The summer of ‘69.

It was, to say the least, momentous.

A man actually walked on the moon, Woodstock defied all reason and truly was a (relatively) peaceful event, Nelson County residents were killed in Hurricane Camille and my parents were divorced.

The effects of all of these events still ripple to the present day.

At age 14 (an age when nothing much impresses), I watched “live” as Neil Armstrong took that first step. I was at a friend’s house, and the whole family was “glued” to the TV set. Recently, I saw a documentary about the Apollo 11 moon mission. I was struck by how analog it all was, how imprecise, compared to today. Yet they did it. We did it.

As God said after the building of the Tower of Babel, “now nothing will be impossible for them.” Human endeavor is restricted only by our imaginations.

This was borne out at Woodstock which, in spite of the hundreds of thousands more attenders than the organizers expected, still turned out to be a festival of music and peace. Another mammoth event — a wild “stretch of the imagination” — that came about in an analog world.

Would this be possible today? I doubt that 400,000 young people, if they’d gotten into discussion on weighty matters, agreed on much. Yet the music, the goodwill and the sense of shared experience brought them together. (Of course, from all indications most of the crowd was stoned on pot, so getting along was much easier because they were dopey.)

Today most young people grow up on social media, learning that our differences are more important than our commonalities.

Speaking of social media, how did all those people even find out about it without the internet or Facebook? I heard about it word-of-mouth.

The day after Woodstock ended, in the middle of the night, unforecasted and unexpected, Hurricane Camille passed over the Blue Ridge Mountains into Nelson County, dumping billions of gallons of water on the land. People sleeping on the second floor of their homes were awakened by the pool of water in their beds.

“Tiny creeks turned into raging rivers that swept away homes and families,” reports the News Advance in an article about a memorial gathering last week. “The earth liquefied and slid from its perches in the Blue Ridge mountains, demolishing everything in its wake. By the time the water receded, 125 people were dead. The bodies of 33 of those people never were found; eight people never were identified.”

In that analog time, the telephone and electrical lines went down. Nobody was able to communicate what was happening to the outside world until late the next day.

While I knew nothing about Camille, a hurricane came into my own life that August, wiping out the life I’d known and relied on.

One morning, while racing cars on our electric track with my brother, my mom came down the basement stairs to announce that we should each pack a suitcase: she was leaving my father.

I went through the day in a daze.

Late that afternoon, mom’s brother, Uncle Bob, came to pick us up to take us to Grandma’s house. I resisted, then succumbed, confused and resentful.

Triumphs and tragedies. Each leave us with a choice.

After you’ve reached the moon, where else is there to go? After witnessing humans living together in harmony, what do you do with your life? After enduring what the ravages of nature can do, how do you rebuild any sense of safety?

It’s always up to us. What will we do with what is left?

Luanne Austin lives in Mount Sidney. Contact her at, or care of the DN-R.

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