Washed by a Wave of Wind
M. Shayne Bell, editor
A Foreigner Comes to Reddyville
Elizabeth H. Boyer
[p.202]My grandfather, B. Y. Green, died three years ago, so I can tell this story now. I never really thought I would, but when Christmas is coming, I start missing him. Christmas was his season as long as I knew him, but it never was the ho-ho-ho kind of Christmas at his house. He had a little tree on the table and presents for us kids, and Grandma made fudge and divinity and peanut brittle and fruit cake for the grownups.
But what I remember most was star-gazing on Christmas Eve. He used to call me outside to look up at the furiously-cold Idaho sky, skinny old Grandpa standing there in his old jeans and flannel shirt with the beak of his old hat tipped back just looking up at all those stars. The colder it was, the more stars filled the black dome of the sky. I’d shiver and shake, but he’d just keep on looking with the kind of awe you feel when you look into something limitless, when you know you’ll never understand, nor humankind ever understand, with all their machines and inventions and intelligence.
“Betty Jean,” he’d say, “just look up there at all those stars. You and I will never know a fraction of what’s going on up there. Not a fraction.”
He had a reverent note in his voice that always made me shiver, even when I was sixteen and thought I knew twice what he knew. Then maybe it was that black dome shot with a zillion stars that reminded me [p.203]who I was, and how long I’d be here. Then maybe it was because he knew something most people don’t.
He told me his story when I was twelve. I was in the sixth grade at McCammon Elementary and Miss Thornleigh was my teacher. She was mean and strict and walked with a cane, which she also used to point like a gun barrel at any kid who dared utter a peep out of turn. My best friend since kindergarten had moved away, and I hadn’t found a niche yet, and the adolescent kid groups were pretty tight-knit in the little towns of Arimo and McCammon. Nobody moved in, hardly anybody ever moved away. Friendships were made young and usually lasted through high school.
It was fall after Halloween and after the potato picking was over. Grandpa Green lived in a little old square brick house on one of the last streets in McCammon, not far from the gravel pit and the cemetery on the north end of town. Our house was in the next block behind the defunct McCammon news office. The streets were gravel then, every intersection had a streetlight, and none of the streets had names. Sometimes after dark I got this itchy feeling, sick of Channel Three and too bored to do homework, so I’d slip out of the house and race down the street to the next streetlight just to get some wind in my hair and stretch my legs and wonder what life was going to be like when I grew up. Sometimes I’d keep going past the pool of streetlight and tap on Grandpa’s door. Loud usually, to be heard over the roar of the television.
This night we’d just had our first two inches of snow and I had to race out in it, coatless, and leave my footprints, flying up to that spotlight under the old street lamp. I wondered where the footprints of my life would lead. I vowed I’d leave McCammon and everyone in it and never come back, except rich and famous, and wouldn’t they be sorry that they were so mean when I wouldn’t even talk to any of them. I didn’t feel much like talking to anybody, but I saw the dim light behind Grandpa’s curtains. Grandma had died about two years ago, so he was alone. They’d been married fifty-six years, but he never complained about being lonely. Maybe he felt like I did—all choked up inside with a big cold lump of something that wouldn’t go away. I trotted up to his door. Besides I’d run out without a coat again, and I was feeling cold and a little wet where the snow was melting on me.
He was always glad to see me, and he always had a bag of store-bought cookies. He also had his little wood stove in the living room heated up almost red hot, and his beat-up orange cat was melted on the [p.204]floor in front of it. I sank down in his old red couch with the big fat arms. I guess he could tell I was feeling down. He just kept telling me funny little stories about what he and old Tiger had done that day and what he got in the mail and how Mrs. Harris brought him an apple pie, still hot. That’s what I liked about him—he was deep-down happy with his life, even though he had plenty of problems himself, being old and sick and alone and living pretty lean. As long as he could rake his leaves and poke around in his little garden, he was whistling away and talking to folks walking by and enjoying himself. Pretty soon I was eating a piece of apple pie and telling him about my problems.
