Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Burning With Curiosity
I'll get to the burning and curiosity shortly. First, however, I must provide some background to put my story into context. Child labor was an accepted part of life when and where I grew up during the 50s and 60s. It was usually in the form of watching one's younger siblings while Mom took laundry to the basement. Or, it might be running three blocks to our little neighborhood store to pick up a loaf of bread. As we got older, my older brother and I were responsible for washing and drying dinner dishes -- a task we both hated. A kind of OK chore was going to every room in the house to collect waste paper and adding it to the large, kitchen trash can. Then you got the box of big, wooden kitchen matches and headed out to the far back yard to burn it. [The smell of one of those matches being lit still reminds me of birthday candles, too. You could usually light all of them on just one match.] I wasn't crazy about trash-burning-duty in the winter, but one dark and starry evening is still vivid in memory. Rushing out to the far back yard, I angrily snatched-up pieces of paper that fell out of the can, but eventually dumped it all into the burning barrel. Holding a mitten in my teeth, I struck the match and lit the fire. Happily there was no wind to blow it out nor snow to dampen the fire. I hurriedly put the match box back in my pocket and the mitten back on my hand and gazed into the fire. That was a bonus of burning the trash -- hypnosis by fire! Living in the far suburbs, there were no bright lights to obliterate the night sky. As the fire was blazing away, my eyes followed glowing ashes as they headed toward the sky. Then I noticed one star moving slowly in a straight line. Must be Sputnik. Then it did something Sputnik did not do -- it made a right angle turn and sped off. Being an imaginative type, I decided that some intergalactic visitor had mistaken my trash fire for a signal fire. Once he/she/it figured out that it was just a trash fire, it took off. I don't remember mentioning it to anyone else. During those days, if someone saw a flying saucer he was nothing more than a crackpot. These days, however, I think we're just a tad less skeptical.