Grandpa’s Green Ray of Light
By Julia A. Keirns
‘Here we go again,’ thought Mark.
Mom began clearing the dishes from the table as Grandpa started off on another story jaunt about how his father was one of the few people in the world to witness the mythical ray of green light shoot straight up from the sun at the very moment of sunset. According to Grandpa, his father, which was Mark’s great grandfather, Harold James, sailed the seven seas on a trading ship from 1904 to 1909, and claimed to see the flash of green while on one of his journeys off the coast of New England in the Atlantic Ocean. No one else on the ship had seen it. Harold was the only one. There was never any proof, and Grandpa said that no one had seen it since. At least, not that they knew of. If other people had seen it, Grandpa would know and would have told him. Mark understood why Grandpa pretended to believe his father’s story because he was only a child at the time. But hearing the same story all the time was getting old.
“Grandpa, why do you keep telling the same story all the time about how great grandpa Harold saw the green ray of light?” Mark asked. “You know it isn’t true. No one believes it.”
Mark admired the piece of fresh apple pie mom just placed on a clean plate in front of him and stabbed at the crumbs of brown sugar and cinnamon on the top with the point of his fork. He did not look at Grandpa. Then he looked up from his plate to see the ghastly look of shock on mom’s face.
“Mark! How dare you say something like that to your grandfather!” she said with a scowl on her face and eyes wide. “You apologize this instant!”
Mom didn’t get upset easily, but when she did, he knew she meant it. She didn’t take kindly to disrespecting Grandpa.
“I’m sorry, Grandpa,” Mark said. “I didn’t mean it.”
Mark looked Grandpa in the eye and could feel the disappointment. He didn’t know though if Grandpa was disappointed with him because of his comment, or if he was disappointed because he knew the truth — that the story was a lie. Mark did not believe there was a mythical green ray of light, and he did not believe that his great grandfather Harold ever saw it.
Grandpa finished the story anyway.
“The water was smooth,” said Grandpa waving his hand in front of him to show how smooth the water was, “the sky was clear, and the air was still. All the right conditions needed for the green ray to appear. Great Grandpa Harold kept his eye on the sun as it lowered over the horizon. At the very moment the last tip of the sun fell below the horizon, he saw with his own two eyes, a fleeting streak of green light shoot straight up out of the sun, and then disappear just as quickly. It lasted no more than a split second — as quick as lightning he always said.”
Grandpa shifted in his chair.
“No one ever believed him,” he continued, “but I always knew he was telling the truth.”
Grandpa turned his eyes toward Mark and made eye contact. He stared straight into his eyes.
“I can always tell if someone is telling the truth or not,” Grandpa said as he stayed focused on Mark’s eyes. “If they can look you straight in the eye and tell a story with passion and excitement, you will know the truth of it in your heart.”
Mark couldn’t get the story out of his head. Most of the time it just went in one ear and out the other, but this time was different. He wondered if there really could be any truth to the mysterious green ray of light at sunset. He wondered if Grandpa knew he lied the other day about where he was after school and about getting his homework done.
Mark was late getting home last Tuesday because he walked Lisa Martin home. She lived three blocks over on Carman Street. They talked on the porch for an hour. He could still see her sitting on the porch railing. He muscled up the nerve to tell her how much he liked her. She kissed him on the cheek before going inside and said she liked him too. He walked home from her house slower than he should have and got in the house no more than a few minutes before mom got home from work. Mom walked in the door and asked him if he had a good day at school, and if he did his homework when he got home. He lied to her and said yes. Grandpa was sitting in the living room with his feet up on the recliner and glared at him as he trotted in the living room and plopped down on the couch. He glanced up at Grandpa and saw that he was looking him directly in the eye. Grandpa always looked him directly in the eyes. Mark’s eyes dropped to the floor for a few seconds, then he sat back and started watching what was on the tv.
“So, what’s going on in the world today, Grandpa?” he asked, trying to act like nothing was wrong.
“Same as yesterday,” Grandpa answered. “If your grandmother were still alive, she’d have a thing or two to say about the way things are in the world today.”
‘Well, I got away with that one,’ thought Mark. ‘Good thing I got home when I did. I don’t know what mom would think about me walking Lisa home without permission.’ He looked over at Grandpa one more time and was relieved to see that he had stopped looking at him.
