“Many years ago I climbed the mountains, even though it was forbidden…But things are not as they teach us. For the world is hollow, and I have touched the sky.”
Just this year, I realized that Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, died on the same date as my mother. My mother died eight years after he did, on a sunny weekend in October, just before three o’clock in the afternoon. All of her life, she loved to watch Star Trek.
I wish my memories of watching Star Trek with my mom were more acute. For instance, I wish that I could remember the first episode that we watched together, or some special, meaningful quote that she uttered while we were watching. Unfortunately, I don’t remember anything special. Star Trek was always part of the background of our lives, as present as the wallpaper in the dining room. We watched the old original series episodes on Channel 16 every night at seven o’clock. I remember the uniforms in primary colors, the ship that was outfitted like a cardboard Graceland, the scores of beautiful, scantily-clad women who were, inexplicably, attracted to the balding, soft-bellied William Shatner.
Back then, I didn’t see the show’s faults, because the world of the Enterprise wore a cloak of magic. I didn’t notice back then that the “evil” races all had dark skin. I didn’t think there was anything special about Nichelle Nichols being on the bridge, as the lone African-American crew member. The alien Planet of the Week looked new every evening, not like some constantly recycled soundstage, with different-colored lighting and a fog of dry ice that made it look different from last night. Even the Gorn didn’t look like a big green dinosaur puppet back then. No, he looked like a giant menace, with glowing eyes, screaming a ferocious, Kraken-like call.
I didn’t see Wrath of Khan in the theater, even though I watched it countless times on television and on VHS tape. I do, however, remember seeing The Search for Spock with my mother in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the Breckinridge movie theater. I remember both of us seeing The Voyage Home with my cousin Damon at the old Royal Theater in Benton, Arkansas. We saw The Undiscovered Country in Conway, Arkansas, at the Conway Town Center. I was a senior in high school when that one came out. I even bought Cliff Eidelmann’s soundtrack.
The world of Star Trek was an island of peace in my very chaotic life. My parents, in combination, were married nine times, so there was always some new spouse or stepfamily member wandering around the house. My homes always had more of a boardinghouse feel, as I was constantly thrust in with these strangers that my parents fell in love with; that is, of course, until the next stranger came along. On Star Trek, however, the same people showed up every week, with the exception of a few aliens here and there. The people always seemed to like each other, too. If they argued, they argued about highbrow issues, like the Prime Directive. They didn’t argue about the affair that my stepfather had with the paint store clerk.
I do remember watching the first episode of The Next Generation at home. We watched Encounter at Farpoint together, and I’ll never forget the space station that turned into a big glowing jellyfish. As a kid, I couldn’t see the flaws, or the plot holes big enough to drive a Galaxy-class starship through. The new series inherited the magical mantle from the old one. During my senior year of high school, as my mother and I were fighting about my intentions to go to music school, we called a truce every Saturday night at 6pm to watch TNG. My mom even taped the series finale of TNG while I was away at Disneyworld on a band trip. The picture was black with wavy white lines running through it, but we still put it in, and listened to the sound for two hours. All Good Things…
I’ll never know what my mother was looking for, when she turned on the television to watch Star Trek. I know that the stories meant enough to her that, even though she could hardly walk, she rode a long way with me in the car, to Little Rock, to see First Contact. It was the last movie we ever saw together. Even when she was dying, my mother was looking for something, out amongst those stars.
I guess I’ll never know what that was.