Slumped low next to the right-side window, I could see over the front seats just enough to view the night sky through the windshield. What I saw was a dark orange moon that hung just above the horizon and looked as big as a wagon wheel. In the quiet of the car I leaned forward and spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear: "That is the most beautiful moon I've ever seen in my life!"
Mother, turned her head sharply toward Daddy and responded with a sneer in her voice: "Oh, Gawd!"
Daddy looked back at her, gave a little chuckle, and turned his eyes back to the road, the smile still on his face.
That was the entire conversation.
I leaned back in my corner and thought to myself, well, I guess I was being kind of overzealous and dramatic, but I didn't know I sounded that stupid. I made up my mind right then to curtail that kind of enthusiasm in the future. I was almost grown and certainly didn't want to be thought of as silly.
For more than thirty years--nearly forty, now that I'm doing the math--I thought of that incident every time I looked at a beautiful moon or, for that matter, at anything else that tempted me to speak effusively. I always tried to tone it down.
My stepdad died in 1996. One day a year or two after he passed, I sat on the sofa in my mother's East Texas home and listened while she talked about her two marriages. Paul, my biological father, had been a womanizer. She appreciated that Tommy, my stepfather, had not been one.
"Tommy never cheated on me," she said that day. "He came close to it once when I was pregnant with Joe. He'd gone to the boat club, and it was late, and he hadn't come home. I went down there and found him sitting in a car with some woman. He'd had way too much to drink, and all he kept saying to me was, 'That's the most beautiful moon I've ever seen in my life!'"
My stepsister and I talked on the phone yesterday about those days when we all lived together, and we talked for a while about our assortment of parents. It was the first time I'd ever remembered to tell her this moon story. She laughed hard at the end of it. When I spoke of my astonishment upon realizing that the two words mother uttered that had impacted my life for decades had had absolutely nothing to do with me, she laughed again. "And now," she said, "do you know what I'll think of for the rest of my life when I see a beautiful moon?"
That's what we storytellers do. We break our lives into bite-sized pieces, then we feed them to others and let them chew on them awhile.