The Bag of Charcoal


There I stood, a beauty to behold in my worn pink chenille robe, my hair rolled up in curlers, and my eight months of pregnancy bulging beyond the robe’s width.

That spring evening almost fifty years ago, I was exhausted, cranky, and ready to climb into bed with my already sleeping husband, when the doorbell rang at 9 o’clock. My first thought was to ignore the bell, but it was insistent so I opened the front door part way.

“Hi,” the voice on the other side of the cracked door said. “I’ve brought you back what I borrowed earlier today.”

I opened the door wider. It was the same man who came up to my house in the morning. At the time, I was on my knees in the soil of our new yard, planting ground cover on a slope.

I wasn’t too pleased to see him then either because of my shoddy appearance. I had on my husband’s old shirt to cover my pregnancy, dirt was smudged all over my clothes, and my hair was stringy with sweat. The man politely asked if I had a bag of charcoal he could borrow, and I was grateful he seemed to pay no attention to how I looked. Since my husband was at the nursery buying more ground cover, I felt obligated to be neighborly. We had just moved into a new Southern California subdivision, and we didn’t have but a handful of neighbors to be neighborly to.

I struggled to get up, dirt sticking to my knees, and walked into our garage where I found a bag of charcoal. The man explained he was attending a barbeque two doors up the street and the people putting on the party didn’t have enough charcoal to get the fire going.

“I’ll make sure to bring you back a new bag later on,” he assured me.

I smiled, when I noticed the cap he was wearing. “Apollo 11” was emblazoned on it. I wondered why he would be wearing a cap like that, but quickly forgot about it after I went back to my planting.

Now, here he was, the man with the Apollo 11 cap back at my door with the new bag of charcoal. I could see the bag propped up against the wall.

Trying not to sound too grumpy, I said, “Gosh, that’s really nice of you. You didn’t have to bring it back so soon.”

“That’s OK,” he said, smiling. “I felt like I inconvenienced you earlier and wanted to say thanks for helping us out.”

As he turned to go, I asked him, “How come your cap says Apollo 11?”

“Well…because I work for NASA.”

I craned my neck to peer closer at him. Under Apollo 11 was his name, which I had ignored earlier.

“Aldrin,” I said. “The cap says Aldrin. Your first name is….?”

“Edwin, but most people call me “Buzz.” ”

My mouth dropped as the wheels of my mind clicked into place.

“Buzz…Buzz Aldrin, like in the moon, the second man on the moon?” I stammered.

He nodded.

Trying to pull myself together, feeling more ugly than I ever felt in my life, I decided that how I looked mustn’t stop me from touching history. I stuck my hand out to him.

“Can I shake your hand?” I asked, while the other hand fussed with my curlers, as if somehow they would disappear and my hair would become a perfect pageboy. As for the bulging tummy, that was unchangeable.

“Sure,” he said. He gave me a hearty hand shake, a charming smile, and left me standing there pondering how a bag of charcoal could have brought astronaut “Buzz” Aldrin to my door.

I pulled the bag inside, as if someone would take it, and made a whooping sound as I raced into the bedroom, woke my husband, and related the entire story.

Of course, he didn’t believe me. He rolled over, muttering something about eight months of pregnancy having something to do with losing my mind.

The next morning, he got up first, as I lolled in bed thinking about my chance encounter. In a few moments, he came into the bedroom carrying the bag of charcoal.

“Was that story for real?” he asked.

I lumbered out of bed, stomach first. I nodded, my tone serious, but there was a glint in my eye.

“That bag of charcoal goes into the nursery. When people ask why it’s sitting there, you can tell them your nutty wife said “Buzz” Aldrin left it on our doorstep, just like the stork left the baby. I wonder which story they’ll believe.”