“You’re going to be all right, Betty Jean,” he said. “I know you can be or do just about anything you make up your mind to do. This minute, right now, doesn’t matter a whole lot, except in what it does to make you different tomorrow. Life has a way of turning out a whole lot stranger than you think it will. It’s a wondrous place out there, and nothing in it is more amazing than you. Run ahead of the crowd, don’t get stuck in the middle of the herd. Most people are too scared to take a different direction. Don’t try to be like all of them, or you’ll never be happy. As soon as you think you fit in, something changes. If you’re not afraid to be alone, amazing things will happen to you.”
I guess I mumbled something about not having any choice about being alone, and I wasn’t happy about it. I was already alone, without a best friend to sit with at lunch, and nothing amazing had happened to me.
“Let me tell you a story,” he said, settling back and looking into the little red isinglass window of the stove, and this is what followed.
When I was a young man, I used to herd sheep out to Reddyville for old man Harkness. It was getting close to Christmas time—one of the coldest winters anybody could remember. I was grazing the sheep along Marsh Creek where they could find willows and brush and a little grass. I had a sheep camp, a team, a saddle horse, a rifle, three dogs, and two dollars’ worth of groceries. Every few days somebody would ride out to check up on me and bring me a sack of flour or beans or something. I was sixteen and all alone in the dead of winter with two hundred head of sheep. No roads, no telephones—that was being alone, and I didn’t like it much either, only I didn’t have any choice. My daddy was dead, and I had to earn some money for the family, and this was my chance. I got paid five dollars a week.
[p.205]At night there were coyotes and cougars after my sheep, so I got into the habit of sleeping light. When the dogs started barking and growling, I rushed out with my gun and sometimes got off a shot or two. But one night after they barked, they just sort of clung to the wagon instead of chasing off to hunt the intruder. They acted like they were scared, which was unusual, especially for old Brick. I’ve seen him tear after a pack of coyotes, barking and snarling—but never far enough that they would turn around and get him. He was smart; he had a lot of collie in him. This time he leaned against my leg and I could feel him trembling while he whined and growled.
That was enough for me. If a grizzly bear was after old man Harkness’s sheep, he could have as many as he wanted. I wasn’t fool enough to fight a bear for some other man’s sheep. Calling the dogs in after me, I crawled back into the sheep wagon and shut the door.
Funny thing was the horses. Pinky and Doc were still standing quiet, tied to the wagon for the night. I’d seen them get a whiff of a cougar more than once, and they’d like to tear the wagon apart getting away. During the day I’d hobble them and let them forage where I could watch them. They could travel almost as fast with hobbles on as off, and I didn’t want them to end up back at the home ranch and leave me stranded. I had a sack of grain to bribe their loyalty with, which came in handy when I wanted to catch them. I could hear them sighing and shifting their feet around, calm and relaxed, not snorting and jigging around trying to see something to get scared at. If something was out there, they would’ve smelled it and raised a fuss.
I looked at old Brick, and he rested his chin on my knee, looking worried. His ears were still pricked up and twitching, like he was hearing something I couldn’t. I wasn’t enjoying this much, I can tell you. Not that I was any more superstitious than the next person. My mama was mortally terrified of Indians, and she’d put the same fear into me as a child. Even though I knew the Indians had moved on out of Marsh Valley, I couldn’t help remembering some of her bloodier stories of what had happened to the early settlers of Reddyville and other little forgotten places now buried under the sagebrush. I knew Fort Hall was too far away to protect me now.
Then I thought I began to hear a sound, high and far away like a big wind. It got louder and louder, real fast, until it went screaming by one side of my wagon in a ball of blazing white light and heat like the middle of July, then it was gone as fast as it had come. The horses [p.206]jumped, making the wagon rock, but after they finished jerking around, I couldn’t hear a thing. The sheep bleated and moved around a bit and started settling down again. I opened the door and looked out. I couldn’t believe my eyes. A trail of fire led straight along the ground not a hundred feet from my sheep camp. The juniper trees and sagebrush were burning, in the middle of the night, in December, with a foot of snow on the ground. I could see where the fire ended in a ravine about a half mile away.
