The War Department and I recently visited Little Brother and his wife who lived out in the country up in Lamar County. It was one of those times when we needed to get away for a little while to do little or nothing.

We stumbled upon one of those rare August weekends when the air was surprisingly cool and dry at night. It’s summer, though, and the first thing I heard when we arrived were millions of cicadas singing from the oaks surrounding the house and the adjoining woods. Those who know me have heard that I feel these irritating insects seem to make the weather seem even hotter than it is.

The four of us retired to the deck out back and visited until dusk, cooled by iced drinks and an overhead fan. I went inside to freshen up a drink and heard something that worried me, a hissing in the kitchen that sounded like a high pressure water leak.

Sighing, with visions of a night full of plumbing repairs, I checked under the sink and found nothing but cleaning supplies.

Water heater?

Nope.

Washing machine?

Nope.

Something was hissing.

I twisted over the cabinet to look behind the fridge, thinking it was the water supply line for the ice maker.

Nope.

What the heck?

I started back out the door leading into the garage and saw I hadn’t closed it all the way. The sound was stronger, but there was no water in that part of the house.

Wait. I pushed the door closed and the sound virtually disappeared.

I cracked it and the hissing sound recurred. Good lord!

Understanding dawned on me. The cicada’s high-pitched screeching flowing through the open back door was tamped down by the garage that acted like a suppression chamber. The noise was compressed again coming through the crack in the kitchen door, thereby sounding like hissing water.

I’d read somewhere that copperheads love to feed on cicadas, so I scanned the ground on the way back to the chairs situated directly underneath the fan and reported my findings. Awed by the magnitude of the living noise, we embarked on a conversation about the outdoors and what it offered to those who venture beyond our air-conditioned domiciles.

As the cool evening progressed, the insects gave way to tree frogs who were just as prolific. Again, millions of living voices filled the air, nearly drowning out a nearby whippoorwill. The evening passed and by midnight, I was the only one still outside.

Little Brother turned off the lights and I stepped out into the yard to see billions of bright stars overhead. Another benefit of living in the country and away from city lights. The Bride and I search for places in this country where we can sit out at night and watch the stars, and the display was brilliant.

Standing out there, and possibly surrounded by copperheads stuffed with cicadas and frogs, I recalled one night when I was around ten or twelve, staying on my grandparents’ farm less than ten miles away. It wasn’t as late, but I went outside to see the stars, a fascination that has stayed with me all my life.

The first thing I saw was a meteorite streaking across the sky. Then another. The sky was filled with falling stars.

Standing in the yard and looking up became tiresome, so I climbed onto the hood of my grandaddy’s car and leaned back against the windshield. I didn’t know about the annual Perseid meteor shower, but it was my first experience with fire in the sky of that magnitude. Laying there watching the streaks pass overhead, I almost jumped out of my skin when a female voice cut through my reverie.

“Sure is pretty, ain’t it?” Somehow my grandmother was standing next to me.

I hadn’t seen nor heard her step out and onto the porch.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“This comes every year at this time.”

I was laying on the driver’s side, and the next thing I knew, she put a foot on the sedan’s bumper and crawled onto the hood beside me. It was so unexpected that I imagine my mouth fell open. This was a lady who wore nothing but dresses, and seldom did anything I perceived as fun.

Grunting with the effort, she turned around and leaned back against the passenger side of the windshield and matched my position. While the night sky was slashed with silent arcs and streaks, we talked about the stars, God and how the universe was made. Neither of us could identify anything other than the North Star, Venus and the Milky Way, but we lay there together and absorbed the beauty of our universe until my eyes grew heavy and we went in.

Now the War Department is a different grandmother altogether. She still acts like a teenager, full of life and fun. I’ve seen her and the grand-critters play hide and seek in the house and outside with just as much enthusiasm as they show, complete with shrieks and laughter. The other night she was even jumping from the couch, to a chair, to the ottoman, and onto a huge bean bag chair just like the kids.

No, we weren’t allowed to do that when we were kids, but she’s somehow arrested at age fourteen. They lead her around on her hands and knees with a lead rope, playing horse. The others ride on her back and she bucks them off. She rides bikes with them, and not too long ago threatened me with death if I took a photo of her riding the tricycle she rode as a pre-schooler.

The kids expect that from her, but seeing my grandmother act like a kid that one and only time in my life was an experience I’ll never forget, and reflected on not too long ago.

It happened on a star-streaked night, when I was just a boy.

***

By the way, this is the anniversary of my 33rd year writing this column for The Paris News (It began Aug. 14, 1988). Thanks to this fine publication, and to all of you who read my work and buy my books. Much obliged!

Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning novelist and outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County. He is the author of “Laying Bones.”

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