When I was 11 or 12, Halloween fell on a night of a full moon. As long as I live, I won't forget the magic that was in the air that night and many more like it.
I have always been a big fan of Halloween, my big chance to jump into a costume and run around the neighborhood in the ghostly moonlight like a wild banshee. My brother and I would raid the homes all around for candy and treats. But before we go too far down this path, this story is not about Halloween; instead it is about the magic of moonlight on an autumn evening. That night, I had no idea how my view of the moon was about to change as I was to give away ghosts and goblins and the other trappings of childhood, and receive the much more exciting accoutrements of adolescence, holding hands, dancing, kissing and all those wonderful things that go on between the sexes.
This time of year, the hazy skies of summer nights turn crisp and clear. Stars twinkle in their black velvet background, summer humidity vanishes and the air is cooler and drier. The moon seems to get bigger in the sky. Even now, when I walk quietly out onto the deck out my back door on a moonlit fall evening and look up at that harvest moon, I am transported back in time to those evenings of high school football games, parties and dates. I know that some of these events happened on moonless nights. But in my memory there is always a big round full moon up in the sky gently watching over us.
My high school years occurred before man set foot on the moon. That was to come on July 20, 1969, still a half decade away. The moon was still a mysterious orb in the sky. John Kennedy was still alive, having inspired us with his famous words; "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish." Everything was about the space race. The moon was out there still, pristine and untouched, much like the girls I was dating. Those were good times, I was not quite a man yet, but I was learning what it meant to be one. It was all so magical.
Those days were safer than today. It was possible for a boy and girl to drive to a park after dark and walk in the moonlight without having to worry about being mugged or worse. The shores of the St, Johns River, which split my home town was dotted with many small parks that afforded lamp lit walkways along the shores. There were benches spaced every 50 yards or so where a couple could sit, hand in hand and talk. Space enough for privacy but close enough to see my friends sitting on the other benches talking with their girlfriends. My favorite of these was Stockton Park on Ortega Avenue. I still see the shoreline on the other side of the river nearly 2 miles across. The lights of San Marco, Miramar and San Jose mixed with the flashes of moonlight across the water. The stillness of the night was occasionally broken by the lonely Navy P2 patrol plane, arriving back at NAS Jacksonville about 2 miles south. Soon, I would be on base, taking the next step towards manhood, undergoing my physical in preparation for becoming a Midshipman in the US Naval Reserve. NROTC was still ahead of me at the University of South Carolina, as was evenings of standing watch on the deck of a man of war looking out at a full moon at sea.
I wonder why the moon is always present in my memories of the nights of my youth. Could it be the aftermath of the space race that consumed so many of us? Perhaps, but to me it seems that moon is a primeval force in our lives. Native Americans along with so many other aboriginal cultures had lunar calendars. Even our own culture has so many references to the moon, way beyond new moon and full moon; among them are Harvest Moon, Hunter's Moon, Blue Moon Wine Moon, the Singing Moon, "Blue Corn Moon", and the Elk Call Moon. In American myth and folklore the full moon of each month is given a name. But to me, seeing the full moon on an autumn evening brings back the promise and excitement that can come only from a boy and a girl sitting on a bench on the shores of "Moon River" talking about their lives and the future yet to come. Oh MY!