Thanksgiving gatherings in our family included my Methodist preacher father, uncle John, a devout Mormon, and uncle Bill, a UFOlogist. We cousins ate at the kid’s table, out of sight of the adults. Fifty years later we still remember when Janie shot a pea straight up and it stuck to the ceiling (and for all we know it’s up there still…).
You would think the adult conversation must have been fascinating at the adult table but I doubt it. Adults know how to avoid really fun topics at family parties. After dinner, Uncle John always stretched out on the floor and fell asleep. Uncle Bill wandered over to the piano and played pop tunes from the 1940’s. I don’t remember what my dad did—probably teased my cousins.
Uncle Bill was a famous UFOlogist. As an optical physicist, he was especially interested in analyzing UFO photos. He interviewed George Adamski, the man who flew in an alien ship back in the fifties or early sixties, and other UFO celebrities. Bill translated the book Angels in Starships.
As a teenager, I attended one of Uncle Bill’s slide presentations in Dresden, NY. It lasted nearly three hours—slide after slide of UFOs and alien beings from his collection. Most were obvious fakes, but some were genuine, according to Uncle Bill.
Bill occasionally brought UFO books to family gatherings. One that I remember had big beautiful glossy photos of flying disks. The author claimed to have met many times with the aliens. They told him that most humans were not highly evolved enough to talk to them (they used direct mind-to-mind communication). The author must have been more evolved, as they met with him and taught him many truths, Bill said.
“What truths?” I asked Uncle Bill.
Bill hesitated before answering. It seemed as if the teachings were a secondary issue to him. The big thing was that extraterrestrials were visiting earth and communicating with humans. I felt, on the other hand, that if extraterrestrials were teaching humans, they must have something worth hearing, useful things like power supplies used in their ships, weird metal alloys, and interesting additions or corrections to our theories of time, space, and relativity. “Why, they told him that mankind has the power to, um, control their own destinies, and that we must learn to live in peace and cooperation with all the rest of the world…”
I was disappointed with his answer. Space aliens would not teach humans the philosophy of secular humanism. We already have that. I expected something so foreign and bizarre, that I wouldn’t believe it. Humans can’t come up with anything truly new. We create myths from composites of that which we’ve already seen. The ancient gods were larger than life (and wickeder) men and women. Dragons are big lizards with bat wings. Science fiction writers assemble their sentient aliens from ants, spiders, herbivores, or bees. I wanted something stranger than giant egg-laying machines and slimy moon creatures.
I visited my Uncle Bill and Aunt Rhoda a couple years before they died. Bill and I sat at the piano and he showed me the four diminished chords. He had taught himself to play the piano and had a name for each chord. There was a flying saucer ornament hanging from his Christmas tree. Now that I was an adult, I couldn’t ask about flying saucers.
Uncle Bob says before Bill died, he decided UFOs were all a hoax. I think it’s all a hoax too, except that one of my cousins saw one landed in a field with two extraterrestrials walking around outside it, in metallic colored suits, like My Favorite Martian wore. She still says she saw them to this day, forty years later. I believe my cousin. So I live in paradoxes. I file UFOs in the same box as wild cougars with orange tracking collars, cloning wooly mammoths, cold fusion, global warming, and 100 mpg carburetors—interesting things to believe in, hope for, or fear, but not things to alter the routine of daily life.
Until, late one night, driving down the dark rain soaked highway, suddenly the car engine dies and there’s a bluish light hovering above the road, blinding me…