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Editorial: Moon Day by Sheila Williams


Howard Waldrop, in his story “Do Ya, Do Ya Wanna Dance?” (Asimov’s, August 1988) reminds us that in 1969 Richard Nixon took office and the Vietnam war raged. Abbey Road was released late in the year, Woodstock occurred that summer, and the disastrous Altamont Race Track concert took place in December. Slaughterhouse Five was published, Charles Manson, The Weathermen, The Black Panthers, and NOW were in the news, and, on July 20, we landed on the Moon. Later in the story, which is about the twentieth reunion of the class of ’69, he adds “PS: Nobody’s been to the Moon in sixteen years.”

I remember celebrating that hot summer night in 1969 with my family. I baked a chocolate cake, and we stuck my brother’s model of the Eagle—the lunar landing module—and a couple of plastic astronauts on the top. I still have the photo. My mother took another picture of her four daughters lying on the floor watching TV as the Eagle landed. Nothing shows up on the screen, but I’ve always been struck by the image of my three-year-old sister because she fits on my mother’s king-size pillow.

Sometime around the twenty-fifth anniversary of the moon landing, I decided to institute an annual celebration. My actual holiday is fluid. Depending upon my schedule, it shifts from the day the Eagle landed to the day Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the surface of the Moon. In the beginning, I always baked a chocolate cake to celebrate the day. I’d bring the cake and appropriate decorative plastic figurines to work and hold a party in my office.

Once my older, and very opinionated, daughter gained a say in the proceedings, I had to alter the festivities slightly. Naturally, she wanted cake, too. For some reason, though, she and her father are unduly fond of lemon cake (they even think this cake is a legitimate option on Valentine’s Day! Thankfully, I had a second child, and, although she’s only three, she votes firmly for chocolate.)

Fortunately, I hit on a very happy solution. I bake what I call my “compromise cake.” While my first Moon cake was made from scratch, these days I never seem able to find time for such creativity. I’ve turned this problem to my advantage, however. I use two boxes of cake mix—one lemon and one chocolate. I make two cakes, and each cake has a lemon layer and a chocolate layer. I cover the first layer with chocolate frosting, then ice the sides with lemon. I use the rest of the lemon frosting to draw a generous half moon on top of the cake and fill in the other side with chocolate frosting. If I’m feeling really ambitious, I draw little moons around the sides of the cakes. This solution results in a cake for the office and one for home. Some wag at work is sure to helpfully inform me that I should have made cheesecake, but my patience for that joke wears thinner every year.

In 1911, when my dad’s father was six, he and his family immigrated to Springhill, Nova Scotia. Only one person in town owned a car. My grandfather spoke proudly of having lived to see the awesome technical revolution that spanned from that single car to a man walking on the Moon. I mentioned this comment to my twelve-year-old the other day in the middle of a discussion about the fast pace of change. Her father quipped, “And if you live long enough, perhaps you and your sister will see someone walk there, too.” The latest papers bring news of further cuts to NASA’s budget. Compelling arguments are made for why we should focus our attention, and most of our money, on education, healthcare, levees, and other serious problems here at home.

Still, I want to celebrate the science and the technology, the scientists and the engineers, the spirit and the adventure, and the brave astronauts and test pilots who made the initial space program possible. I want to celebrate the men and women in the public and private sectors that continue to work on space exploration. The current cover is part of that celebration. Alan Bean, the captain of the second manned mission to the Moon, and the third person to walk there, painted this portrait of Charlie Duke, a retired brigadier general, USAF, and the lunar module pilot of Apollo 16. Captain Bean also spent fifty-nine days as the spacecraft commander of the second manned mission to Skylab 3. He retired from NASA in 1981 and took up a new career as an artist. We’re proud to have the chance to bring one of his visions of the Moon to you.

You can help me create a holiday that celebrates the indomitable aspect of human nature that sent men to the Moon and continues to send brave men and women into space. Join me on July 20 or 21. You don’t even have to support the space program to have fun on Moon Day or to recognize this tremendous achievement. Anyone can read a science fiction story, bake my Moon cake, or eat Chinese Moon cakes, or MoonPies, or even cheesecake. And remember, in three years, the class of ’69 will hold its fortieth reunion.

PS: Nobody’s been to the Moon in thirty-three years.


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"Editorial:Moon Day" By Sheila Williams, copyright © 2006

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