Dad and the Extraterrestrials

He was one of a kind. Through all the years, I have sifted the memories down to a few that make me smile.

Like the night—a school night!—when I went out in the back yard to look for UFOs.

This was a big thing back in the 1960s. On weekend nights my friends and I occasionally drove out in the country on dark roads and scanned the sky looking for small moving objects, so hoping for an encounter. One night there were ten or eleven of us in someone’s Volkswagen. All I remember was that I was in the front with one arm over the seat, holding hands with a boy in the back. There were body limbs awry in that car. People were pushed up against and on top of my arm, and the blood circulation to my hand was cut off, but I wasn’t going to let go. We couldn’t see the sky for the body parts, but we had fun.

That night in my back yard I kept watching a tiny lighted object moving north to south at a very slow speed. I ran in and told Dad, who followed me willingly out and viewed with me. After a while he said, “I think you’re right. We better go check this out. Let’s get away from the town lights.” I asked him if we could pick up my friend Gerri, and he said to tell her to bring binoculars. So there we were, nine o’clock dark on a country road between Boyle and Skene with cotton fields pressing up to the narrow strip of asphalt, parked on a turnrow, looking up at a starlit sky, convinced we were seeing a UFO and beings from another planet.


Next month I’m going to a famous, secret UFO place. I will ride on the Extraterrestrial Highway to the town of Rachel, Nevada. Remember the movie Independence Day? A trailer park scene in the movie was filmed here. I will order an Alien Burger at the diner A’Le’Inn. I will explore Groom Lake Road for thirteen miles before I get to the border of Area 51. There are road sensors buried in the ground to give Area 51 security an early warning of approaching vehicles. There are security cameras and Cammo Dudes who sit at the top of the hill, and if anyone tries to enter Area 51, the Dudes will pull them out of their car and slam them face down on the ground and hold them at gunpoint while they call the Lincoln County Sheriff. I play by the rules so I will not go too close, and I plan to hightail it out of there before the Cammo Men can rough me up.

Area 51 is a top-secret military test and development facility, owned and operated by the US Air Force. It is located within the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), 85 miles north of Las Vegas. It is operated as Detachment 3 of the Air Force Flight Test Center, headquartered at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

area-51-map closeup

In 1989 according to the Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, a resident claimed that he had worked with alien spacecraft at Papoose Lake about 35 miles south of Rachel—the location of Area 51. He claimed he saw nine flying saucers in a hangar built into a hillside. Since then, UFO enthusiasts have flocked to the area to look for UFOs.


LAS VEGAS (AP) August 16, 2013 — UFO buffs and believers in alien encounters are celebrating the CIA’s clearest acknowledgement yet of the existence of Area 51, the top-secret Cold War test site that has been the subject of elaborate conspiracy theories for decades.

The recently declassified documents have set the tinfoil-hat crowd abuzz, though there’s no mention in the papers of UFO crashes, black-eyed extraterrestrials or staged moon landings.

For a long time, U.S. government officials hesitated to acknowledge even the existence of Area 51.

The CIA history released [August 16] not only refers to Area 51 by name and describes some of the aviation activities that took place there, but locates the Air Force base on a map, along the dry Groom Lake bed.

It also talks about some cool planes, though none of them are saucer-shaped…

It’s not the first time the government has acknowledged the existence of the super-secret, 8,000-square-mile installation. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush referred to the “location near Groom Lake” in insisting on continued secrecy, and other government references date to the 1960s…

[Some] are taking the document as a sign of loosening secrecy about the government’s activities in the Nevada desert.

The site is known as Area 51 among UFO aficionados because that was the base’s designation on old Nevada test site maps. The CIA history reveals that officials renamed it “Paradise Ranch” to try to lure skilled workers, who can still be seen over Las Vegas flying to and from the site on unmarked planes.

Beginning with the U-2 in the 1950s, the base has been the testing ground for a host of top-secret aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird, F-117A stealth fighter and B-2 stealth bomber. Some believe the base’s Strangelovian hangars also contain alien vehicles, evidence from the “Roswell incident” — the alleged 1947 crash of a UFO in New Mexico — and extraterrestrial corpses…

Even for those who do not believe in UFOs, the mystery surrounding the site — situated about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, across miles of desert speckled with Joshua trees and sagebrush — has been a boon.

