It was a hot day like so many days in July, the weekend of the Taste of Minnesota. Weekends around the house always but always, to the dismay of the teenager of the house, consisted of time-intensive, labor-filled yard projects. After a morning of cutting, edging, bagging, tagging, lifting, and pushing, my wife and I plus the reluctant one, our son, found ourselves under the reach of the high noon sun. At one time this backyard housed an ample canopy of cooling shade from a large evergreen tree situated on the southern part of the yard, but those days were long gone.
Our ownership of this, our first home together, was a work in progress. Building our privacy fence was a task that would consume that whole summer: hip, hip, hooray. It was not just a fence, but a recycling ordeal. A guy I knew hauled stuff, big stuff. He built his entire home—three bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, and din- ing room, all of it—out of lumber he had found in a scrap yard in South Saint Paul. Earlier in the year, this same guy dropped off six pal- lets of lumber at our house. Not just regular-size pallets, but pallets on steroids: fifteen feet long, five feet two inches wide.
So I and teenage Mr. “It’s Too Hot” painstakingly took them apart. Don’t tell anyone, but my boy was right. It was like the sun had taken a vacation in our backyard. I could not let him know that I felt like a baked potato and needed a break. If that happened and I showed weakness, I would certainly lose him to the dim cool of the basement. Forging onward we pulled, saved, and straightened every nail and cat- egorized them by size to be reused later. Then came the lumber: the sizing, stacking, cutting, restacking, sanding, then re-restacking. Hey, what can I say? It was free.
At about 6:30 p.m. I, the taskmaster, put down the lash so the troops could rest before it got completely dark. The bustling sound of fun from the Taste of Minnesota drifted ever so lightly over the treetops in the twilight lavender of the sky. Sitting down and finally exhaling in a lawn chair, I faced the south in what became a serene and surreal moment of summer peace, the kind you wish you could spray out of a can when living through a Saint Paul winter.
Then it happened. At first when I saw it, I thought it was a big balloon floating free like balloons do, drifting up, liberated from a child’s hand. As I focused on it, I realized something odd was going
on. I called out to my wife, “Honey, come here. Now! Quick!” The tone in my voice must have been alarming because she dashed out, slamming the door, and saw me pointing up.
“What in the world, is that?” she asked, stepping closer to my side. It was just us standing there in the growing dark of the day, watching what looked like a ball of fire—changing colors like blazes normally do, flickering from red to yellow. The thing hovered, then just lingered, like it was watching us with its perfect roundness. Then it began to slowly move, as if it didn’t have a care in the world. We stared while it came closer, larger, clearer. It floated up, then down. We held hands while we watched it float away. We called to our son, but it was too late: the fireball had disappeared into the open night beyond the evening zenith.
I rushed into the house and called 911.
“Sir, calm down. Are you all right?” the operator smoothly asked. “Now, what did you see? OOOOOkay! Well, sir, are you hurt? No, no one else has reported a U.F.O., sir.”
I slowly hung up the receiver, realizing how I must have sounded. I laughed out loud. I was like the opening character in a low-budget horror movie, the guy that doesn’t make it past the first scene because he’s usually eaten or something like that.
Comforted by the company of a loved one by my side, I thought to myself, whatever that was maybe—just maybe—wanted a little Taste of Minnesota, Saint Paul style.