day cooled, we lit a large fire on the earth floor. The doctor vetoed us for a while and we had no choice but to build our own cubby house.
We used scrap timber and when that ran out we pinched some of my fathers expensive furniture timbers. We had a frame built from Blackwood and red Cedar. We pitched a simple roof and clad it in corrugated iron. We gave ourselves blackened fingernails and splinters. We hung a door and fitted a crude stay. We had a window with a curtain. It looked like a cubby house that a TV dad would build.
Standing back the satisfaction was enormous. The idea had been there all along whilst I was dreaming other dreams. When I grow up I want to be builder.
I still want to be a builder.