I don’t know how long I stood there staring, but when I shut the door and came back to my little sheepherder stove, the wagon was almost as cold as it was outside. The dogs whined and didn’t show any interest in getting out of the wagon. I sat and stared at my little stove awhile, trying to think, then I jumped up to look again. Only a few little patches of fire still showed in the treetops. It was so quiet and cold and by the light of the stars, I could see the sheep huddled up in clumps, sound asleep. It was so quiet it was like nobody was left on earth except me.
I waited until daylight, but I didn’t sleep much that night. Every crackle, every snort from a horse jolted me wide awake, and I’d listen to that piercing silence and think about that track of fire. I wasn’t overly religious, so I wasn’t thinking along the lines of signs from heaven. This was something I just had no explanation for, with the knowledge that was available at that time.
When it was light I put on my buffalo coat my father used to wear and walked out to look at what I thought I’d seen. At first I hoped I wasn’t going to see anything. Then I found the track where the snow was melted away down to bare ground. The sagebrush and trees were burned, charred black, and the ground was bare. It started just at the tops at first, then more and more of them were burned, then the tops were sheared off like a haymower had gone through them. Pretty soon the trees were plowed right down, snapped off and burned like someone had planned it. Even the lava rocks looked scorched. I knew something about volcanoes, since so much of this land was lava beds, but I couldn’t see how that had anything to do with what I was seeing.
By the time I reached the edge of the ravine, I was shaking. The burnt trail went over the edge and down into a thick stand of junipers. I saw something down there in a tangle of tree limbs and rocks, so I climbed down. The dogs stayed on the ridge, looking down at me and whining.
[p.207]The thing I saw was made out of metal and rounded smooth. I first thought of an automobile. I’d seen a few automobiles in McCammon and everybody thought they were pretty fine and modern. Rich people were getting them in the big cities, but I thought they’d never take the place of horses for country folks who had real work to do.
When I got a little closer, I could see this thing was no automobile. By then I’d decided anyway there was no way it could be an automobile, this far out in the rocks and junipers. It didn’t have any tires or seats or anything like a Model A, which was mostly what we saw in McCammon at that time, but I’d seen pictures of Hupmobiles and Studebakers and other fancy automobiles. I couldn’t see any sort of opening, so I assumed it had to be upside down. I climbed down alongside it and just looked at the things on it, funny manufactured details I’d never seen anything like before—nor since either. Everything looked like an iron skillet that had been burned in the fire. I didn’t understand any of it. I don’t mind telling you I was scared half to death at the idea there was something this strange to my knowledge. How limited my knowledge was and the world’s knowledge was at that time wasn’t even as clear to me yet as it soon would be.
Then something caught the corner of my eye and I turned my head, sort of slow, not really wanting to see something else I didn’t understand. It was almost a relief to realize it was just a man, crawling out from the other side of the burnt machine.
“Hey, did you see this thing last night?” I said, all in a rush of relief at having someone to talk to. “It almost ran over my sheep camp. There was this big light, like the headlight of a train.” The man looked at me, saying nothing except for a funny gabbling sound. I looked at him, and I saw that he looked kind of strange and dirty—covered with soot actually, and my first impression was that he was really old and shriveled, like old people get sometimes. His face was little and wrinkly, and his eyes were kind of sunken away deep, and his skin had a grayish color. He wore a padded coat and pants that were made together, one piece.
“Are you all right?” I asked. “What are you doing here?”
The man made a feeble gesture with his hand and made sort of a moaning sound. He took a tottery step forward and almost fell, like he was weak. I caught him before he fell, and I noticed how light and frail he felt, like a real old person. He was shivering too. This was something I could handle, I thought.
[p.208]“Come on. I’ve got a nice warm fire and some coffee in my sheep camp. We’ll get you fixed up, and then you can tell me where you belong.”
I wrapped him up in my buffalo coat and pointed back the way I’d come and made as if to carry him. He insisted on crawling back into the machine, which gave me a few anxious moments, then he came out carrying a little suitcase. It was real heavy, but I carried them both back to the sheep camp. He didn’t say much except more moaning and gibberish. I thought he looked a little better when he got warmed up by my little stove, but I couldn’t get him to do more than taste the coffee. He made a face and put down the cup. I couldn’t really interest him much in my boiled beans either. I figured he was nearly frozen the night before and needed some rest, so I went out to look at the sheep and take the horses down to the water. When I got back he was sleeping, breathing real slow and sort of rattly. I was concerned. The nearest doctor was in McCammon about five miles away. I could take him to somebody’s house in Reddyville and borrow a wagon. If he took a real bad turn it would mean riding to McCammon to get the doctor, then back to Reddyville. I wasn’t sure how much time this old fellow had. I didn’t like the grayish color of his skin or the faint blue tint of his lips. Then there was the matter of paying Doctor Goodenough for the call.
