Back Then, the Moon Was Closer

Chapter 1

The moon used to be bigger and closer to the earth. That’s what they say. Sometimes people exaggerate, but we can’t go back in time and check, so who knows? Maybe it was. And they tell this story about Great Grandpa and Great Grandma.

They lived in a small white house with green shutters in a small town. And one evening in spring, when the weather had just started to turn warm, they noticed that the moon seemed unusually large and close.

“I’ll bet I could reach it with the ladder,” said Great Grandpa.

“Maybe,” Great Grandma replied. Then she added, “I wonder if it’s true.”

“What?”

“What they say.”

“What who says?” asked Great Grandpa.

“People,” answered Great Grandma.

“What people?”

“Oh, I don’t know, just people,” said Great Grandma. “But they say the moon is made of cheese.”

“Hmmm,” said Great Grandpa. “I like cheese.”

They stood on the front lawn of their little house and stared at the moon for a while, wondering if it was true.

And after a few minutes, Great Grandpa said, “There’s one way to find out.”

He walked to the garage and rummaged around for a while. When he came out, he was carrying the long ladder, the one he used every autumn when he cleaned the leaves from the gutters.

“I think we’ll have to climb from the roof,” he said. “Help me carry the ladder up there.”

They got the ladder through the front door pf the house, but when they tried to turn a corner into the living room and another to the stairway, the ladder wouldn’t fit. They tried hard. Great Grandpa lifted his end toward the ceiling and Great Grandma held her end close to the floor and turned slowly. It didn’t work. Then they tried it the opposite way, but that didn’t work either. Then they accidentally knocked a picture off the wall.

“Oops,” muttered Great Grandpa.

“It’s OK. It didn’t break,” said Great Grandma. “I have an idea.”

They backed the ladder out through the front door and stood in the yard again.

“Now,” said Great Grandma, “you go up to the dormer window and crawl out to the roof. I’ll lean the ladder against the gutter, and you can pull it up.”

And that’s what they did. And once Great Grandpa had the ladder on the roof, Great Grandma climbed out through the window and joined him. Then they stood the ladder on the highest part of the roof and leaned it forward–and it touched the big moon!

Chapter 2

Great Grandpa got ready to climb. He went inside and put on his best sneakers so he would have a good grip on the moon. He put on a jacket in case it was cold. And he took his pocketknife with him. If the moon really was made of cheese, he wanted to taste it.

When he was ready, Great Grandpa started to climb the ladder. Great Grandma held it steady.

Great Grandpa looked down at her and smiled and called, “Look at me! I’m climbing to the moon!”

“Use both hands,” she called back.

Then, he stepped off the ladder onto the surface of the moon. He wondered if anybody else had ever been there before. He wondered if he was the first person on the moon. And one of the first things he noticed was that the ground on the moon was very soft and springy. He jumped up and came down and bounced. He began to bounce like a little boy all around the part of the moon near the ladder.

“So,” called Great Grandma, “besides bouncy, what’s it like?”

Great Grandpa then took out his pocketknife, cut a little piece out of the moon, and tasted it.

“Good gracious!” he exclaimed. “It is made of cheese. Delicious cheese. You have to taste this.”

He tossed a piece down to her. Great Grandma took a small bite from the edge and then happily ate the rest.

“We have to have more of this,” she called up to him. “Wait there for a minute.”

Then she crawled back through the window, ran down the stairs, went to the garage, rummaged until she found two buckets, ran back upstairs, crawled out the window, scurried to the ladder, and called, “Here. Fill these up.”

She made great circles with her arm and threw the buckets up to him one at a time.

Great Grandpa caught the buckets and then began to fill them with cheese. While he worked, Great Grandma crawled back through the window, ran down the stairs again, skipped to the garage, rummaged until she found two long pieces of rope, climbed back upstairs, crawled out the window, scurried to the ladder, and called, “Here. Catch these ropes. Tie them to the buckets so you can lower them without spilling any moon cheese.”

“Hmmm,” answered Great Grandpa. His mouth was so full of delicious cheese that he couldn’t answer her.

He dug and dug with his pocketknife until he had filled both buckets. Then he tied lengths of rope to each and lowered them to Great Grandma. When he was finished, he walked to the ladder leaning against the moon so he could climb down. But the moon had been rising slowly as he’d worked. The ladder wobbled. It no longer touched the moon. Great Grandma caught it before it fell and lay it down on the roof.

“What are we going to do?” she called.

“I’ll just have to ride the moon around the world and see you again tomorrow night,” he called back.

“Are you warm enough?”

“I wore my jacket.”

“Well,” called Great Grandma, “OK. See you tomorrow night.”

“Be careful with that moon cheese,” he called down to her. “Don’t spill any when you’re going through the window.”

