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Food For Thought

There's some sort of magic up there in the stratosphere and beyond. Something mysterious yet familiar. A perfectly logical piece of nature that defies human understanding. We have lived all our lives with stars, yet we know only a smidgen more about them than the ancient Egyptians or the Druids did.
I'm not sure just when children become aware of those little lights in the night sky, but I remember that I was little enough that my dad was carrying me, bundled in my coat and a blanket, from the car to the house on a cold, clear winter night. We had spent the day at my grandparents' house, Sunday dinner with aunts, uncles and cousins, followed by naps for the men in the big chairs in the living room while the women dealt with leftovers, washed the dishes, and talked about babies and husbands. We children, during milder weather, would have been sent outside to play and get out from underfoot. In cold weather, we played follow-the-leader up and down the stairs, under and around the tables, the piano, the Victrola and the treadle sewing machine. We listened to the ocean in the depths of Grandma's big pink conch shell and played with a few old toys she kept in a dresser in the spare room. After a quick supper– usually sandwiches made from the rest of the Sunday roast or ham– we'd pile into the car and head for home. That was a drive of about an hour and a half but seemed much longer to me then. Winter nights came early and it seemed to be midnight before we reached home, tired and half asleep.
As Dad carried me toward the house, I noticed the stars, huge and brilliant in the velvety sky. Dad saw me reaching toward them, as if I expected to pluck one for myself. “Pretty, aren't they?” he said. “You can have that big one right up there. It has to stay in the sky, but it's still yours.” My own star! I'm not sure we were both looking at the same star, but I knew which one was mine for a good many years afterward. It made me feel special to own a star of my own, even though the sky was cluttered with them and there were probably more than enough for everybody.
My big sister showed me how she could draw a star with five quick lines crisscrossing each other. I practiced and practiced but could never get the points to come out all the same length. It was many years later that I figured out how to fold a piece of paper so that one quick snip created a nearly perfect, plump, five-pointed star.
In school, I learned that stars meant excellence. Teachers solemnly pasted shiny foil stars on important test papers and spelling charts. Again, I practiced the five-line stars in imitation of the ones the teacher penciled on those arithmetic work sheets when I got all the problems right. Science class revealed the amazing fact that the Milky Way is actually a galaxy and all that glow in the sky comes from countless stars. More amazing still was finding out that we aren't viewing the Milky Way from afar, but that we are actually part of it. I still find it difficult to wrap my mind around that knowledge. And to think that we are only one of who knows how many galaxies out there.
Stars represent several different things– all of them glowing with the stamp of excellence. Leading actors in plays, movies and television are called stars. Some even have that symbol painted on their dressing room doors or impressed on a slab of commemorative concrete. When we are bedazzled by something, be it love, happiness or discovery, we are said to have stars in our eyes.
I always admired the white stars on the blue field of our national flag. To my way of thinking, they are real stars, with five perfect points in the shape of a person with feet planted apart and arms spread wide. I've often wondered why a star was chosen in the first place. It is a difficult shape to cut out and sew in place, and it would have been difficult to space them evenly on that first flag. At Christmas time, I think about that brilliant star that is said to have led the magi and the shepherds to that manger in Bethlehem, and I dutifully affix a lighted, silver star at the very top of my Christmas tree.
Even after I learned that the stars in the sky are balls of flaming gasses, I visualize them with five equal points, and I can't explain how they can take that shape and still be three dimensional.
Once, during a neighborhood game of softball, my sister flung the bat aside as she took off toward first base and it hit me on the forehead. I saw stars. They must have been real stars because they didn't have five equal points.