After I went outside to check the sheep, I gathered up some wood and cow chips and came back into the sheep wagon. The strangest thing was the dogs. They wouldn’t go anywhere near the wagon now, when before they couldn’t wait to get inside by that stove. They growled and whined and hung back with their tails curled down between their legs. My visitor was awake, looking at me with his dark, sunken eyes.
“Feeling better?” I asked. “Sure is cold out there.”
He answered in that peculiar gibble-gabble, scattered with odd clicks and sighs like I’d never heard before. All of a sudden it struck me that he must be a foreigner, French or Italian or something.
“You’re from France?” I said, hoping he would recognize the name of his country in English. “Italy? Germany?”
He just looked at me, his expression empty and mournful. He didn’t even shake his head or realize I’d asked a question. I named all the countries I could think of, which wasn’t many. I wasn’t educated, and I was only sixteen.
Then he started to talk to me in that strange language, going on [p.209]faster and faster. I just sat there feeling stupid, and not that I would admit it, a little bit fearful.
“I just don’t know what to say or think,” I said to him, although I knew it didn’t do any good. “I just don’t understand your talk.”
But even animals know from your tone whether you’re friendly or angry, so I resolved to keep talking to him so he would know he was with a friend. I only hoped I was with a friend too.
I offered him whatever I had to eat, when mealtimes came around, but he only tasted the biscuits and beans and coffee and didn’t look real interested. Mostly he slept, so quiet it was hard to tell if he was breathing or not.
For two days we went on, talking our own language to each other. He seemed to be getting weaker, even though he often came to the sheepcamp door and looked outside while I was tending to my chores. I had to come to some decision, because the browse along the creek was running out and I would soon have to move the sheep.
According to my calendar, it was the week before Christmas. As the sun sank down behind the white mountains each night and those cold hard stars shone down, I thought of my family and I felt a little low in my spirits. I wished with all my heart I could be at home with my mother and my two younger sisters on Christmas Eve. But I was the man of the family now. I’d asked Mr. Harkness to pay my wages of five dollars a week directly to my mother, so she’ and the girls would have as many of life’s needfuls as it would buy.
I didn’t have one thing of Christmas in my wagon, so I decided to carve a little manger scene for my little sisters. I would give it to them whenever I saw them next, or maybe Mr. Harkness’s foreman would take it by the cabin for me. I got some dry juniper and set to carving a Mary and a Joseph and a baby in the manger. They turned out pretty good, so I went on with a sheep and a donkey. All the while I talked to my foreign friend, sitting up and watching me like a wrinkled-up old monkey. He jabbered back once in awhile, but not as much as he used to. I knew he was getting weaker, and I would have to do something.
It was Christmas Eve, and I was whittling away at my manger people. I was getting pretty pleased with my little creation. It sat in a box turned on its side to represent the stable. I added some sticks and bits of hay and rocks and twigs off the junipers. I now had a couple of shepherds and I had one of the three wise men done. I finished the second one and put him in the scene. I went to carving the third one, aware that my [p.210]stranger’s eyes were open and watching me. I even made little boxes and urns for the precious things the wise men brought the baby Jesus. When I put the third king in the row beside the others, he opened up his mouth and gave a cry that raised the gooseflesh on me. He raised up his hands and clenched his fingers into fists and went on giving that strange cry, and somehow I knew he was weeping.
“Here now, old timer, what’s the fuss?” I said in a soothing voice. “Are you wishing you were home for Christmas too?”
