Friday, November 13, 2009

Tales of Pottsville: Is There Life Out There?

Ever the news junkie, I spend far too much time keeping up with current events. Which is how I stumbled across this important news item this week: it was reported in the honest-to-goodness free press that the Catholic church is looking to the heavens for signs of alien life. I breezed through the article and caught references to considering whether there's life in other parts of the universe, scientific studies and the like.

Oh, if only Grandma Potts were here to join in the conversation. See, Grandma firmly believed in life on other planets. She was wide open to discussions of green aliens and space ships. The Bible references other sheep that Jesus visited after he was resurrected; she didn't particularly care what the sheep looked like or where they lived. Grandma was unfailingly accepting in that way.

Grandma and Grandpa Potts (not sure he'd appreciate my bringing his name into it) diligently bought The Enquirer during the kinder, gentler days of the publication before celebrity exposes, when the magazine features were about 3-headed cows in Wisconsin, Elvis sightings, babies that could burp the alphabet at birth and, of course, alien sightings. Oh, and don't forget Nostradamus doomsday stories. Those Nostradamus predictions were pretty much weekly discussions. I could never read them - they scared the bejingles out of me.

When I say Grandma believed in aliens, I don't mean she only read about their adventures. Oh, no. She occasionally sought contact with them. And that was where the fun began.

See, Pottsville consisted of three homes: my Grandma and Grandpa Potts at the top, Aunt Barbara and the cousins in the middle, and our home at the bottom. (The landscape was actually pretty level; I'm not sure where I got the top and bottom perceptions, but kids are like that.) At the height of Grandma's alien adventures, Aunt Barbara hadn't even moved up on the hill yet, so it was just our two homes on 40 acres, surrounded by lots of high desert in all directions. We were 3 miles outside of town (town being an oversized title for a little pioneer settlement called Woodruff) and off the back road to Snowflake, which was 20+ miles to the southeast. Essentially, it was just us way out there in the desert. And, once the sun went down and we were all tucked into our homes after dark with our Coleman lanterns and battery operated radios (yeah, we'll delve into that more deeply at a later date), there wasn't all that much to do.

Which is why UFO hunting with Grandma was so stinkin' fun. See, Grandma would see something off in the distance - it could be unusual red lights on the horizon or flashing lights in the broad, black star-spangled sky - and that was all it took.

Into Grandpa's old green and white truck or the front seat of Mom and Dad's Oldsmobile we'd jump, and off we'd go, bumping across the dirt roads at night, chasing those lights. Mom wasn't entirely on board with Grandma's convictions that aliens were just a stone's throw away, but she did love to drive and the dark nights could be long, so she was game to join in. We'd drive for what seemed like hours, keyed up with anticipation, adrenaline pumping, desperately scanning the horizon to re-sight the suspicious lights if a mesa temporarily took them out of view. Mom would dodge the jackrabbits that were shocked to find us out in the wilds during their part of the night, and Grandma would keep a running commentary about just what she thought we might find at the end of our dash across the desert. See, Grandma wasn't intense and freaky about her conviction - just the opposite - she would light up and laugh heartily, eyes twinkling as she shared her wild ideas and findings. Grandma was a poet and a storyteller - she could keep the conversation moving along.

You'll be shocked to learn that we never quite caught up with the red lights or the flashes in the sky. I don't know how they evaded us, since Mom was quite the accomplished cross-country driver in her younger days. Somehow, even when we ultimately had to give up the chase and head home, the disappointment wasn't that great. Having the windows down, my sister Lynda and I would stick our faces out to feel the warm evening breezes, Grandma would point out the constellations - the Seven Sisters being my favorite to find - and there was that sense of getting away with something because everything was slightly off kilter: it was way past bedtime, glimpses of flashing eyes told us the desert night creatures were out with us, and the adults were acting so carefree.

I don't know if Grandma held her fascination with aliens right up until she left us. I can say she wasn't the only one around here who was open to the idea - it was just down the road about 30 - 40 miles or so that local Travis Walton of "Fire in the Sky" fame was said to have been abducted by aliens. Who knows. What I do know is Grandma's story weaving was captivating and the adventures were always colorful and big. Life in Pottsville was all a 9-yr-old could ever ask for. What a time we had.

Who knows what the Catholic church will find as they're looking heavenward. I can tell you, if nothing else, the quest for life out there could sure help while away a dark summer night.

Love from the farm,

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