I heard of Neal Armstrong passing away on my 4G phone and watched a video about him. The jump drive I have on my key ring holds more information that the entire small library at Coastal that occupied one half of the first floor.
We have indeed made some giant leaps, both our nation and our Coastal Carolina University campus.
We moved to Coastal in 1963, when I was 8. My dad was John Anderson, the maintenance superintendent, or as he liked to call himself, the dean of the Maintenance Department. Our little house with additions added is now the Indigo House.
When I was a kid we sat glued to our black and white TV and watched awestruck as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, with his famous quote, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” That evening I ran out into the yard with my glass of Tang, sat on the lawn of our small house at the Coastal, new and isolated, a world of its own in the middle of the forest of Horry County. We had moved there six weeks before President Kennedy was killed. I also watched that on the little black and white. My Dad and I had many tiffs when I wanted to watch a new TV program called “Star Trek.”
I loved this new age I lived in called the “Space Age.” But I was already used to new ages and new environments. When we moved to the new Coastal Carolina College in October 1963, it was to all new construction, all young students and teachers, and a new idea of offering a college education to local kids. The small campus was carved out of the forest with a little blue tractor. The only other thing in this area was Goldfinch Cemetery down the road, with Mr. Clardy’s tobacco field in front of it that would eventually become Brooks Stadium.
During those first years here were snakes, wildcats, deer, frogs after rainstorms that croaked so loud you could not hear anything. And there were things of great beauty. The open area of the cleared off parking lot and the clear field that was a tobacco field (before it became the Williams Brice Building) had no ambient light, which made the night sky ablaze with stars, easily showing bands of the Milky Way. Along with that would come hundreds of fireflies out of the woods. My Aunt Bessie and I would pick wild huckleberries where some of the most impressive building of the campus are now.
There were four structures on the campus at that time. The original Main Building before the additions enlarged it, our small home, before additions were made to it, now called the Indigo Building, and the small square building, called the boiler room, between the main building and our home. The two transformers offering power to that campus were there and they would get struck by lightning frequently. There was also a small brick structure about the size of a good barbecue pit where my Dad burned all the campus trash, all paper as there was no food service until Mr. Oliver opened the Cino Lounge in the new Student Union Building.
Down the other end of the road was the new Horry-George town Technical College, which I would attend starting in 1973. Tuition was $75 per quarter, plus $25 per books, as opposed to Coastal tuition in 1968 of $268 per semester. Though Coastal and Tech have become almost one entity now, during that time the only thing they shared was the sewage pond, built between the two campuses behind one of the two buildings at Tech. It had a chain link fence and goats were kept inside to keep the grass mowed. We were green, ahead of our time.
I roamed freely on campus during hours and after hours, as my dad made my task at the college to take the master key and lock up the main building at night, mostly because I was little and could jump up on the window sills and lock the windows.
The only place I was not allowed to go into was the chemistry lab. I guess he was afraid I would blow something up. But I roamed everywhere else with the teachers’ blessing. I looked at my cells under the microscopes, listened to my voice on the tape recorders in the Spanish lab, and from that point on I wanted to learn about everything. And I did because of living in an environment where I was encouraged to learn, given the facilities to learn, such as a good library, good teachers and parents who helped me know that there was a world out there past those pine trees.
I now teach some history courses at the OLLI learning center and am a storyteller. When I have visited the main campus for events during the grand openings of the new facilities there the students call me ma’am and there was a time when I was 8 years old and I thought the students were all grown. Now I am the older one. The little campus that I grew up at is just a tiny footprint in this campus. There is a large facility management department, a security department, and grounds management department, hundreds of employees doing what my Dad did. There are hundreds of phone extensions instead of the one phone number that rang in our home on weekends because there was no one on campus at all. There are many campus vehicles, from golf carts to vans, unlike the day when my Dad’s Falcon and Mr. Singleton’s blue station wagon did all that was needed.
Coastal was my greatest teacher, in so many ways that I have not even touched on. She is magnificent now and teaches many others, just as she did me, that there is a world out there past those pine trees.
And past that full moon. Neal helped us learn that is a whole new world past that moon. Just a few weeks ago, we landed on Mars and I am so glad that he lived to see this, another giant leap for mankind. I can close my eyes and remember when his words flowed out of the open window of our home from the little black and white TV, heard in the pine trees of the little campus, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Let us all be explorers, students, teachers, and reach for that world out there past those pine trees.
The writer lives in Myrtle Beach.