As if in answer he reached for a bit of wood and held out his hand for my knife. After a shameful moment of hesitation, 1 gave it to him and he started carving. All I could do was stare at him with my mouth open. He was better at it than I was, and in a little while he had a figure made. Slowly he reached out and placed it in the manger scene, lined up beside the three kings. I only stared at him, and I guess I managed to look completely stupid. He picked up the figure and held it out so I couldn’t avoid taking it. His deep, sad dark eyes watched me as I studied it. There was no mistaking the identity. He had carved a rough little figure of himself in his odd gray clothes, kneeling and holding a gift for the infant.
I went on looking stupid. Struggling to his feet, he went to the door of the sheep camp and opened it up, letting in a frigid blast of night air. He pointed out to the sky, extending his shaking hand. Again he gave that strange wailing cry that made my hair stand on end.
“Here now, close the door, we’re going to freeze to death,” I said, my voice shaking. Here was a fellow human creature in the most terrible despair, trying to communicate with me, and I was as dumb as a brick wall.
He gave me a mournful look, tottering back to his bed. I shut the door, plenty relieved, but still pained by his sorrow.
Later that night his breathing got strange and sputtery. I couldn’t let him just die, but if I left my sheep, I could lose the job my family needed so sorely. After wrestling with my conscience, I finally decided what I would do. I wrapped him up in my father’s buffalo coat and stoked the fire with cow chips. Then I saddled up my riding horse and rode down the creek to Reddyville.
“Mother,” I said when she opened the door, all glad and astonished, “I can’t stay. I’ve left the sheep. You’ve got to send someone for the doctor to come to my camp. A foreigner has fallen sick, and I’m trying to tend him-but I think he’s only getting worse.”
[p.211]She made me come in for an hour or so to unthaw my hands and feet and drink some hot tea. I’d had the forethought to bring my manger scene for my little sisters, and they were as excited as anything you can imagine at getting woke up in the middle of the night with such a present. They knelt by the stove in the red light coming through the little windows, putting each piece in its place.
Mother threw on her shawl and went over to the neighbors’ about half a mile away to get them to go for the doctor. When she got back I was half asleep and warmed through.
“B. Y.,” said my littlest sister Lydia, looking up from the manger scene, “why have you got four wise men? There’s only three, isn’t there, Mama?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “My foreigner carved it, and he made it to look just like he does. I don’t know what he meant by it. Maybe where he comes from, they have four wise men at Christmas time.”
“There’s really only three,” said Emily.
“No, there’s Melchior, the fourth wise man,” said my mother. “He was traveling to Bethlehem too with a present for the baby Jesus. But he stopped along the way to help some poor people and by the time he was done helping them, he had spent all his money and sold the wonderful gift he had brought. So he never made it to Bethlehem, but he was specially blessed for helping the needy people.”
I went back to my camp as fast as 1 could go, afraid I’d find my foreigner had died while 1 was gone. He was still alive, I could hear his breath just barely wheezing in his throat. When I lit a candle, I could see how bad he was. I wished I’d sent for the doctor earlier, but I knew the doctor would charge five of my precious dollars for his ride from McCammon to Reddyville.
I sat up for the rest of the night beside my foreign friend. It was the only thing I could do. When the daylight rallied and I could blowout the candle, he opened his eyes. Weakly he struggled against the buffalo coat, trying to loosen his arms.
“Just lie easy, can’t you?” I said. “The doctor is on his way. Heaven knows how I’m going to pay for it, but I know my daddy wouldn’t stand by and watch a stranger die. I’d have a tough time facing my conscience if I did. So it doesn’t make any difference. It’s a small price to pay to be able to say I did everything I could. I just wish I’d done it sooner, old timer.”
I swear he understood me. He looked with his old tired eyes right [p.212]into mine, and I felt that everything was all right with him, however it turned out.
Then he began struggling around, looking for the little suitcase, which he always kept close to hand. I lifted it out from under his bunk and put it beside him. He unlocked it by some means I couldn’t see. Then pushed it toward me, but he was pretty weak and could scarcely budge it. Then he pointed to my little box I kept beside my bed for my pocket watch and my daddy’s old worn-out Bible and other things that were important to me. I put the case beside my bed, by the box. That was the last thing I ever did for him. I went outside to chop some wood, and when I came back, I knew he would breathe no more.
