I remember leaning up against the stair railing in my grandmas house. She was watching Star Trek First Contact for the first time. I had seen it twice in the theatre and at least one more time when it came out on video, so I had it pretty much committed to memory. I was just passing through the house on my way somewhere, but I had stopped to watch the end of the movie with her. It would be more accurate to say that I stopped to watch her watching the movie. She was sitting intently, forward in her seat. She finished her cigarette about fifteen minutes before, but had been too engaged in the movie to light another one. The only other time that happened was when she was sleeping.
As the movie draws to a close there is a sequence where a passing alien ship notices the warp signature of the first human vessel to travel faster than light. The aliens set down beside a small settlement in Montana, in search the people that built or flew that warp ship. More specifically, they are looking for Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the ships engine. They step out of their craft, and you see that they look a lot like us, clothed simply in humble hooded robes. When the captain, or emissary, approaches Cochrane he removes his hood revealing his swept up eyebrows and pointed ears. They are Vulcans. At that moment my grandma let out a joyful whoop and clapped her hands. Her smile was three feet wide.
If you have even a passing interest in Star Trek you know how pivotal this moment is to the entire series. You probably knew who the aliens were long before the reveal. My grandma knew. She knew every frame of that scene before she ever saw it. You see, my grandma was a scifi nerd. I don’t know that I have ever met, or will ever meet, anyone with a more encyclopedic knowledge of scifi and fantasy stories than her. Stacks and stacks well worn paperbacks from Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, among many, many others lined the walls of her room, and filled several more boxes. And those were only the books that she had kept. Countless other books and short stories lived in her memory, and she could recall the details of each with lighting speed. She would emphatically inform me of the difference between “good science fiction” and “crap” at any opportunity. I lapped it all up.
What I didn’t fully realize at the time was that my grandma was several thousand years old. In her life, she absorbed so many stories, so many past and future events, so many possibilities, so many eventualities, and she had weighed and considered them all. Intelligent machines, faster than light space travel, contact with alien life. These weren’t figments of fantastical imaginings for my grandma. These were very real, inevitable events. She had lived each of them dozens of times, in dozens of ways. How they would actually play out was anyone’s guess, but she had her favorites. Stories that were as romantic as they were real. Benevolent aliens, greeting us for the first time, with a warm handshake, like family we never knew. That was the kind of story she loved.
Thank you for sharing your love of stories with me, grandma. I miss you.