On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first human beings to ever land on the moon. After his first step on the moon, Armstrong uttered his infamous words, “That’s one step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Those who were alive at that time, remember exactly where they were when witnessing this huge milestone in American history. I had just turned fifteen, and like many of the hippies of that time, I had a rebellious streak. I performed naughty acts like wearing the American flag around my shoulders and experimenting with psychedelic drugs.
Rather than having me engage in unlawful activities, my mother yearned for me to have a meaningful transcendent experience, so she decided to send me to Lausanne, Switzerland, to spend the summer at an International Teen Camp there, and that’s where I was when the first man landed on the moon.
“There will be teens from all over the world,” she told me. “It will be good for you to get out of the New York for the hot summer.”
When I asked how I’d communicate with the other students, she said that many would speak English or understand it. She also told me that I’d have the chance to practice the French I’d studied in school for the past four years.
She was partially right, I would soon find out, because although there were teens from all over the world, I quickly learned that many had very fragmented English, so our primary mode of communication was gesturing.
This was my first trip overseas without my parents. The last one had been a family trip to Israel when I was ten. My insecurity about the journey to Switzerland resulted in my wanting to take practically my entire bedroom with me. From the attic I fetched a huge duffel bag, into which I stuffed just about every item I owned, or as my father used to say, “everything but the kitchen sink.”
A few weeks after I arrived and was settled in, the campers and counselors were told to gather in a rather large glass-enclosed meeting room which also served as the camp gymnasium. It was about 10:30 p.m., way past the end of our habitual evening activities. We scurried to find spots on the hardwood floor in front of the small TV mounted on the wall so we could share this experience with one another.
There were some campers who couldn’t have cared less; they were busy flirting with the boys next to them, (I might have been one of them), and the counselors were telling them to be quiet. The news meant nothing to them. But, for the most part, the enthusiasm in the room caused a wave of oohing and aahing. As one of a handful of Americans, I felt proud that the attention was directed toward my country. Like any milestone that we live through, I didn’t realize the impact of that experience until many years later.
And just like teens today, music was an essential ingredient to my happiness, so I didn’t dare go overseas without my record player, padded between my clothes, along with my favorite 45s. For those of you who don’t remember, these were little black circular discs (about twice the size of a bagel) with big holes in the middle. In that hole we placed another smaller yellow plastic disc, about the size of a quarter. This disc prevented the record from swaying back and forth on the record player, or Victrola, as my mother used to call it. Usually, each record had one song on each side. The 33s, on the other hand were the larger-format records, and stored the same amount of music as one compact disc. It was the size of a small tire on a children’s bike, also with a little hole in the middle. The 33s, however, did not require that small yellow disc.
It had been only four years since the Beatles were first introduced on The Ed Sullivan Show, and their music was popular across all ages, but most popular among teens.
There are a few of their songs from that first album that still resonate in my head, but the one that made the greatest impact on me was “Let It Be.” I played it over and over again, the music blasting out of the speakers in my tiny bedroom in Queens, New York. For my fifteenth birthday, my parents gifted me with a wall-to-wall bulletin board, so they said I could hang all my favorite posters, but I think what they were really trying to do was soundproof my room!
“Let It Be” accompanied me on my journey across the ocean and resonated from my dormitory room at the International Teen Camp, which at other times during the year was a school called Ecole Nouvelle (New School), and the amazing thing is the calm that the song continues to bring me now fifty years later.
What was nice about that song was its calming effect during this stressful time of being so far away from my parents. It was also a song that teens from other countries had repeatedly heard on their radio stations, so it served as a common denominator across the different countries represented at the camp. I was amazed by how well the foreign campers sang the words, although they had no idea what they meant.
This year I turned sixty-five and have begun to reminisce on the summer of 1969 and the fun and experimental times of my youth.
In addition to the transformative moment of the astronauts landing on the moon, now, more than forty years later, hearing the song “Let It Be” still conjures up images of that summer in Switzerland, and also my slow dances with boys from France, Kuwait, Italy, and the United States.
That summer was one of the best of my youthful years, and sometimes I reflect upon those times and the sense of calm that the song “Let It Be,” brought into my life. Even today, I play the song in my head when there is turmoil around me — and I know that the soothing effects of the Beatles’ words will resonate in my mind forever. Here’s to summer fun and reminiscing about the importance of milestones which were fortunate enough to witness!