I waited until almost noon for Doctor Goodenough. He rode up horseback with his bag tied on behind.
“I’m sorry, but it seems I called you too late,” I said. “My friend has died.”
“Well, let’s have a look at what he died of,” said Dr. Goodenough, “and make sure it isn’t something catching.”
He climbed into the wagon and I waited outside, since there wasn’t any abundance of space and I was feeling like I’d let down the poor little foreigner. After a long time, the doctor opened the door and beckoned to me.
“Come in here and look at this,” he said.
He’d taken the clothes off the foreigner to get a better look at him. It made me a little angry that he could be so cold-hearted, but I suppose death was nothing to him, as much of it as he’d seen.
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” he said.
I never had. I forgot about being angry as I looked at the remains of my foreign friend. It came to me slowly that there was some sort of deformity about his withered little body. He just wasn’t made like you and me. His head was too big, and his ribcage wasn’t shaped like any I’d seen. His skin was more like leather, and there wasn’t a hair on him anywhere.
Dr. Goodenough questioned me closely. I guess I was in some sort of shock, although I’d never heard of it then.
“B. Y. Green,” he said to me finally, “I knew your father. I tended to him in his last illness, and I wish I’d saved him. But if I had, he’d be grieved to see his son keeping secrets from a man who means only to help him. Now I can tell there’s something you’re not telling me. If I go [p.213]away now, this will always be a hard spot between us. You know something that I don’t.”
Dr. Goodenough was the most educated man in McCammon. He’d been to a university back east to get his medical degree. The idea of his not knowing something that I did was amazing to me. Trouble was I couldn’t tell him anything to relieve his ignorance, because I was in the same ignorance myself.
“I’ll show you something,” I said, wondering if I was doing the right thing. “But I can’t say what it is, because I don’t know.”
While we walked through the junipers, I told him about the fireball I’d seen burn a path through the trees. I could tell he was skeptical, until I found the blackened trail. We climbed down into the ravine and he looked all around it. Then he took out a notebook and drew pictures of it. I waited for his explanation. He never said anything. He just followed the trail back, heading for my sheepcamp. When he got there, he went in and studied my poor foreign friend a long time, making some notes in his notebook.
“B. Y.,” he said, “make no mention of this man or his means of conveyance if you want to enjoy the rest of your life among your fellow man.” Then he began wrapping up the stranger in one of my blankets.
“But who is he?” I demanded.
“Better ask what is he,” answered Doctor Goodenough. “But whatever he may be and wherever he may be from, this world is not ready yet to know about it.”
I never thought much more about it after he overwhelmed me by refusing any payment for his visit. He took away the little foreigner, leaving me and my sheep alone again.
After he was gone, I remembered the heavy little box the stranger had given me. When I opened it I started to shake. My own staring face looked back at me from a bar of solid polished gold the size of a brick. It had writing on it, but it wasn’t English. I didn’t know what language it was. I’d never seen anything but English written.
I left the sheep again and went to talk to my mother, taking the little heavy case with me. My sisters were at school, so the one-room house was quiet, except for the ticking of Mama’s clock as I told her about the foreigner, all the while turning his little wise-man carving over and over in my fingers. I cried then too, thinking how he’d come so far on his journey with his gift, only to die by misfortune in the hands of strangers. Mama never said anything, not even when I showed her the bar of gold. [p.214]When Daddy died she was like that, sort of going inside of herself to find the answers she needed.
“Brigham,” she said, “I recognize the truth of what you are saying. But your little stranger didn’t die in vain. He traveled from afar to bring a gift, and he gave it to you. It will never get to where he intended, but it’s up to you to see to it that his gift is used for the best purposes.”
“Who was he, Mama?” I asked, setting the figure on the table between us. “Do you really think he was a wise man, traveling to find another Christ-child somewhere on another star?”
“We know there are worlds without number,” said my mother after thinking a moment. “I find it impossible to stand under the sky and look at the stars and believe that there is no one else in the universe except us.” She tapped the little wise man with her finger. “He wasn’t all that different from us, was he, Brigham?”
“No, not so different. But Mama, if he was traveling to some other world, if a Christ-child was born somewhere else, what does it mean? Wasn’t our world the first? 1 never thought it could happen again.”
