John Glenn Orbits the Earth, Feb. 12, 1962
by Pamela Bradley
I don’t know how all that Iron Curtain stuff got started in Russia. It is on the news a lot these days and it can sure worry you. When the news comes on television I run outside on the porch and listen to it through the closed living room window that has all kinds of plastic stretched across it to keep out cold drafts. That way I can sort a see President Kennedy talking about the Cold War but I don¹t hear enough details to give me a bad stomachache.
I hope them Russians don¹t take a notion to sendin' no bombs over to Coaltown cuz I know we aren’t ready for ‘um. And we haven’t talked enough about it enough in the fifth grade, what we would do and all, if we did get bombed. I think the older kids talk about it in the eighth grade. I suppose they should cuz some of them boys is so old they’ll be called to fight if anything breaks out with Russia.
What I do know is a little bit about the Space Race between the United States and Russia. We learned about the space race right before they called us today to hurry and squeeze into the eighth grade classroom and close the curtains and turn on the television, we was gonna get to see some of John Glenn goin’ around the earth in his capsule, The Friendship 7.
There is this big struggle goin’ on, I guess, to see who is the most powerful country on earth. We¹ve been fallin’ behind in the race ‘cuz the Russians sent the first satellite up into space and they were the first to fly a man in space. It all sounds kinda babyish to me like something my little brother, Harold Dean and his friends would do, like playin’ King of the Mountain on the playground.
Our first astronaut was Alan Shepard who went to the edge of space last May 5, 1961 the newspaper said yesterday. But he was shot off into space a few weeks after the Russian’s man, Yuri Gagarin. The Russian cosmonaut orbited the whole earth. I guess the Americans felt pretty sheepish about bein’ whooped by the Russians again.
President Kennedy was the one that decided our country should try to make a moon landing and return to earth by the end of the ‘60’s. When he said that people was wonderin’ then if Kennedy had lost his mind, the paper said. If you ask me he is just bein’ a playground baby. Seems like anybody would know that bein’ the first to land on the moon in a little space ship don’t make you the King of the World. But he must think that it does.
So there we were, packed in the back of the eighth grade classroom waitin’ for John Glenn to become the first astronaut to circle the earth three times. It was just a little black and white television screen we had and you couldn¹t hardly see or hear nothin’. When they would show John Glenn inside the space capsule he moved all choppy like he was part of an old silent movie. The teachers was actin’ like this was the biggest day of the year. They was walkin’ around makin’ us stand up straight and not be pinchin’ and punchin’ at each other. They didn¹t want us to miss nothin’ on the TV screen.
I heard one of the newsmen say that John Glenn would be spendin’ about 5 hours aboard the Friendship 7 capsule. I guess he had a great view of the earth all smashed into that little ship that has a window in it for him to look out. They said he had time to marvel at the sunrises and sunsets that was whizzin' by. I wondered if he felt all smothery in there. We was sure smothery all standin' up in the eighth grade classroom together to watch him! And I wonderin' too about what he was gonna do if he had to pee before his five hours was up.
I could tell that the boys was eatin’ all this up. They was pretendin’ to launch anything they could get their hands on into space - erasers, spit balls and pencils was flyin’ faster than the teachers could see where they come from. Even smelly old Wally Thompson was launchin’ things. He held up his lunch banana in one hand (that was the booster rocket) and it separated from his milk carton that he held in the other hand (that was the space ship). The banana crashed down on the desk (that was the ocean) with Wally makin’ that spitty old boy rocket noise in his throat the whole time. That all meant that his milk carton had been launched into space above the desk and Wally cheered for himself like he’d really done something big.
I believe most of us girls was more interested in how we was getting’ out of spellin’ in order to set there and see Friendship 7. And why did they go and name that rocket Friendship 7? They should have called it Enemyship 7 if we was so determined to beat the Russians at the space game by launchin’ ol’ John Glenn in that little bucket.
What were them men that run our country thinkin’ about? Lots of the people right here in my classroom is hungry right now. Their stomachs is growlin’ and they have no shoes. And lots of their parents needs their teeth fixed and indoor plumbin’. But it looks like all our government money might be goin’ into space instead. They told us what it cost to send up a rocket and it was a whole lot more than the cost a fixin’ ever body up with new shoes and some breakfast. I wish they would have just had a good old fashioned arm wrestlin’ contest and picked a winner. President Kennedy could have won that one in a minute against old fat Khruschev!
But then, we’d a been in spellin’ class right now if there was no space program, and I’m not ready for spellin’ today so I guess it’s all right to have to watch the space race.
Pamela Bradley, an East Tennessee native, is working to complete the coming of age tales of her 1962-63 school year spent in the hills at the home of her great grandmother. Pam writes about life in a small coal mining town.
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© 2004, Pamela Bradley, All Rights Reserved