My granddaddy first told me about the aliens.
The drive from Sky Harbor international airport to the base of South Mountain, where my grandpa lived, is not long. We had returned from a time in foreign lands, and had been picked up by the old man; smelling as he always did of cologne, his suspenders holding up his pants over a spare frame. A bolo tie – the only kind he had – fastened defiantly around his neck. We bounced along in his old beat-up pickup truck, and my grandpa pointed up to the top of South Mountain. “Those are aliens,” he told me. My five-year old mind was dazzled – aliens, in Phoenix?
Everybody who lives in Phoenix knows the lights that glow and flash on top of South Mountain, television and satellite and cellular antennas serving the Valley of the Sun. They are as immutable a part of our city as the mountain they sit on. They are timeless – immortal; not so the people whose lives come and go under the watchful eyes of the aliens. My granddaddy is gone now, and I have become older. But the aliens do abide.
“Wait for it,” I told my little boy. We were sitting on the curb this evening, under the towering mountain, waiting expectantly for the coming of night. All above in the sky were the majestic explosions of oranges and greens that gloriously announce the end of another day.
Then one-by-one the red pinpricks.
“What are those daddy?” He asked.
“They are aliens.”
“What are they doing up there?” Genuinely curious, his toddler’s mind accepting the assertion as fact. Why wouldn’t there be aliens on South Mountain?
“They are shopping for vegetables,” I said, to a wise little nod, “Oh.”
Humanity finds traditions in the darndest places – for my family, the aliens of South Mountain are a tradition; started many decades ago by my grandfather who has now passed away. But through his aliens he lives on; and as long as a toddler stares up at the aliens of South Mountain, he will never really be gone. Because I look up at his mountain. Because I tell his stories as I carry on the traditions that make our family special. Returning to Phoenix with own little boy makes these moments seem more poignant, the epic circle of our lives – from Phoenix to South America, on to Africa and Central Asia only to return when I am ready to the places I knew when I was younger – it is inevitable, isn’t it? It must be so. Because how else will my son know who he is, if I first do not show him who I am?