Memory #1: Ursa Major

I remember when I used to think that driving to the end of IL-53 was a big deal.

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Driving across the American Southwest with my parents and sister. I am 5, maybe 6, maybe 7. The beige Volvo stationwagon has been converted into a gypsy caravan, its back lined with blankets and the windows hung with sheets to block out the sun during the day. We save money by driving through the night, my father and mother switching off driving duties. My sister and I had entertained ourselves all day by imitating road-trip behaviors we’d seen on TV–singing long, never-ending songs, continually asking “Are we there yet?” even though we don’t really care. The trip there is a vacation in itself.

All the way in the back of the car, I wake up in the middle of the night. Quietly, furtively, I lift the edge of a sheet to peek outside. The sky is a jeweled array of stars, suspended in midair like the glitter in a snowglobe. I feel a thrill as I recognize the Big Dipper for the first time. It is so huge, so awe-inspiring, that for the first time I begin to get a sense of the idea that perhaps the night is not an infinite empty space like I’ve been taught.  Perhaps it is merely like a very high, gem-studded domed ceiling, as if all the world were one big palatial ballroom and we were all in attendance at some big fancy ball.

And with that, as our car raced through the black desert darkness all on its own, I suddenly felt as if we weren’t so very alone after all.

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