Out of the Blue


And so we remained behind next morning while the whole neighborhood left for Sterling. Father and Mother, Aunt Kee and Henie, my older sister, Maxine, my younger brother, Howard, and baby Margie drove off in the Model T right after morning chores. A little later Grandma and I waved at the McGraths as they went by—and the Christensens, who lived just half a mile down the road. And last, always last, Homer Burns and his wife, arguing furiously, sped by on the dirt road at twenty miles an hour.

After the Burnses had driven by and there was no more activity to expect on the narrow road, Grandma went into the kitchen to prepare our double dessert.

I stayed in the yard for an hour or so, building sand castles and trying to forget about the Zeppelin. Time drifted slowly by. In addition to my disappointment, I was a little uneasy. Something wasn’t quite right. Suddenly I realized why. We were alone, absolutely alone, and surrounded by a profound silence. That whole land, usually so full of sound and action, was empty and still. Even the animals were quiet. There was no wind, not the slightest breeze.

Into that remarkable silence there came from far away the smallest possible purring, strange and repetitive, gradually approaching, becoming louder—the unmistakable beating of powerful engines. I looked to the west and at first saw nothing. Then it was there, nosing down out of the clouds a half-mile away, a gigantic, wondrous apparition moving slowly through the sky.

“Grandma!” I screamed.

She was out the kitchen door in an instant. I pointed to the sky. The great dirigible was very low, perhaps because the captain was trying to find some landmark.

There is a wonderful opening scene in the movie Star Wars. A great starship is passing very low and directly overhead so that one sees only the underside. That underside moves deliberately and interminably on and on and on until at last it is gone. The Graf Zeppelin, moving ever so slowly above us, was like that. We saw every crease and contour from nose to fins. It was so low that we could see, or imagined we could see, people waving at us from the slanted windows of its passenger gondola.

We stood entranced. Slowly, slowly the ship moved over us, beyond us, and at last was gone.

We looked at each other, my grandmother and I, then silently walked to the front porch and let ourselves down on the steps. And we gazed at each other in triumph.

Now we were suddenly aware that barnyard, pasture, and field were filled with alarm. The dogs were barking madly, the horses galloped in the pasture, cows mooed, pigs squealed, guineas screamed, chickens cackled, flocks of birds swept wildly by.

“They’ll settle down soon,” Grandma said.

I was speechless with excitement, but I was already constructing the triumphant tale I would tell anyone who would listen. Grandma rose, went into the kitchen, and came back with two glasses of milk and two chunks of strawberry pie. I could neither eat nor drink. Seeing the Zeppelin was wonderful. Telling the world would be wonderful times ten.

My grandmother stirred a little beside me.

“John,” she said. I looked up. Just for a second she was a young, smiling woman, filled with excitement and anticipation. Then she sighed and was Grandma again. “We have to keep it a secret. We mustn’t tell the others what we saw.”

I was astonished. “But why not tell?”

“Because they’ll be disappointed enough that they missed it. We don’t want to hurt them more.”

“But, Grandma.”

She shook her head. “It will be much more fun if we keep it a secret, just you and I. No one else will ever know. We’ll just keep the Zeppelin to ourselves forever and a day. We’ll never tell.”

I loved her. “I’ll never tell,” I promised, and I never have until now.