“And you be careful on the moon,” she answered. “Don’t fall off.”

The moon rose slowly over their house and over their small town and over the countryside. Great Grandma stayed on the roof for a long time so she and Great Grandpa could call back and forth to each other. But finally the moon rose so high she could no longer see or hear him. She crawled back through the window—very carefully, so she wouldn’t spill any cheese. And Great Grandpa sailed up and up into the night sky on the great full moon.

Chapter 3

Great Grandpa could look down at the earth as he crossed the sky. He saw all the world’s beautiful mountains and seas. He saw storm clouds from above and knew it was raining below. He saw lightning flash like great fireworks in clouds. And all the while he snacked on delicious moon cheese.

The next night the big moon brought him low over the house and he saw Great Grandma on the roof with the ladder, ready to raise it into the sky. When he came near enough to hear she called, “Just send me a few more buckets of cheese, and then climb down. The moon will be getting smaller, and you don’t want to fall off.”

So Great Grandpa filled one bucket after another with delicious moon cheese and lowered them to the roof. Great Grandma added the cheese to the great collection inside. By now they had filled every bucket and bowl and pail and bathtub and sink in the house. Probably no one had ever before collected so much of the moon.

Finally, she called up to him, “OK. We’ve got all we’ll ever want. I’m going to stand the ladder up.”

And so she stood, balancing it on the highest part of the roof. But when she tried to lean the ladder against the moon, it . . . didn’t . . . quite . . . reach.

“Uh oh,” said Great Grandma.

“Uh oh,” said Great Grandpa.

The moon is full only one night of each cycle, and this night it was not quite as full or near to the earth as it had been the night before. And maybe Great Grandpa had made the moon just a little bit smaller by collecting so much moon cheese.

“What should we do?” he called down.

“Tomorrow night we’ll set the ladder up as soon as you get close,” called Great Grandma. “We don’t need any more moon cheese.”

“OK,” called Great Grandpa. Then he sat down and watched again as the moon slowly began to rise. Great Grandma stayed on the roof, and they talked quietly together in the warm weather while the moon was still near. This was before they had children, and they often talked about the names they would give children once they arrived. And now they knew that one day they would be telling their children and maybe their grandchildren and maybe their great-grandchildren about the time they harvested moon cheese. Then the moon drifted further away. They said goodnight to each other, and once again Great Grandpa drifted above the earth, where he could see great rivers run through the land, wide plains of white where snow and ice lay, and the sparkles of city lights at nighttime.

Chapter 4

It’s not hard to guess what happened next. When the moon came close to the house the next night, the ladder still wouldn’t reach. The moon was just a little smaller and a little farther away, and every night the moon would grow smaller and farther, until it became a new moon and disappear for a night, before it started to grow again.

“What will we do?” called Great Grandpa.

“You’ll just have to ride until we think of something,” Great Grandma called back.

And so he rode the moon through the sky every night, looking down with wonder on the beautiful earth. When he was hungry he ate moon cheese, and when he was thirsty he drank moon milk from a little well he dug. Soon the moon was so small that had to lie in the curve of it. Now it stayed so far from the earth that he couldn’t call to Great Grandma. And at last the moon became just a thin sliver of silver and he hung to it with one hand. The next night, it would disappear.

All this time, Great Grandma had been thinking and planning and working hard. She knew the day would come when Great Grandpa fell from the sky, when the moon disappeared.

That day came at last. Great Grandpa held to the last slender bit of the moon until it disappeared. And then he began to fall to the earth, down toward the tops of the clouds. He fell right through them, and they were soft like cotton. He fell faster and faster toward his little town and his home, wondering what would happen to him. At last the house was near. He saw Great Grandma standing in the front yard. She was waving her arms and pointing to a white patch before her. Great Grandpa spread his arms wide like wings and steered toward her, flying faster every second, until at last he crashed into the mound of incredible softness in front of Great Grandma. Pieces flew everywhere as the mound burst, and then Great Grandpa fell gently to the ground.

He looked up and saw Great Grandma smiling. She had been wise. She knew that the only thing soft enough to save someone from a fall from the moon was moon cheese itself. She had piled all their moon cheese into a soft hill, and Great Grandpa had landed in it.

He stood up and looked around him. There was no more moon cheese. His landing had sent a million tiny pieces of it flying in a frenzy to far-away places.

“Well,” said Great Grandma, “that’s the end of our moon cheese. But we will have a great tale to tell our grandchildren one day.”

“That we will,” replied Great Grandpa.

The moon never again came so close to the earth that you could raise a ladder to it. Maybe that’s because Great Grandpa had made it lighter by taking so much moon cheese.

Or maybe the moon still does come close sometimes when it’s full, but nobody’s looking.

Maybe one day we’ll go there, after a good night’s sleep.

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