Juniper Tice was a tall little girl with soft brown hair and even softer brown eyes. Her knees were a bit knobby and her smile was wide, bright and natural.
It always struck her as funny when people called her a “tall little girl.”
“How can I be a tall little girl?” she would ask her mother.
“Well, it’s like being a jumbo shrimp. It’s an oxymoron, Juniper.” her mother would say.
Juniper loved many things. But most of all, she loved rocks on the ground and the stars in the sky.
Where ever she went during the day her eyes scoured the ground looking for new and interesting rocks she could add to her collection.
At night, she constantly searched the skies for new stars. When she couldn’t go to sleep she would lay in her bed and stare out her window, trying to count all of the stars in the black night sky.
Her mother worried about her.
“Juniper, with your head either pointed at the ground or angled at the sky you are going to hurt your neck. You need to start looking straight ahead at where you are going like the rest of your friends.”
Juniper wasn’t like the rest of her friends. While Juniper looked for rocks and dreamed of stars her friends were playing tag, catching frogs, kicking fire ant mounds or playing house as if they were their mothers and fathers.
Juniper didn’t want to chase someone just to chase them.
Juniper didn’t want to scare animals even if they were just frogs or fire ants.
She definitely didn’t want to be old and boring like most mothers and fathers.
Juniper wanted to touch the stars. She wanted to find precious stones tucked into meaningless heaps of rubble. These things were important. Finding stars and important rocks could even get your photo in the newspaper. Adults listened to such obviously intelligent young children.
Juniper also hated her name. The boys at school alternated between morphing Juniper into “june bug” and Tice into “lice.”
“Why can’t they just call me June or Nice if they don’t want to call me Juniper Tice?” she asked her mother.
“That’s what boys do when they like you,” her mother would say.
Juniper was sure the biggest day of her young life would be February 22. For most of the kids, February 22 was just the day of a field trip and a chance to skip math. But for Juniper Tice, February 22 was probably better than Christmas. On February 22 the whole 4th grade class was going to the Museum of Natural Science . The brochure said that inside the Museum of Natural Science , Juniper would learn all about stars and rocks. The class was even going to meet a REAL geologist! Thinking about it made her toes tingle and she started counting off the days until the field trip on her wall calendar. She also started looking extra hard for special rocks to show the geologist.
The day before the field trip she cut across a vacant lot on the way home. There she found the most unusual rock. It was slightly smaller than a golf ball and had a very smooth surface as if someone had sanded it down. It wasn’t spherical or rounded, more of a slightly streamlined lump. It felt like metal with a thin burnt looking crust flaking off in some areas. She excitedly tucked it into her jeans pocket and went home to show her parents.
“Hmmm. That is unusual,” said her mother.
“Could be scrap iron,” said her father.
“I’ll ask the geologist tomorrow!” Juniper said, ignoring her parents’ lack of enthusiasm.
The field trip did not go as she planned at all.
The boys were rowdy and loud. The girls were giggling and bored. They were all so wound up that poor Juniper could barely hear the geologist, Dr. Henry, speak. She kept trying to show him the rock she had found but the teacher wouldn’t let her get out of line. She tried to interupt Dr. Henry but the teacher shushed her.
Then, suddenly, the children were being led back on the bus. Juniper wanted to cry. Then she started to panic. She had to ask Dr. Henry about the rock she found. Gathering all of her courage she jumped up and shouted:
“STOP!!! I forgot my retainer!”
The bus was suddenly silent and Juniper rushed to the door, pushed her way past her teacher and ran back inside the museum.
She frantically looked for Dr. Henry until she finally found him in the basement walking to his office.
“Dr. Henry! Dr. Henry!” she called.
He turned slowly and said, “Yes?”
“I found a rock yesterday coming home from school and my mother isn’t impressed and my father thinks its scrap iron but I love rocks and I look all the time and I just wanted to ask you because I know you will know and I’m sure you’ll understand…” Juniper had to stop and catch her breath. “Please, sir, can you help me?”
