Pam Cottrel, at age 19, and her family pose with newspapers documenting U.S. astronauts landing on the moon. CONTRIBUTED

Pam Cottrel: Watching Americans land on the moon was family affair

There has been a memory game baby boomers have been playing all week.

It begins with a question. Where were you when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon?

More than once I was reminded that watching the moon landing was more than just one TV session. It was a whole week of watching.

We watched the launch July 16 and followed updates on their location.

On July 20 we all held our breath as we watched the separation of the landing module and heard Armstrong say, “The Eagle has Wings.” Then there was the actual landing and the words, “The Eagle has landed.” The first steps, the planting of the flag, and walking on the moon happened all in one day.

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July 21 we saw the take off from the moon, and the docking of the landing module with the space capsule.

On July 24, 50 years ago today, Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins returned to Earth.

I remember watching some of these events on the black and white television at home with the family and also watching with a crowd of strangers on the wall of televisions at the Sears store where I worked. We didn’t see the great color photos until LIFE magazine came out.

My parents didn’t miss a minute of the momentous coverage. On July 22 as Apollo 11 flew back toward the earth, Dad got an idea. We would record the event for all posterity by having a family photo taken with my two younger sisters holding the July 21 and 22 newspapers.

A photo session made me nervous because I was getting ready for a sales shift at Sears and didn’t want to be late to sell curtains, towels, and sheets in household goods. After all, I was getting $1.65 an hour.

Taking such a photo seemed so silly to me. What was the point? Everyone got the newspaper. I was a typical teenager and drug my feet, but Dad insisted. Mom was busy snapping beans, but more willing to go along with it than I was. We put clean clothing on the kids, and combed their hair.

Dad set the Kodak camera up on a tripod with a delayed shutter. We posed; Dad set the timer, and darted to our side. We took a couple of photos then I was off to Sears. Mom prepared supper, and the kids went back to the swing set.

It was 48 years later when we found the photo while going through old keepsakes as we prepared for Mom and Dad’s estate sale.

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Half of us are gone now. Brother Billy, who had special needs, passed away 10 years ago. Both Mom and Dad died during 2017.

Deb, Chris and I, now retired with families of our own, stopped preparing for the auction and took time to look at the yellowed newspapers preserved in the box and remembered taking the photo.

We could not help but marvel at how significant that day was to the world and how much the world had changed since the photo was taken.

It seems that history takes place while we are living our normal lives.

Dad knew that. He wanted us to take a moment and recognize the significance of that event and our place in the world at that time.

And today the teenager still hiding out deep inside me admitted something I knew all along.

You were right, Dad. Thanks for making us all stop and relish the moment. And thank you for this photo.

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