Small-town restaurants along State Route 375, officially designated the Extraterrestrial Highway, sell souvenir T-shirts to tourists making their way to the boundary of Area 51, which consists of a no-trespassing sign, an armed guard on a hill and a surveillance camera. [AP Press Release,]



Dad, you are now up in the skies, and you know the truth. You know how big the universe is, and you know what eternity and infinity mean and what role the Earth plays in eternity and infinity. You know if I’m just chasing rabbits in the desert or if there’s really something to all this stuff. Me? Same as back then when I was just a girl with you under a cool Mississippi night sky and watched a tiny light move south and believed with all my heart.

I sure wish you were still here and you could go with me to Area 51. Judi’s going. Maybe we’ll take some Delta dirt from our old back yard and leave there where the extraterrestrials fly.

What Do I Want?

What do I really want to do? After I finished the memoir of loss, grief, and rebuilding, I was spent. I had pulled up my soul again and again and again in the writing and editing process. I walked through the darkness and dwelt there as I lay words across the page.

Writers write.

I haven’t been writing. Well, maybe a blog piece here and there and once, what I perceived as a first chapter of a book. And professionally, I am writing a book on writing, so that should count for something. But it doesn’t satisfy that innate need to see the world in a unique way, to see a story, to see something that strikes me as being significant and memorable. I need to figure this out because it is bugging me.

Maybe I want to return to what I started out doing—personal essays, little stories about things I encounter. Stories about family, place, the past, nature around me. Stories that are nostalgic, thought provoking, soothing; stories that bring a smile and a nod.

Years ago, when I first started sharing my work at Barnes and Noble monthly writers open mic nights, Robbie Bryan, Community Relations Manager, led me to the stacks and pulled out a book titled Due South by R. Scott Brunner—Memoir/Essay. “This is what you’re doing,” he said. “Buy it, read it. You could publish a collection like this.” Hence, Pink Butterbeans, my collection of fifty stories. (Yep. Wacky title. I wanted something feminine and Southern. My husband helped me brainstorm title possibilities on a trip all the way to Boone, North Carolina. He didn’t like this one, but I picked it—pun intended—and I’m still glad I did.)

Brunner has titles like “Mother’s Greasy Bible,” “The ‘Bless Your Heart’ Rules,” and “Turnip Greens at 33,000 Feet.” Brunner says the South is “not a region, not lines on a map, not stereotypes of belles and bubbas and poverty and racism, but a sense of place. It’s an understanding of who we are; it’s a recollection of the past and a genuine hope for the future; and it’s a set of more widely held attitudes of kindness and civility and appreciation.”


I have titles like “Grandpa’s Watermelon Patch,” “Opa Boof’s Chocolate Chess Pie,” and “Grandma’s Porch.” I say, “Time spent on Grandma’s front porch after vigorous play was a serendipitous part of becoming whole. Time spent in a slowed-down world. Time to think and observe, to fit into the scheme of extended family, to mesh activity with reflection. Becoming happens in the quiet reflective phase . . .

“I yearn for the peace I knew back then. I yearn for time—simple, still, suspended. I yearn to be cocooned at Grandpa’s knee, mesmerized by his slow rocking and tales told in a slow, Southern drawl. To return once again to the summers of yesteryear on Grandma’s front porch.”

Maybe I need to go home again.


I find satisfaction in planting a seed and watching the energy of life sprout out of the earth, in watching the plant grow up and bear food. It’s the love of dirt and growing things that compels me to put out a few tomato plants every year.

In early spring, I plant. Then I tend, water, weed, and wait.

In high summer, I pick fat, red, and ripe tomatoes off the backyard vines. Homegrown varieties, all with the smell and taste of the sun and earth packed inside.


The first tomato always goes to an old-fashioned, country-style tomato sandwich. The recipe is simple. Pick one garden-grown, softball-sized tomato, still warm from the vine. Place it on a cutting board. Cut a 3/8” slice crosswise into slippery, orange-red pulp, through a sunburst of yellow, as seeds and juice spill out. Smother two slices of white bread with liberal swirls of creamy mayonnaise. The slice of tomato should cover the slice of bread, touching brown crust on all four sides, leaving only slight triangular corners. Salt sparingly. Pepper. Savor the first bite, letting the juices trickle down your chin.