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Pondering UFOs and Easter bunnies

I was driving with my daughter the other night when I saw something curious fly right over the road near the Amherst landfill on the outskirts of town.

“That is one weird plane,” I said, referring to the cargo planes that we see all the time flying down to the Westover Air Force Base. This was much smaller though, flew much lower, with a different lighting pattern, and made not a sound.

“Daddy, that’s a UFO,” Hattie said to me. She’s 11.

“Maybe,” I said, and thought nothing of it.

Until a few days later when my neighbor rang me up. “I’ve got some exciting news — Belchertown Road was visited by aliens the other night.” She is Russian. I recalled reading about a factory town east of Moscow where panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches, sugar and candles anticipating the Mayan Apocalypse in December.

I’ll have to look that one up, I said.

Sure enough. It was all over: It had been on the six o’clock news, in this newspaper, on the Internet.

Residents reported strange lights and objects. Television crews came. Explanations ensued.

I called my mother, an expert on the subject.

“They’re everywhere,” she said, referring to extraterrestrial visitors. “Millions have witnessed them. The government denies it.” “We saw something,” I said to her, unconvinced of anything. My son overheard us. “Hey, I saw it too,” he announced. He was in south Amherst driving with my wife that night. Triangular in shape, much smaller than the C-5, flying low, making no sound, he agreed.

“Do you think it was a UFO?” I asked.

“There are no UFOs,” he said. “Probably a drone.”

We didn’t have unmanned aircraft when I was a kid.

I called my father, an engineer. The voice of reason. He offered an idea. “The military might have buried some radioactive material in the landfill there and were testing their drone to see if it could detect it.” Huh? Even dad is coming up with something. So, I thought, how do we explain the unexplainable?

Three years ago, one of those enormous C-5s flying near my house lost two of its 28 wheels which landed in the woods not but a mile away from our home.

The plane is actually the largest aircraft on the planet Earth.

The air base eventually claimed the wheels and apologized, but my children and I began looking more closely at the sky.

Then I remembered the incident, back when Hattie was 3 years old. It was the evening before Easter. She looked at her mother and me, her eyes wide, and asked, Will the Easter Bunny come into my room? We grinned. Our daughter’s imagination had taken over and the mythical bunny had suddenly become real, even menacing, with its ears and a hat and creeping in the house at night, even into her room while she was fast asleep.

We had told her there was an Easter bunny and she believed us. In much the same way the news told us that what we collectively saw the other night had foundation in reality.

The Federal Aviation Administration has since retracted its earlier statement about there being no aircraft over the town that night. A C-5 was in the area after all.

But my daughter and son and I know that it was no C-5. The night after my Russian neighbor called, I showed Hattie the news report about it.

She went to school the next day and upon returning home, she said she announced to the class that she and her father and brother had definitely seen the UFO over Amherst.

Michael Carolan, who lives in Amherst, is a professor in the English department at Clark University in Worcester and a regular contributor to New England public radio.

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