My father passed away in 2019, one day after his birthday at the age of 78. He had been a smoker for most of his life but had quit in the early 2000’s when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was a mutual decision as my mother was also a smoker, but her cancer was unrelated to the habit; the decision was a cessation after the fact. In the end, it wasn’t actually his own lung cancer that did him in; he had survived for another 16 years after my mother passed, with only about 25% of his lung capacity, and having lived with several aneurisms during that time. But no matter how bullet-proof he seemed time catches up with us all regardless, and he had the good fortune to know when his time was up. I remember sitting with him at his house, the place where I grew up, when he decided suddenly that it was time for him to leave. We packed, and I drove him to the hospice house where he spent the last of his days.
Ray lived a life I envy. He would always freely relate stories about his growing up in Brighton, Massachusetts. He told us about how he used to sneak out of the house in the early mornings via the fire escape to go fishing with his friends, or how his various cats — Boom, and “LBC” or “little black cat” — would rule the household. Later, he served in the Army. Based on what he told us, the Army was like college, except with guns; as a member of the signal corps, he spent a lot of time hauling beer to remote listening posts around the U.S. or had the boring but relaxing job of ensuring that military trains made their routes on time. He had the good fortune of mustering out just before Vietnam, a fact that I am thankful for because otherwise, I might not be here.
After the Army he used the G.I. Bill to attend college, and while attempting to earn his Batchelor’s Degree in the burgeoning field of engineering, was recruited by RCA who paid for the remains of his education in exchange for a job at their company. Folks of A Certain Age may equate RCA with VCRs or some such; my father brought home one of the first video disk players and remained convinced that the format could have dominated over VCRs had the company not bungled the whole affair.
Most of what I remember about my father’s working life boiled down to his constant attempts to manage his direct report’s timecards through various spreadsheets, originally on the Timex Sinclair (the U.S. version of the Spectrum ZX), and later the C64. He really enjoyed the business suite aspect of such technology, while my brother and I commandeered those devices for video games in the off-hours.
But what really stuck was his claim to fame: he had worked on the communications suite that was included in the Apollo 11 lunar lander. As far removed from my life as this was growing up in the 1980s, it wasn’t until much later in life that I recognized the significance of such an achievement. Putting humans on the moon was one of humanity’s milestones, taking its rightful place beside the pyramids of Giza, the collection of Holy Books, and the invention of the written word. While we might not consider how the act of landing on the Moon might directly affect us in 2022, the fact that we did it at all is monumental. My father was a part of that. His work ensured that the astronauts that walked on the most foreign of soils were able to call home and coordinate their return. It’s not as glamorous as having actually put a footprint into the lunar soil, and his name is probably not recorded anywhere in association with the event, but I believe in his claims that he worked on this project. For a young sci-fi nerd such as myself at the time, I can imagine no greater honor than to be the child of a man who helped ensure that humanity was able to safely reach for the stars.
When I learned about LEGO’s Apollo 11 lander set, I knew that I had to have it. After my father passed, the urge was that much stronger. My family knew this; when I was in Target with my daughter, and I passed by the LEGO aisle with this set on the shelf, I made sure to let her know that this set was important to me. Thankfully, this Christmas, she remembered, and it was under our tree on Christmas morning.
It might seem stupid to wax poetic about what a lot of folks would consider to be a toy, but it’s very odd to feel something so personal about a model such as this. I spent New Year’s Eve of 2021-2022 building this project. For most folks, it might be just an inclusion into the very detailed pantheon of LEGO’s prodigious output. For me, it’s a chance to share in the act of creation with my father who is no longer with us. Maybe at the time it was only a job for him. Maybe the weight of the potential accomplishment was lost in the math necessary to ensure its success — I don’t know, and unfortunately, I can no longer ask him. But now, with the model complete and on my shelf, I have a connection to him and his legacy that means the world to me.