When I Wrote Rockets To The Moon

Before I wrote long fiction, I wrote for magazines and periodicals. Interesting that the copyright date is the same year I started writing long fiction. This short story was written for a children’s magazine. It never sold, but the story reflects memories of my own grandfather. The boy in the novel has my brother’s name. We called him Danny when he was a boy. Now he’s Dan with a doctorate and is a college professor at Western Michigan University, but some people who remember him from childhood still call him Danny. Though my writing has grown and changed, I still find merit in this story showing the relationship of a boy and his grandfather and the wonderful world of imagination.

Rockets to the Moon

by Gail Gaymer Martin

Danny peeked out the window of his bedroom through the worn curtain and hurried to his special hiding place where he kept his treasures. He scooped out the small round pebbles he found by the brook on his way home from school. Gramps sat in the backyard in the shade under the apple tree, and Danny scampered to show him the smooth stones. Gramps would have a wonderful story to tell him. He always did.

Danny skipped out the door, and his grandfather peered at him over his glasses as he jumped from the porch stoop and skipped across the dewy grass toward him.

“What you got in your pocket, boy?”

“Somethin’ I found, Gramps.”

His grandfather, seated on an old nail keg, leaned his rounded back against the tree. “Well, you gonna’ show me, or do I hafta guess?”

He grinned, loving to play games with Gramps. “Guess?”

John Schulert’s mouth curled into a crooked grin, squinting at his grandson. “Not a snake is it?”

Danny giggled. “Nope, Gramps. It’s these.” He held the stones in his knotted fingers.

Gramps gazed at his fist.

Danny spread his fingers, displaying six shiny pebbles. “Nice?”

“Why they sure are. Never seen such nice ones.”

Danny fidgeted, wanting Gramps to tell one of his magical stories. He told them about everything, but today he didn’t say a word. Danny squirmed, his patience fading. “What are these, Gramps?”

“Do ya wanna know what they really are?”

To continue, hit the link.

Danny’s brow wrinkled wanting to hear Gramp’s story. “ No. Daddy said they’re just pebbles from the brook. I want you to tell me what they are.”

“Well, that’s easy boy. You ever read Jack and the Bean Stalk? Why those are magic pebbles, wouldn’t ya say.”

Danny’s eyes widened as his mouth curved to a broad smile. “That’s what they are, Gramps. Magic pebbles.” His right heel tapped on the ground, waiting.

Gramps leaned forward, elbows on his knees and hands folded in front of him. He looked at the ground and then peered at Danny over the top of his glasses. “S’pose you wanna know what to do with ’em.”

Danny nodded.

“Plant ’em, son, but don’t expect to see anything. These pebbles are only good to keep you safe.” Danny’s eyebrows raised, his head tilted listening raptly to his grandfather. “If you’re in danger, then the pebbles will grow like Jack’s beans, sturdy and tall. Give you a ladder to heaven.”

“To heaven, Gramps? All the way to heaven?”

He gave him a wink. “That’s what I been told.” He reached out and pulled Danny into his arms, holding him against his wheezing chest.

Danny felt safe, as he lay his head on his grandfather’s shoulder. He could see the crisscross creases in his leathery neck and smell his summer-warmed skin. He clung to him until he felt his grandfather jerk and his breath made a noise like a person getting ready to blow out his birthday candles. Danny stepped back, studying his expression. Gramps tanned face, carved with deep furrows, was twisted strangely, his eyes clamped shut.

Danny’s stomach knotted, and he blinked, chewing on his lip.“Why you makin’ that funny face?”

Gramps opened his eyes, his skin ashen-colored. “You think that’s a funny face? Look at this one?” He crossed his eyes and twisted his mouth into a grotesque shape stretching his tongue toward his beakish nose. Danny laughed, and Gramps grinned at him, his face returning to normal. “Now that’s a funny face.”

“It’s silly, Gramps.”

John Schulert wiped his eyes, and Danny thought he saw tear head down his cheeks. But his grandfather clasped him tightly to his chest again, whispering something Danny didn’t totally understand. “Keep lookin’ for those magic pebbles, boy. There’s magic every where. You jus’ hafta want it.”

When his grandfather let him go, he gave Danny a playful swat as he scurried to the old, weather-worn shed to find a trowel. Gramps watched him, wearing a funny smile. After he dug a small hole in a corner of the garden plot, Danny dropped in the pebbles. He glanced over his shoulder at his grandfather and, seeing his look of approval, covered the ‘magical pebbles’ with soil. When he returned the trowel to the shed, he gave Gramps a wave and skipped across the gravel driveway into the house.

Danny hurried back to his bedroom. He wouldn’t tell his father what he had buried in the garden. He wouldn’t approve. He always said Gramps was a foolish old man, but Danny didn’t think so. He made everything exciting and gave him wonderful surprises, like quarters for his bank, sticks of chewing gum, and red Life Savers. Sometimes he gave Danny string to roll into a ball. But the thing he gave Danny that he loved the most was his magical stories.

