I heard my father calling to us as he hurried in the dark from the barn toward the house. "Come outside," he yelled. "Everybody! Come now!"
My mother and my aunt Louise hurried out on the porch to see what was happening. My uncle, with whom my father shared this dairy farm, was still in the first floor bedroom changing out of his barn clothes. Junior and I (he was three years older than me) ran after our mothers to see what the commotion was all about.
"Look!" My father said, pointing to the sky. "I think it's the Northern Lights."
"Naw," said my aunt, watching the white shards just beginning to appear in the sky over the barn. "They don't come this far south. I've never seen them in my life." By then, my uncle Herman had come out, and all six of us stood in the yard looking up at the slow undulation of the strange lights weaving back and forth expanding across the dark sky overhead.
"That is definitely the Northern Lights," said my mother, "but I saw a picture of them once, and they were in color. These are all white."
Unnoticed, I lay down on my back in the grass to watch. The voices of my family seemed to blend and blur into one another as I watched the mystery unfolding above me. I didn't really hear them anymore, but I was dimly aware that, one by one, they were each going back into the house, leaving me alone in the grass.
Answering the Call
I could see the stars in the black moonless night shining through the lights. The white lights were now more than halfway across the sky above me, but I wasn't afraid. The lights curled back upon themselves and then curled back the way they had come, back and forth, weaving a slow tapestry of magnificent beauty reaching so high that it became lost in the depth of sky above.
I was mesmerized, almost in a trance as I watch the pageantry above me and felt the sum of it immerse itself throughout my being.
Suddenly, I jerked out of my reverie. An insect was crawling across my bare legs! I jumped up and ran into the house to the warmth of the cook stove on which our evening meal had just been prepared and to the light of the kerosene lamp on the table. My parents and my aunt and uncle were no longer talking about the Northern Lights. They were on to the more mundane topics of concern. I sat down among them and helped myself to mashed potatoes and gravy, but something was different. I felt different.
I have thought back to that evening many times through out my life. I must have been four, or maybe five years old, when it happened. I can look back and see, after eight-five years of living, how much those white lights, and whatever created them so precisely on that one night, shaped my thinking and my choices. I never saw them again, ever, and as much as I have searched on Google for a picture of what I saw that night, I have never found one. All I have found are photos and videos of colored lights moving fast and erratically across the sky, beautiful, but not the same as that one night on a Wisconsin dairy farm so long ago.