GERONIMO, CHARLES LINDBERGH AND THE MOON

Geronimo_in_a_1905_Locomobile_Model_CI am constantly doing this . Maybe you do it yourself. I relate my forefathers’ lives to events in  the world’s history and wonder what they were doing as these events unfolded. When I think about my parents and my grandparents and remember  them, or more likely try to remember parts of their lives that I was too preoccupied to really  think about when they were alive and breathing, I think of the experiences happening around them at their various ages. There is always so much else to think about when you are  trying to figure out life for yourself that you neglect to glean the real detail of their lives too.

Anyway ,  I was thinking about my father with one part of my mind  while I was reading about Charles Lindbergh last night….Charles …who ? some of you might ask. I know exactly what you mean. For me , reading about Mr Lindbergh  or “Lucky Lindy” as he was also called,was a memory trigger . Mention of his name reminded me of my father. Charles Linbergh  was at one time the most famous man on planet earth.  That’s it .Think about that .He was the most famous man on this little planet. He was more famous than Brad Pitt  but maybe not as famous as Charlie Chaplin became….Charlie …who ?   I know….How many know who Lindbergh  is today?

I  first came across him when one of my favourite actors, James Stewart {jimmy who?!!….} played him in a film called “The Spirit of St. Louis”.  That  was the name of the little wood and canvas aeroplane that Charles, sitting in a field in America, pointed out into the Atlantic Ocean for the first time ever on earth and successfully crossed  that wide sea on his own, in what you might call a glorified kite attached to an engine. Now , that really was a first.

Somehow he was able to stay awake  long enough without killing himself and actually steer himself without any complicated instruments other than some super sense of his own . He battled through some inclement freezing conditions with nothing but open sea below….Sometimes mere feet below.  He flew over Ireland and finally landed in France to much acclaim throughout the world . James Stewart , will of course , always be Charles Lindberg for me .He became that  “Slim” lanky character in the film and it was the first place I ever saw the man’s name or took heed of the very unique thing that he did in 1927. He stayed awake for some thirty three and a half hours to achieve it , so he must have had the constitution of Keith Richards . Where Keith may have done it aided by a variety of narcotic stimulants , Lindberg achieved the task on a couple of sandwiches. Ham sandwiches , I think. By the time the  several hundred thousand people who greeted him on arrival in France  allowed him to rest , he had gone for sixty hours without any sleep. You might say , people do that at the Glastonbury Festival every year, but they don’t fly across the Atlantic Ocean on their own with only a bucket to piddle in.Apparently that little detail was the one thing that really interested the King of England when Lindbergh and he were eventually engrossed in conversation.Well…that’s the kind of little detail that a lot of people would find very important isn’t it?

I would have watched the film of this incredible character  for the first time , on black and white television sometime in the early 1960s. My father would surely have had some awareness of it when it actually happened . Adults must have gossiped about the feat at the dinner table or in the kitchen . Men would have slapped the bar in the pub and scratched their heads when gossiping about it. My father would have been around  eight years old at the time . Eight-year-old boys can get very excited about feats like this .I’m sure it seemed like science -fiction to a young boy. The aeroplane , after all had only been invented  by the Wright Brothers some  twenty odd years previously..

Imagine it ! A world before there were any aeroplanes in the sky.  Out on the streets, outside my father’s front door,  there would have been the odd motor car dredging through the carts and the horse-shit , but this was the very first time a man had made a transatlantic crossing by air….flying right above all those Irish heads.I’m really sorry now that I didn’t quiz him about every detail and drive him mad with questions about this amazing event and his childhood perception of it. Of course , back then I took it all for granted in much the same way we take our parents for granted until we no longer have them. We just sat on the sofa together, my father and I, and marvelled at Jimmy Stewart. lost in a damned good tale. I always loved Jimmy Stewart’s acting .He was good.

That’s how life goes, isn’t it?My father was born in 1919, some three months after World War One ended, just in time to be a twenty year old when the Second World War started in 1939. What a momentous age that must have been .Why didn’t I ask more questions about how the modern world crept up on us?  A New Age unlike any other that had happened in mankind’s history.He lived through the introduction of the motor car, the cinema, electricity and the birth of air travel . There was this new “radio” thing too . Apparently the first ever use of radio in Ireland was by rebels  during the 1916 Rising.It was a morse code message ,apparently. Now , that really was a “revolutionary” act. In 1926 the first radio station in Ireland was launched. People feared this new phenomenon with these magical invisible rays seeping through the airways and being captured in these “Cats Eye” and “Valve” radios . There was a notion afoot that the lethal rays were knocking birds out of the skies. People looked at dead birds and shook their heads sadly at this threatening modernism. Much the same kind of paranoia attached itself to microwave ovens and cellphones when they first became popular. There are superstitions immediately attached to anything new that isn’t easily understood. By the time my father would have been aware of Lindbergh’s feat , only one household in a thousand  in Ireland would have had a radio set of any kind, so much information percolated down from  books,newspapers and gossip in the streets.

.Of course,  I took it all for granted. I never asked him if he did too.I suppose it’s the same way we all got used to computer technology. I like to think of it as Sand Technology. All those little bits of silicon sand chips  stuck down on boards , connecting together  to make a Motherboard operate in your computer.Most of us have no idea how we can make sand do that but we greedily accept it  as the normal thing.

My grandfather lived  even further back in that  world .He would have been a young man when Geronimo, the most famous Native American “Red Indian”  died in 1909. When I was a boy,he would tell me stories about Geronimo’s exploits he’d read in the newspapers .He was very much on Geronimo’s side even though he would buy me cowboy “Lone Ranger ” annuals for Christmas. He used to listen to the Lone Ranger on the radio in the 1930s . My grandad was always on the side of the red man. The Russians had just got Sputnik up into space shortly before he died  but it was just too much to expect him to believe that there’d be a man on the moon  some months before his wife, my granny, died in 1970. He preceded her just around Christmas 1962, eight years earlier. Man on the moon?That was an impossibility considering it was made of cheese. That’s what my grandad said.Maybe it really is.Anyway, you’d  never get one of those aeroplanes up that high….

He  was probably  still thinking how hard it was for Lindbergh to fly that first ocean….and how easily that great feat was all but forgotten…

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