One giant leap for us sitting cross-legged on the floor by
(7 Stories)

Prompted By Moon Landing

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July 20, 1969 was a special day — it was one of the fourteen days per summer that I was a camper at Camp Indian Head. The camp’s fifty or eighty acres were for me a place of cavorting and mild wildness among the scrub oaks and black ponds of rural central Florida. I was nearly nine years old, and I was already a green-class swimmer, which meant that I could go out past the shallows for “red” class nonswimmers, rush through the mid-depth area for the “yellow” kids, and join the ranks of the brave and hardy greens, most of whom were older than I and were boys, at the floating dock, which had not only a diving board but a slide, which I could use as much as I wanted as long as the boys let the girls go on it. In other parts of camp life, I had been doing well at trampoline and had been sharing Frescas with friends at breaktimes for several days.

A day indoors at summer camp and a win for patriotism

That July morning (was it morning?) we had a special assembly, and instead of going outside to ride horses or paddle canoes or make leather things or play soccer or collect moss for campfires, we were told to sit on the floor and watch TV. In my memory there were hundreds of children sitting agape on that concrete floor, but I suppose really there were only a few dozen of us in that shaded, open-ended barn. There was a large (i.e., bigger than a breadbox) TV mounted above us, and on it for what seemed like an hour or more we watched the footage of a white bulbous object floating through dark gray space. There were a lot of men talking, and it was very boring, but then finally came the moment we’d been primed for: in blurry black and white, a large bulbous white foot emerged and ponderously made contact with dark gray moon-ground. It was slow and nondramatic, and I was astonished when everyone around me erupted into cheers. But then, they were my friends and fellow-campers, so after a few stunned seconds, I cheered too.

I understood, once again, that I was in the midst of Americans who were proud to be Americans, and that in some ways, I belonged with them, and I should be proud, too. Mostly, though, I wanted to go swimming.



BIO: Gillian Kendall left Florida at age 12, but returned at age 50. She hopes to make another, permanent escape before long. Http://


Profile photo of Gillian Kendall Gillian Kendall
Gillian Kendall is an American-Australian writer who has lived in five countries and eight states. She has been a barmaid, editorial assistant, English professor, tech writer, and parliamentary reporter. She’s called herself a feminist ever since she heard the term at Douglass College, the women’s branch of Rutgers University. The label has gotten her into a few arguments and once landed her a job at "Mademoiselle." She lives in Florida and does all sorts of writing: travel and nonfiction journalism, as well as fiction, essays, and memoirs.

Tags: Moon landing
Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written


  1. Susan says:

    Wonderful, Gillian! So many times people ask “where you when–?” some momentous occasion occurred. How very honest of you to admit that you remember where you were, but only understood the import later. Happy green-class swimming.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I was at summer camp too, but it felt like a big moment to me. Funny that you were so underwhelmed! But it is nice to share the moment with you.

  3. John Zussman says:

    I have to confess that I agree—most of watching that first moon walk was boring as they checked out all the systems and described what we were seeing on that fuzzy video. And we had anticipated that first step for so long that the reality was a bit anticlimactic. But I’ll never admit that to anyone too young to remember it!

  4. rosie says:

    I was in Central Park in Manhattan New York, living on 181 West 81st Street which was at that time a moderately down ridden neighborhood. I was with my boyfriend and probably some other friends and a huge crowd of New Yorkers watching the landing on a very large old fashioned movie screen.
    It was amazing and so large that although the photography was not impressive, the whole scene was inspiring and fascinating. I was one of the children who rooted for John Kennedy in those early days. I also benefited from the drive to create better education that evolved at that time.

    PS Gillian it was an inspiring story, and reminded me so much of the you I know.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    What a great description of the moon landing from the perspective of a young camper. I just rewatched I
    The moon landing last night with some of my grandkids and they were also underwhelmed and wanted to get back to playing.

  6. Love the story about camp, Gillian. And the swimming “tiers”. I guess it’s a sign of progress: in our day camp in the ’50’s the non swimmers were white tags and the “ok” swimmers were red tags but like you, we “proven” swimmers were green taggers. But it makes me wonder: did your camp use the “buddy” system in the water, too? I remember during free swims especially counselors would blow a whistle and we had to locate our buddy and hold hands up. You?

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