Danny loved his grandfather’s stories. Once when he showed him a crickett he’d caught, Gramps said is was a dinasaur that shrunk in the rain. He told Danny what fireflies really were — sparkle dust from angels. Danny thought if he collected enough fireflies he could build his own angel, but Gramps just laughed. “You can’t build angels, son. Only God can.” Danny wished he could build his own angel, but his grandfather was probably right.

A couple evenings after Danny buried the pebbles, Gramps and he were home alone for the evening. Danny loved those nights, sitting at gramps side, reading stories or listening to his grandfather talk about when he was a boy. But this night was different. Gramps had a surprise. “Pass me my sweater there, son. I don’t want to catch somethin’ in the night air.”

Danny jumped up from the sofa and pulled the sweater from the back of the chair. “Here. Hold out your arms, and I’ll help ya.”

“Now, there’s a fine, lad.” He stretched his arm out to the side, and Danny wrestled to pull the sleeve over his shirt.

“Here, boy. I can get the rest.” He rose and drew the other sleeve up his arm.

Danny gazed at him and pointed to a snag in his sweater. A piece of yarn hung from knitted wool. “Look, you got a string hangin’ from your sweater. I could roll the sweater in a ball.”

Gramps grinned and felt along the edge of his sweater and paused when he felt the loosened yarn. “That’s not a string, boy. It’s the threads of my memory. That’s all. Just threads of my memory.”

Danny’s mouth dropped, trying to understand. Gramps winked at him and took his hand. “I know it’s passed your bedtime, but I won’t tell if you won’t.”

Danny giggled, as he followed his grandfather outside. They stepped down to the sidewalk and then sat on the porch stairs. Danny nestled next to him, resting his hand on his grandfather’s knee.

“Okay, now keep your eyes peeled on the sky. Don’t even blink or you’ll miss it.”

“What? What is it?” Danny leaned his head back against the upper steps, staring into the sky.

“Don’t ask questions, son. Just keep your eyes peeled.”

Danny obeyed, holding his eyes open so wide they hurt. “I’m lookin’.”

“That’s my boy.” Gramps wrapped his arm around his shoulder. Together they stared into the night sky, black except for the flashes of blue and red from the pinpoints of stars.

“Look.” Danny jumped from the porch. “Look.” He pointed up to the heavens. “What is it?”

Gramps chuckled deep in his throat. “It’s rockets to the moon, son. Heavenly rockets.”

“I saw it, didn’t I?” Awed, he could only whisper. “ Rockets to the moon.”

“You sure did, son. Wouldn’t that be somethin’ ridin’ them all the way to heaven.” His grandfather patted Danny’s head. “And now it’s time for bed, before your folks come home.” Gramps rose, lifting himself from the step with the strength of his arms. He rubbed his hands across his chest, and then taking Danny’s hand in his, they climbed the steps into the house.

The next morning, Danny glanced out the window, pulling back the curtains. The nail keg was empty, and he pressed his face against the window to see if Gramps was in the garden. He scampered into his clothes and hurried down the hall toward the backdoor.

His mother sat at the table, a cup of coffee in her hand, staring out the window. Danny could see her eyes were swollen and deep pink. He slowed his pace and tiptoed to his mother’s side. She turned to face him. Her lip trembled, and he felt frightened. “Are you sad?”

She nodded and placed her cold hand on his, drawing him against her.

Footsteps made him look toward the doorway as a shadow stretched across the room. “Don’t baby him, Amy. He’s not a girl. He’ll be whimperin’ all over the place.”

Something was wrong. He wanted to find his grandfather, because he would make things better. With fear, Danny shifted his gaze toward his mother. “Where’s Gramps?”

She covered her face, her hands shaking, and he knew as her tears fell that something was wrong with Gramps.

“Gramps died.” His father’s monotone voice pierced the stillness of the kitchen, quiet except for his mother’s sobs. “Ambulance is coming. Go to your room and wait, Danny.”

Danny spun around and raced from the kitchen. He tore into his bedroom, swinging the door closed behind him. He stood in the middle of the room, afraid to cry, wanting Gramps to hold him and tell him stories that would make him smile. He inched to the window and looked out, hoping to see Gramps sitting under the apple tree. He wasn’t there. His grandfather’s words came to him, deep inside his head like a whisper. ‘There’s magic everywhere. You hafta want it.’

Danny’s heart pounded. He knew what he had to do. He jerked open the bedroom door and ran down the hall and through the kitchen, passing his mother and father sitting at the table. He didn’t stop until he hit the edge of the garden. ‘Peel your eyes, boy. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.’ Danny stared at the ground, his mind filled with hope. He wanted to see a green sprig pushing up from the earth—his ladder to heaven.

His shoulders drooped, and he turned away, forcing one leg, then the other to the nail keg. He scooted himself onto the keg and stared at the garden, knowing the magic stones was only a story. But he didn’t care. Tonight he would look for rockets to the moon. He knew Gramps would be ridin’ one of them to heaven.

©1997 Gail Gaymer Martin
Do not use without permission from the author.

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