The America of my childhood came to me in black and white. Grainy images beamed into our living room that told a story of three men who carried the dreams of a nation into the deep blackness of space. I was barley old enough to comprehend the magnitude of what I saw on that July night but somewhere in between dinner and going to bed I understood enough to know the world had changed in no small way and it was thanks to a nation called America, populated by what my parents still called “Yanks” two of whom had just walked on the Moon.
It’s July 24th 1969 and for a seven-year old Welsh Boy with an unhealthy obsession with the Apollo eleven mission it’s an experience close to astronomical nirvana. I had, back then, a vague idea about America; it was somewhere West of Wales, they ate lots of hot dogs and Tom and Jerry baited each other in a fruitless, eternal comic chase. For the first time I began to imagine what America was really like. Surely a country that could achieve this could achieve anything? My own country seemed pallid and my countrymen dreadful underachievers in comparison. We were a country bereft of modern-day heroes whereas America seemed to manufacture them three at a time. We had James Bond, but he was fiction, an upper-class thug in a good suit, Aldrin, Collins and Armstrong were flesh made into dreams, speaking to me on a twelve-inch screen. As the camera closes in on the astronauts’ faces their smiles are huge and unrestrained. They wave to the world and I wave back; I’m so caught up in the moment I believe they can see me. I don’t remember if this was the exact moment I decided that I wanted to live in America, but it undoubtedly sowed the seeds that over the next thirty years grew to a full blown desire to live the American dream.
It’s small wonder then I end up here in one of America’s most cosmopolitan cites, San Francisco.
I arrive in 2000 with my wife a reel of my best advertising work and a clear x-ray of my lungs, which apparently I need to show the immigration officials before they allow me to step foot into the country. Eight years on, the America I longed for still exists, though the picture is not as clear as I like to remember it. America has given me much more than I could have hoped for and like a life – long friend you accept the character flaws and the intermittent bad behaviour because you know deep down this is not how they always are, you remember them young, idealistic dreamers set to change the world. And as I see it now, the view from here is a simple one; it wasn’t the dreams that got smaller, it was the world, and as the song goes…If You Don’t Have a Dream.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.