Wilts Stevens slept in two beds his whole life. One at his home on his farm in Littleton, N.H., the other was in town on two nights when he got caught in bad weather. Wilts was 92 when I met him. He still farmed. He had some animals, drove the horse wagon while his young nephew Melvin, 67, tossed in the hay, with a fork, into the back.
Wilts never made it past 7th grade, but he managed to inhale any book of science fiction he could find. His favorite was Ray Bradbury. He loved to watch Rod Serling, too. Wilts talked so fast and in such a flat northern New England accent you could barely understand what he was saying and often you’d have to slow him down a bit. “What was that, Wilts?” His mind raced just as fast.
One Saturday afternoon in August of 1971, my friend Susan and I walked by his house. He, sister Eleanor, Melvin, brother Orion were all out on the porch. Wilts leapt up. “C’ome join us,” he said. He rattled in the screen door and came out with two chairs and two small juice glasses – for the dandelion wine.
Two sips in I was convinced it was hallucinogenic and, well, Wilts and the rest of them were already tilted. Wilts kept going on about NASA this and NASA that.
“Whoa, Wilts,” I said. “What are you saying? NASA?”
“Yep, me and NASA have a contract, y’know.”
The wine had taken hold. I burst out in laughter. A hand, Eleanor’s, rested on my forearm. I looked over at her and she gave me a stern, respect-your-elders look.
“Yep, not many people know this, but I’ve got a contract with NASA. Ya see I was watching one of them moon rockets you know and I got this idea, ‘I wonder what some of that moon dust would do on my potato field,’ so I’s called them up down at Cape Canaveral and I says, ‘My name’s Wilt Stevens and I’m a potato farmer up here in Littleton, New Hampshire, and I’d like to try some of that moon dust on my potato field.
“Well I think they thought I was kidding, but after a while they came around to my idea and not too many people know this, but that last moon rocket, after they landed, they filled up a little rocket with 50, 60 pounds of that moon dust and they sent that rocket back to earth and down over my potato field and BLAM!, it exploded and all that moon dust came showering down all pretty like all over my potatoes.”
I could hold it no longer. I burst. The dandelion wine had completely taken over and both Susan and I got laughing so hard we thought we were going to pee.
But we could feel them eyes.
And I looked over at Eleanor and Melvin and Orion and they were all looking at me with darts, like I was insulting Wilts or something.
I looked back at Wilts.
“You don’t believe me do you,” he said. “Well I’ll show you."
And with that he bounced up, opened the screen door and was gone before it even slammed. I heard him going down the stairs to the basement and then, in a minute, he was back up and he carefully backed through the door, hiding what he was holding, then turned and plunked onto my lap a potato as big as a watermelon. I swear to god. It just landed on me with a thud.
And I looked up at Wilts and his eyes were glistening and a smile was forming, “Yep, that moon dust works like a charm.”
After a moment it was their turn to laugh.
(NOTE: A loop of Adam Hurt on banjo.)