GERONIMO , CHARLES LINDBERGH  AND THE MOON by Harry McAvinchey

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…

10 Responses to GERONIMO , CHARLES LINDBERGH  AND THE MOON by Harry McAvinchey

  1. Diaspora Dan September 12, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    Love the nostalgia Jude. That’s one of my favorite posts.

    My father was born in 1911 and died in 2000. He lived through so much change its incredible. Likewise I didn’t ask him enough questions but I was aware of the need to, so I did ask him quite a few but he was a quiet man and kept his views of politics and global events much to himself. Any information I gleaned from him is scant unfortunately. Small South Down Catholic farmers were big fans of John Hume and the SDLP, “a great man for the farmer”. He couldn’t keep his frustration with Paisley private though. “That’s one bitter bastard”, he often said when he appeared on the television.

    He told me about his memories of the first motorbike to come to his part of the world, Tullylish outside Banbridge. A fat man had bought it and he told his neighbor that it was a great invention but complained that it didn’t go very fast. “How can it?” the neighbor replied, “Sure its carrying 20 stone of shite!”.

    Electricity was installed in another neighbor’s house and that night a bad storm ruptured the roof and the woman living there said that she got the water and light in the one night.

    Little stories like that were plentiful. One of my favorite memories is listening to his sister, my aunt Maggie telling me about the night the German planes bombed Belfast. They heard the drones and all filed outside to watch them fly overhead waiting for the inevitable, and a short while later they watched the sky in the distance light up.

    • Jude Collins September 12, 2014 at 10:09 am #

      Thanks for the compliments, Dan – but you’ll note it’s Harry’s clever hand at work, not mine..

    • paddykool September 12, 2014 at 10:56 am #

      Thanks for the backhand compliment Dan A pat on the back is much appreciated whether it comes from yourself or Jude. I loved the “motorbike” story by the way.

      • Diaspora Dan September 12, 2014 at 11:46 am #

        Thanks a million Harry. I’m looking forward to your next one and Jude’s too of course. I don’t often reply but I read them regularly. It’s refreshing to read some sense for a change.

        Just listening to BBC Radio Ulster and the announcement of Ian Paisley’s death coming through. That’s be the source of much scribbling………

        • paddykooldwith thatcher too. September 12, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

          Dan .You are reading my mind . I’m in a quandary as to what I should or shouldn’t write about any of that . They are already hard at it beatifying the man on the radio..Remember what they did with Thatcher ….?Maybe wait until some of this smoke blows across before settling my thoughts down ……let’s see!

          • Jude Collins September 12, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

            PK – I agree they’ll do the beatifying thing – but I don’t see why those of us with reservations /heavily critical shouldn’t speak up now. I know the man’s just dead but that really doesn’t change one’s estimate of him, does it?

  2. Jude Collins September 12, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    Harry – have you read ‘The Plot Against America’ by Philip Roth? It’s a novel based on the alternative history of the US, where Lindbergh – v right-wing – becomes President. Great read.

    • paddykooldwith thatcher too. September 12, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

      I have to get that one .I did read a review but there’s a stack of books on my beside table , still unread ,threatening to topple and kill me in the night. I must get a copy for the future though .Roth’s an excellent writer ..I broke my promise about the Paisley thing …sort of …as you’ll no doubt know presently…ha!

  3. paddykool September 12, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

    Hi Jude …not sure what happened to my tag there..how did thatcher get in there?

  4. paddykool September 13, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    I think i’ve fixed that tag now…got rid of thatcher there….!
    Yes , by all accounts Lindbergh was a very strange and unique individual. He was taciturn to a fault apparently and his politics were probably right of John Wayne’s. He’s fascinating though . I never even got to the bit about his baby being kidnapped….not an ordinary life by any stretch….