Mark laid in bed thinking about Grandpa and what it must have been like to have a sailor for a father, and then to have him die at the age of only ten. He was glad his own father was still alive, even though he didn’t live with them. Grandpa moved in after Grandma died and had been like a father to Mark since the divorce. He really did feel bad about what he said at the dinner table. He knew how important those stories were to Grandpa.
“Mark,” Grandpa shook Mark’s shoulders. “Mark, wake up.”
Mark ignored the shaking and thought he was dreaming.
“Mark, come on, get up,” said Grandpa again.
“Grandpa?” Mark asked as he rubbed his eyes.
“Yes, come on. we’re going on a trip.” Grandpa started walking toward the door.
“What? What are you talking about? What time is it?” he asked.
“It’s midnight,” said Grandpa. “Get up and pack a bag with some extra clothes and things you might need and be quiet. We don’t want to wake your mother.”
“Grandpa, is everything okay?” Mark asked. “What’s going on?”
“We’re going on a trip. I’ll tell you about it on the way.”
Mark was fully awake now. He stood up and stretched. He picked his gym bag up off the floor, grabbed a few things and shoved them into it. He tip-toed down the hall past mom’s room. He wondered what she would think in the morning when she woke up and they were gone.
Mark stepped around the kitchen doorway and saw Grandpa closing the lid on the lunch box and filling his thermos with hot coffee. He opened the refrigerator door and grabbed the chocolate milk. He saw a box of Honey Buns on the counter and stuck the whole box in his bag. He chugged the chocolate milk straight out of the carton.
“I’m ready if you are,” he said to Grandpa, leaving the empty carton on the counter.
“Yep. Let’s go.” Grandpa headed for the garage.
Mark stepped out the garage door and knew right away they were going fishing. Grandpa had the boat hooked up to his truck. ‘But why this early,’ he wondered. Indian Lake was only an hour away. That’s where they usually went fishing.
Grandpa’s boat was actually pretty cool. It was a 1982 Sea Spirit bass boat with a 1979 115 horse Mercury motor on the back and a trolling motor on the front. It was blue and silver metallic with white interior. For as old as it was it was still in mint condition. Grandpa loved to fish. It was all he ever wanted to do. Mark didn’t mind going with him, but sometimes he hated how long Grandpa stayed out on the lake and he just wanted to come home sooner than Grandpa did.
He shoved a Honey Bun in his mouth and leaned his head against the window. When he opened his eyes the clock on the dash said 4:30!
“It’s 4:30? I fell asleep?” He rubbed his eyes, sat up and stretched. It was still dark out.
“Where are we?”
“Maine,” said Grandpa.
“Maine? What are we doing in Maine? Where are we going?”
“Acadia National Park. We should be there soon.”
“You mean we’re going to put this boat on the ocean?”
“Sure, why not? A boat’s a boat, right?”
“Yeah, but is it big enough? Won’t the waves come over the sides?”
“Not this weekend. They are calling for smooth water. Thought it would be a good time to experience the ocean and do a little off-shore fishing. Sound alright with you?”
“Sure,” said Mark. “Sounds great.”
Mark backed the boat off the trailer as Grandpa pulled the truck away from the ramp. ‘Wow, the water really is calm,’ he thought as he pulled over to the dock. Looking up he saw Grandpa walking back down toward the ramp.
“Good job,” said Grandpa. “You wanna drive or do you want me to?”
“I’m fine,” said Mark. “I can drive. Where are we headed?”
“Out there.” Grandpa pointed east, toward the water and the sunrise, away from land. “Drive until the gas is half gone.”
Mark wouldn’t get his driver’s license until next year, but it didn’t matter in the boat. They passed by several larger fishing boats and weaved their way out of the harbor to the open water. Several smaller john boats were tied along the shore. ‘I guess our boat isn’t too small,’ he thought. He still couldn’t believe Grandpa brought him clear to the ocean.
The sun peeked over the edge of the horizon and he watched it become a bright yellow ball in the sky above the still water.
“Wow. It’s beautiful out here, Grandpa,” he said.
“Thought you might like it.”
“I guess I can see why Great-grandpa Harold liked the sea so much. It’s pretty awesome.”
He kept his eye on the gas gauge. He knew if he went past a half tank, they might not make it back to shore. Every once in a while, they would pass a fishing boat, but basically, they were alone on the water and the shore was far behind them.
