The summer of 1969 was the last summer I lived at home in Lomita with my parents. I had just completed my freshman year of college and spent that summer working and taking a class at Long Beach State. I had left my heart (and my soul) in San Francisco and couldn’t wait to get back. Come August I would move back into the same dorm with the same roommate and continue my college life.
In the fall of 1968 I arrived at the University of San Francisco with my mother and checked into Hayes-Healy Hall. My curiosity about my first college roommate had kept me awake nights, and I couldn’t wait to meet her. It didn’t take long to notice that all the other freshmen girls on my floor were paired up. When I asked where my roommate was, I was told my roommate was a sophomore. It was a cruel twist of fate to have to spend the first three days and nights of college without a roommate. There was no one to walk to dinner with, no one to go to orientation meetings with, no one in the room to talk to about the anxieties of those first days of college life.
When Claire finally showed up, it was with flair. At first I thought she was a princess with servants. A beautiful woman holding an armful of semi-formal gowns followed at her heels and spoke in French. A Japanese man carried everything else in multiple trips up and down the stairs.
Later I would learn that her father, a Japanese-American, met Claire’s mom when he was a soldier in the U.S. Army stationed in France. Claire’s only sibling, an older brother, died in an accident just a few years before, and as a result Claire was indulged with every luxury her hard-working middle class parents could afford.
When her parents finally left the dorm that first night, Claire kicked off her shoes, let down her hair and lit up a pipe filled with cherry tobacco. A psych major, she sat back, staring me in the eyes and asked probing questions about my life. I told her everything. After all, she was an entire year older and wiser than me, smoked a pipe and was mysterious like Garbo. We became friends instantly.
And so in the summer of 1969, Claire and I spoke on the phone frequently and planned for our future as roommates. This year our bedspreads and décor would match. And, more importantly, we would bring cooking devices like a toaster oven and an electric frying pan so we could cook our own food and skip some cafeteria meals. That next fall we would prepare spaghetti dinners with garlic bread, melted cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, and hamburgers with baked beans from the confines of our mini-kitchen.
And that is how I remember what I was doing when man first walked on the moon. Claire’s parents always drove her up to USF. I planned to fly. Claire suggested I bring over the bulky “stuff” I’d collected for our dorm room. So one Sunday in July I drove to Monrovia to drop off boxes and visit Claire. I sat in the Okawa’s living room, fixed on the TV with them, holding my breath as we watched Neil Armstrong’s left foot touch down on the moon.
Walter Cronkite’s death last week and the reflections and tributes that followed plus the observance of the 40th anniversary of our conquest of the moon have turned me into a time traveler reliving the highs and the lows of my generation: the war, the assassinations, the dreams realized. Remembering has taken me on a journey just like the Apollo spacecraft took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon.
Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate’s publisher 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.