She dug into her pocket and handed him the rock.
Dr. Henry moved to hold it under better light and carefully examined Juniper’s treasure.
“A little girl who like rocks,” he said softly. “That’s fairly unusual. What else do you like?”
“I like stars too,” she said. “I like rocks and stars.”
Dr. Henry chuckled and handed Juniper back the rock.
“Well, you are a very lucky girl then,” he said, looking very serious and distinguished. “You were looking for rocks but instead found a meteorite.”
“You mean… like a from a shooting star?” Juniper said.
“Exactly,” Dr. Henry said, winking at her. “Be very careful with that and hurry back to your bus.”
Juniper suddenly felt a sense of importance.
That little rock, deep in the pocket of her jeans felt very heavy and warm.
When Juniper got back to the school bus her teacher was angry at her for leaving. Juniper didn’t mind.
When she got home, her mother and father were angry with the note her teacher sent home with her. Juniper didn’t mind
They sent her to her room. She gazed out at the stars with her meteorite in her hand. She tried to act sad when her parents checked on her later but it was hard to hide how extremely happy she was deep inside.
Juniper and her parents were eating breakfast two days later when the phone rang. Her mother answered the phone while stirring powdered creamer into her coffee.
“Hello? Yes. This is the Tice residence.”
A brief pause.
“I’m Juniper’s mother.”
She turned and looked at Juniper in a curious fashion.
“Okay… Yes. Well, I’m sure. No, Saturday at 9 am would be just fine. I’m think Juniper will be thrilled.”
“Who was that honey?” her father asked.
“Yes mom, Who was it?” Juniper echoed.
Her mother set down her coffee. Her father set down his newspaper.
“That was Dr. Henry from the Natural Science Museum. He wants to come to our house Saturday. He wants Juniper to show him where she found her meteorite.”
Juniper could hardly believe it. She was so excited she felt a tingling feeling in her toes.
Saturday came and Dr Henry arrived with a woman from the newspaper. Juniper proudly led Dr. Henry, the reporter, her mother and her father to the field where she found her meteorite.
The news woman took photos of Juniper standing in the spot where she found her shooting star. Then they all hiked back to her house again. Dr. Henry talked about the odds of finding a meteorite. He explained in detail how lucky Juniper was to see it.
“In the last 100 years, we have only confirmed a total of 690 meteorites landing on the planet,” Dr Henry told the reporter. “Less than one meteor a year lands in the US. Juniper had sharp eyes and it took a lot of dedicated rock hunting to locate this meteorite. I am very proud of her.”
“We’re proud too,” her mother chimed in.
The reporter took some more pictures of Juniper with some of her other rocks. Dr. Henry went through her collection and helped her identify the rocks she had wondered about. Finally a photo was taken of Juniper with her telescope and her star chart.
Her mother made cookies while her father watched the whole scene in amazement.
“So, what do you think you will do with your shooting star?” asked the reporter.
“Well,” Juniper said. “Considering it’s so rare and I’m sure lots of other kids woud like to see it. If it’s all right with Dr. Henry, I’d like to let him have it if he wants to put it on display at the museum.”
“Oh Juniper, are you sure?” asked her father.
“Yes, I want other boys and girls to see it,” Juniper said. “As many as possible.”
“Juniper, that is very generous of you,” Dr. Henry said. “We would be delighted to put your meteorite on display.”
The newspaper article came out on Sunday and her principal read the whole story over the loud speaker Monday morning. The cafeteria gave her free ice cream at lunch. At recess Juniper sat on a bench while the rest of her class mates scurried around the playground finding rocks and quickly bringing them to Juniper to examine.
One month later Juniper and her parents put on the clothes they only wear for special occasions and drove to the Natural Science museum. There, between the geology displays and astronomy displays was 10 feet of space using Juniper Tice, her story, the shooting star and her love of both rocks and space as the bridge between the two sections.
She was so happy, it made her toes tingle.