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To all those who look at the night sky and smile.

Where we lived doesn’t really matter much, ‘cept to say that you could spit into another State from our porch. That was where my granddaddy sat thinking most days and most nights. He just cogitated – “yep, I’m sitting here just running things about my great big head,” was how he’d usually greet me. And to be real honest, it was a big, big head, man it was huge. It needed to be, considering how much it had to hold – what with all the things my granddaddy had done and all.

He’d been in two wars, although I can’t quite rightly say which two. He’d been a pilot and an engineer, and had even won a medal for swimming for his country: you can tell, can’t you, that he was my hero?

The day I want to write about was the day that my granddaddy put everything right in my head. Up until then I used to think the craziest things about everything, especially myself.

I used to think that I wasn’t worth nothing. I guess that was ‘cause folks kept telling me that, and I suppose after a time you start believing it. I reckon that is one of the worst crimes a man can commit – to take away a man or woman’s belief in themselves. That way they’ve robbed you of the most precious thing you’ve got – you. Now I ain’t the only one that’s suffered that way, no sir, the world is full of thieves that make you believe that you ain’t worth nothing – just ‘cause they are the unhappiest souls this side of the sun – they spread it like a virus making sure every other soul joins in.

Some people take years to put themselves back together again – and all those years are lost to them, to their families, to their friends, to themselves. Ain’t nothing ever going change human nature, but then again, none of us designed the universe that way. It’s just some of us luxuriate a little more in the darkness, than some other folks; if you hear what I’m saying.

Anyway, I’m deviating again from what I was wanting to tell you. One day when the world was young (at least to me) we got this new teacher in school. She was tall and pretty and had a way about her that had never seen in anyone else. When she looked into your eyes you believed every word she told, I mean it, every word.

One real warm afternoon she took out this big blue ball which turned out to be the Earth and she said that was our home, all out homes but (and then she paused so long that Becky Stanshaw started to cough) – then she told us that wasn’t where we came from at all. Well I nearly fell off my seat, what kind of craziness was she talking about? And apparently it was this – we weren’t just made up of stuff from Earth, no sir, we were also made of stuff that came from dying stars – way, way out there. Well, I’ll be, I thought, well I’ll be.

Now that day I ran home as fast as I could and as fast as Mr Clarity’s dog would let me, ‘cause it was always biting on my trousers and trying to stop me running. I swear one day I would just take my britches off and keep on running. So I got home just in time to see my granddaddy lighting up another cigarette and ready start another hour of cogitating.

He asked me what my hurry was, and I told him all about us, and the stars, and about how most of the bits we were made of came from out there in space, and he just nodded and smiled and sucked on his cigarette and bid me a good day.

Now I got to jump this story to a long time later, a way long time later when I had grown some, and I was sure of what I wanted to do in my life. The problem was, it wasn’t what my family wanted me to do. You see my family came from soldiers, ones that had fought in the days of the war of Independence, and in every skirmish and war since then. My granddaddy was a soldier, as was my father and my brother Brett, who had recently joined up. It was assumed that I would join up too – but I have to tell you here and now that was not in my particular way of thinking.

Now here I’ve got to jump way back again – to the first time one came to town (a circus that is). When I went to my first circus, well I was hooked from the very first second until the last and I realized then and there, that all I wanted from life was to be a clown.

That don’t go down too well in a military family – let me tell you – they all looked at me (except granddaddy) as if I was the worst kind of son and brother who had ever lived.

Well we fought and fought. I was not going to shame the family by being a clown, they said – I was a freak, they said – people would laugh at me, they said (I actually thought that was the idea, but didn’t dare say).

It got so bad I thought of leaving home, and one night I just sat on the porch steps and cried. I mean I was old enough to join the army but I still blubbered.  That was when my granddaddy came out and sat with me. We just looked up at the night sky and the stars and he said:
“Remember kid, when you came running home from school all those years ago and told me about how we were all made out there?”
I nodded.
“Well maybe that’s all that’s wrong here. You see over there? To the right?”

And I said I did, and granddaddy said, “Well what if those in the family – who wanted to be soldiers – came from those stars and maybe you – who wants to entertain folks – came from one over there on the left. See what I’m saying? If we are all made up of different stars then how can we all be expected to be the same?”
And I said that I agreed with him, and that he had to be correct and he said he was.

Then he said one other thing that I will carry with me in heart wherever I go.
He said, that if all those stars out there were where me and him and all my folks came from, then how could any one of us be really lonely? ‘Cause when we looked out there, it wasn’t a sky full of stars we saw, it was a picture of our ancestors; our family; our beginnings.

And do you know something? He was totally and completely right.
So next time you’re looking up, say ‘hi’ and smile.

bobby stevenson 2017

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3 thoughts on “The Man Who Smiled At Stars

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