Mother never told me a lie, but late in life she told me something that made me wonder if she’d decided to pick up the habit.
As far as I remember she never lied, even the little white lie you blurt out to keep from hurting someone’s feelings. If a lady wearing an outfit that looked like it came straight from the Michelin Man’s yard sale had asked her “does this make me look fat?” she wouldn’t have lied. She’d have clammed up and treated the person like they were Medusa, that she’d turn to stone if their eyes locked.
But lying? Nope.
Recent celestial events like the Super Duper Unleaded Deluxe Moon of a couple of weeks ago reminded me of an evening when a spectacular meteor shower was scheduled some years back. I asked Mother if she’d like to go out and watch.
She told me she’d never seen a shooting star.
I was flabbergasted.
Mountain people are outside, a lot, and when Mother came of age they were probably outside even more, as in many cases that’s where the plumbing was. Even discounting nocturnal trips to the outhouse, back in those days people tended to walk wherever they went – to church, or to a relative or friend’s house.
All those hours out and no shooting stars just didn’t seem to add up.
Growing up I was out a lot at night, chasing coons and possums with Daddy and constantly looking up into tangles of tree limbs and beyond into the crisp night air. Other times it was catching lightning bugs or playing ball well past the time the light had faded and the ball was almost impossible to see. Later, I worked night shift for about a decade and would be on the highways in the lonely hours of the morning.
I’ve seen, I guess, every possible sort of shooting star you could see. Blue ones, green ones, ones that clearly hit the ground, ones that shattered in the indigo skies. Fast ones, slow ones, multiple ones.
How had Mother missed all that?
I finally chalked it up to this: She wasn’t looking up. She was looking down.
This makes a lot of sense, in that there were a fair number of copperheads around in those days, and it paid to watch where you put your next foot down. Additionally, there were tree roots you could trip over. There were a lot of dogs running loose in those days with no one to clean up their leavings. And yellow jacket nests.
In short, the natural world was a veritable cornucopia of bobby traps, so no stargazing.
I was one to look up, and at times paid the price, stumbling into a freezing creek or going full “George of the Jungle” into a tree.
Years ago I heard a story regarding the dangers of looking up from a coon hunter. He said a friend had been hunting off in another county that was known at the time for being somewhat lawless.
OK, really lawless. Anyhow, this intrepid coon hunter had treed his quarry around midnight, and made it to the base of the tree where his dogs were baying.
Looking up and preparing his flashlight to spot the coon, he found out just how lawless this county was.
The beam picked its way up the tree and settled on his quarry. It evidently also shot out beyond the tree a bit and was mistaken for a signal clearly meant to be seen by someone else.
He heard the cough of a small plane’s engine.
And a bale of marijuana came crashing through the forest canopy.
He’d apparently been mistaken for someone else’s rendezvous.
As I recall this gent seemed trustworthy. It took me some years, after dealing with Mother, to realize that some folks weren’t always truthful. Some hunters excel at making up a good story on the spot.
Don’t get me started on fishermen.
Buchanan is editor of the Sylva Herald.