“Or if the Savior came back again,” said Mama, almost as if she were talking to herself, “why didn’t he come back to our earth? Or is there more than one Savior? How many times, in how many places, has our old familiar story happened?”
Like I said before, I’d been rebellious and never very churchy, but 1 began to feel frightened by the smallness of my own existence. “Mama, I think this is something we shouldn’t talk about. Maybe it isn’t something religious at all. Maybe this stranger only wanted to do what I was doing and carve a little figure too. If we could speak his language, we’d know what he really meant. We’re only guessing and trying to make it look like what we understand. Maybe he was on his way to pay a debt or buy something. Maybe my manger scene didn’t make any more sense to him than the writing on that gold does to us.”
“But maybe it did, Brigham,” said my mother. “Maybe that was the only thing about this world that did make sense to him. You certainly couldn’t talk to him.”
Mama was a sensible woman, and as it turned out, a good businesswoman. We sold up everything we had, which wasn’t much, and moved to McCammon, where there wasn’t anyone who knew us to wonder where the poor unfortunate Greens got their money. Mama took the gold and made investments. She bought a house, some land, some other houses which we fixed up and rented. My sisters grew up [p.215]and got married, I met the woman who would share the rest of my life with me. We never turned away from an opportunity to help someone in need. I don’t know exactly how long it took to use up all the gold bar. By then, thanks to my talented mother, we never missed it when it was gone.
A few years after we left Reddyville, Doctor Goodenough was drowned in the Portneuf river when his buggy turned over. I went back once and tried to find the place where the trees were burned. I guess I was still ashamed that I never got the doctor there soon enough to save the stranger’s life. But I couldn’t tell one gully from the next, all the sagebrush and cedars looked just alike. Nothing was left of Reddyville. Everyone had moved to McCammon or Arimo or Downey or Pocatello, looking for an easier life. I always wondered if anyone else ever found that strange machine from the stars and wondered what it might be, or if a landslide covered it up, or if the land just gradually healed around it.
During all the business of getting grown up and married and settled and going through World War II, I struggled to educate myself. I began noticing there were new writers who fancied writing about rocket ships to Mars and invaders from outer space and traveling to other planets. At first I read them sort of secret and ashamed. Most of them I could tell were made-up stories, but there were some I thought could be true and some that sounded a lot like what had happened to me that cold December in Reddyville.
I never got real religious, even afterward, but I carne to believe in many different things. I never forgot what my mother said that night in Reddyville. It troubled me, and does yet, to think that if he carne back after he was here, that he didn’t choose us again. And it’s hard to feel lonely when you know you’re not alone. A lot of people flat out deny that life could exist on the stars. And while they’re doing it, standing on this little pinpoint of light we call Earth, there’s probably a million other tiny little fools on other pinpoints of light saying the same thing, that they’re the only ones in the whole big universe, like they’re some sort of bigshots running the whole show. Now just look up there at those stars, Betty Jean, shining down here in Idaho and all the rest of the whole world and who knows how many others. Some of them don’t even exist anymore, and here we are looking at the light they made millions of years ago, just for us to see by. Some day somebody might be looking [p.216]at the spot of light we left behind. Kind of puts all our problems in perspective, doesn’t it?
I miss my grandfather most at Christmas time. I’m not twelve anymore. I’m happy to report that I survived adolescence and have negotiated into the waters of middle age without too many mishaps. Maybe something about his Christmas story stuck in my head. Whenever I’m thinking my problems are the end of the world, I remember those cold Idaho nights, looking up at the stars with him and feeling my world expanding, taking in the Milky Way and all the constellations, all the universe, and him pointing up to the stars, like he knew we have friends out there.
My mother said she never heard this story, and Grandpa probably made it up just to entertain me when I was feeling down. He was on medications too for high blood pressure.
“Then where did Great-grandma Green get the money to buy houses and land in McCammon?” I demanded.
“Oh,” she said, “they had family back East.”
I just figure Grandpa B. Y. knew what he was doing when he decided not to tell any of his family his story, except me. He outlived his sisters, and none of the family knew what I was talking about when I asked what became of the manger scene with four wise men.