As the world mourns Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the moon, an 11-year-old San Rafael boy has a special reason to miss him -- and a message from the astronaut he will always treasure.
"Sometimes when I look up at the moon, I wonder if my mom and dad are watching me," wrote Max Boddington, whose mother died in 2005 and his father in 2008. He ended his essay, written two years before Armstrong's death on Saturday: "My dream is to meet Neil Armstrong, the world's Number One space hero."
The boy's adoptive mother, Janet Boddington, kept the essay and submitted it to the 2012 Marin County Fair. After it won best of class in the junior creative writing/short essay category, Boddington tracked down Armstrong online and sent him the essay. On Aug. 1 the astronaut, who commanded the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, emailed her back:
"Thanks for sharing Max's essay with me," Armstrong wrote. "It is very poignant and surprisingly erudite for an 11-year-old. ... Tell Max I send him my very best wishes for good luck and success."
When his mom showed him the email, "I jumped up and down. I was excited," said Max, a fifth-grader at Sun Valley Elementary School in San Rafael. "It made me happy."
Only 24 days after Armstrong sent the email, the former astronaut died of complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. He had had heart surgery weeks earlier.
Max wrote the piece in 2010 as part of an essay contest for alumni of Camp Erin, a network of 38 camps in the United States and one in Canada for children ages 6 to 17 grieving a significant person in their lives, typically a parent.
"He was getting counseling at Hospice by the Bay in Larkspur and that organization supports Camp Erin," Janet Boddington said. "They suggested that he attend the camp. We felt it would be a good place for him to see other children having the same feelings."
When Max was 4 years old, his mother died unexpectedly, and three years later his father also died unexpectedly of health problems, leaving Max an orphan at the age of 7.
"He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder," said Simon Boddington, Max's adoptive father. "He's dealing with it pretty well. He is a tough little guy and that is to his advantage." Max came to live with the couple as a foster child in June 2009 and was formally adopted in February 2010.
The Boddingtons say they are lucky to have Max, and it's clear that it goes both ways. He has joined a blended family that includes Janet's two children from a previous marriage, Willie Burke, 20, and Coleman Burke, 23, as well as Simon's children, Sophie Boddington, 28, Sarah Boddington, 33, and Tiffany Boddington Yonts, 30. Max is the only child living at home with Janet and Simon.
Max, who was doing his math homework Monday afternoon but graciously consented to an interview, doesn't know what he wants to do when he grows up, though he hasn't ruled out being an astronaut. He's also thinking about becoming an engineer, he said.
"We were all just overwhelmed that Mr. Armstrong would take time to answer a little boy's letter and just so touched that he did that," said Janet Boddington. "Yesterday, Max told me, 'Mom, you're my hero for sending him my essay.'"