He shut the motor off, and Grandpa sat up. “Half tank?”
“Yep, just a little under,” he tapped the gauge.
“Alright, let’s fish.”
Grandpa pulled in a couple of good sized cods. They talked for hours and ate the rest of the Honey Buns. Grandpa told stories Mark had never heard before. Mark told Grandpa about Lisa and confessed where he had been last Tuesday.
“I knew it was something like that,” Grandpa commented. “Don’t worry about it, your mother won’t mind a bit.”
“I hope you’re right,” he said. “I don’t like keeping secrets from her. I’ve always been able to tell her anything. Especially since Dad left.”
“Keep it that way,” said Grandpa. “She’s on your side.”
Lunchtime came and went, and Mark wondered how long Grandpa planned on staying out there. By about 4:00 pm, he was glad to find out Grandpa had packed some food and water.
“So, where are we staying tonight, Grandpa? Did you get a hotel with an indoor pool?
“No hotel this time around,” said Grandpa.
“Oh, so what’s the plan then?”
“I thought we would just stay out here in the boat and experience what it’s like to sleep on the ocean.”
“We can’t stay out here all night!”
“Why not? You got someplace else to be?”
“Well, no, but is it safe?”
“You’re as safe as you can be,” said Grandpa. “The water is smooth, the sky is clear, and the air is still. You got nothing to worry about.”
Grandpa leaned back in the seat and stretched out his legs. “My turn for a nap,” he said.
The sun dropped low in the western sky toward shore. Grandpa was sound asleep, and Mark was worried they were drifting too far out, so he put the trolling motor down, turned it on medium, sat on the front fishing seat, turned the boat around and headed toward shore.
‘Amazing how quiet these trolling motors are,’ he thought as he checked that Grandpa was still snoozing quietly. ‘He’ll never know I moved us closer to shore.’
The water was still and quiet, the sky was dark blue and free of clouds, there was little to no air movement, and he saw the sun touch the horizon in front of him. He took his foot off the pedal and stopped the boat. His eyes remained glued to the western sky. ‘What if the green ray of light is real?’ he wondered. ‘What if it is real and I miss it?’ He could not seem to remove his eyes from the sight. The sun was halfway gone already. ‘Once it hits the horizon it goes down fast,’ he thought. He was amazed at the colors of yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, and blue. ‘Wow,’ was all he could think. Every color of the rainbow painted the sky, and the view was awesome. ‘Every color but green,’ he thought.
Just the tip of the bright yellow ball remained, and he could see it sinking. Down it went. There! There it was! He saw it! It was just a quick burst of green, but he saw it! He knew it was green!
“Grandpa! Wake up! I saw it! I saw it!” he hollered.
“What? What are you going on about?”
“I saw the green ray of light, Grandpa! I saw it with my own eyes! Just as the tip of the sun went down! A quick burst of green light! I saw it, Grandpa! I really did!”
“I’m sure you did,” was all Grandpa said.
“Don’t you believe me?” Mark asked.
“I do believe you,” said Grandpa smiling and looking straight into his eyes. “I can see the truth of it in your eyes. And besides, I always knew it was true. I know you saw it because I have seen it myself many times,” he said. “I just wanted you to believe in it without seeing it.”
“All this time you knew that the green ray of light was real, and you never told me?”
“Would you have believed me if I did?” asked Grandpa.
Grandpa was right. Mark wouldn’t have believed him anyway.
The drive home the next day was filled with conversation. They talked the whole way home. When they pulled in the driveway, Mark jumped out of the truck and ran in the house and told mom all about the trip. He told her about the green ray of light. He told her about Lisa and how much he liked her. He told her he was sorry for lying the other day and promised not to do it again.
Mark sat in the kitchen chair watching his two grandsons, Luke and Matthew, pick at the food on the plate and he remembered picking at the apple pie that Friday so many years ago. He began the story just like his Grandpa always did. The boys looked up at their mother and rolled their eyes.
“Mom, do we have to sit through this story again?” asked Luke.
Lisa smiled at Mark and answered Luke in the only way she knew how. “Yes dear,” she said. “Humor your father in his stories. You know how much he likes to tell them.”
Mark told the boys the story again of their great-great-great grandfather Harold James who sailed the seven seas more than a hundred years ago and saw the flash of green light while on one of his journeys off the coast of New England in the Atlantic Ocean.