The moon was late to the party

They headed out with only a flashlight to light the way.

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    A full moon hangs low over Salem, Ore.
    Kobbi R. Blair/Statesman-Journal/AP
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It was Dec. 13, a Saturday, about 5:45 in the evening. The party was at 6. It would mean arriving slightly late, but my mother and I would walk there anyway. We could catch a ride home, and even though the air was bitingly cold, it was fresh – and smelled of sea salt and pine trees.

The night before, the moon had shone so brightly, our evening walk with the dogs had been easy. No need for a flashlight. No need to fear what rustled in the darkness. There had been almost no darkness. Just silvery spots bathed in moonlight and shadowy spots hidden in the trees. I expected the same tonight, but tonight was different. The sky was clear. The stars were out, but...

"Where's the moon?" I asked, looking up and turning circles in the driveway, trying to locate the elusive moon. I expected the milky light. I was disappointed, and slightly irritated.

"I don't know," my mother answered.

"I was counting on the moon," I said, ungratefully. Moonlight had been one of my motivations for walking to the party in the first place. And I hated walking in the dark.

Mom went back inside for a flashlight.

We walked awhile in darkness, following the bobbing circle of light that bounced before our feet. Past patches of dark wood and openings through which the bay could be seen. Past cheerily lit houses under streetlamps, and dark houses whose residents had either gone for the weekend or were already at the neighborhood Christmas party. I loudly lamented the absence of the moonlight I had so anticipated.

We rounded the corner at Bay Quarter Drive and Presley Creek Road. We stopped and stood, breathless, the flashlight in my mother's hand pointed down at the dark asphalt.

"Look at that moon," I sighed. We stood still in the middle of the silent street, staring.

The moon rose dripping and burning out of the bay, the color of glowing embers in a dark fireplace.

Such a contrast to the bitter night air. Rivulets of slippery flame swam through the black bay like several hundred silver minnows, turning their bellies to the sun.

It stretched slowly above the horizon, clinging to the line that separated water from sky and then, silently, the bay let go its hold, and the moon pulled away from its reflection. It hung suspended in the black, starry sky.

So, there was the moon. And who was I to have asked it to rise sooner so it could be on time to light my way to the party?

Our reverie was disturbed when the little blue four-cylinder pulled up beside us, clinking and whining in the winter night. It was my father. He leaned across the passenger seat and unrolled the window.

"Get in," he said. "We're late." My father hates being late as much as I hate walking in the dark.

My mother and I reluctantly ducked into the car.

"Did you see the moon?" I asked my dad, cramming myself in all my winter layers into the tiny back seat.

"No." He peered out of the moon roof, then ducked below the windshield again, then craned his neck to finally catch a glimpse out the passenger's side window.

"Oh, wow." A peaceful pause as the warmth of the moon glazed its image onto his retinas.

And suddenly, being on time was no longer so important.

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