Friday, June 20, 2008

Catching magic

Summer started a little early at my humble abode this year.
I stopped during a brief moment – VERY brief moment, mind you – of housework Thursday night to take some garbage out to the poly cart near the street. The wonderful waste engineers (what we called garbage men when I was a kid) were coming by on Friday to pick up my trash. It was long overdue, too, since I hadn’t been at home to roll the cart to the street in several weeks.
It was just about dusk as I trekked out to the curb, plastic bag in hand. Stepping off the porch, I caught a glimpse of a tiny spark of light in front of me.
“They’re here!” I thought to myself! “It’s officially summer!”
Exactly who was ushering in the sunny season? Lightning bugs, of course. Mother Nature’s little LEDs.
Growing up, it was not unusual for a group of us kids in the neighborhood to spend hours chasing lightning bugs with mayonnaise jars. Prior to our hunt, we would use an ice pick – or a knife from some mama’s kitchen if it could be safely snuck out – to poke holes in the jar lids. Sometimes we would pick blades of grass to drop inside the jars for the bugs to have for sustenance even though we didn’t plan to keep them that long.
Catching the little critters took quite a technique. We had to watch for the tiny yellow light to flash and follow it until the bug was either enticed into the jar or flew into the jar. Then we had to snap the metal lid on and twist it in almost one motion. We honed this skill by catching bumble bees during the daytime hours; something you had to get right the first time or possibly face the stinger in the end.
Even when I got too old to chase the flying flashers, they still became my sign of summer’s arrival each year.
Not too long ago, I was visiting my longtime friend, Tusha, at her Long Island home. Tusha’s only daughter at the time, her nephew and I were in the backyard playing kickball. Without us really noticing, the sun set and it began getting dark. Right in the middle of a kick, I saw Cassidy point at something and say, “ooooohhhhh!”
Checking out what she had found, I noted a familiar sight. “You’ve spotted a lightnin’ bug!” I exclaimed.
“That’s not a lightnin’ bug,” her mother said, mocking my Southern accent. “It’s a firefly!”
“Well, I guess you’re right,” I told Tusha. “Cause no respectable lightnin’ bug would fly this far north of the Mason-Dixon Line!”
Agreeing to disagree on the name, I asked the two little kids if they had ever caught a lightning bug. Both of them continued to stare at the flashing lights floating around them and pretty much ignored me. Since I didn’t have a mayonnaise jar handy, I just reached up and grabbed a bug out of the air. Carefully cupping both hands together, I slightly held my fingers apart to let the light shine between them as the lightning bug blinked and crawled within my hands. The looks on those toddlers’ faces was a MasterCard moment (and, unfortunately, my camera was in the house so it couldn’t be a Kodak moment, too). Their eyes got as big as saucers when I let the bug lift heavenward off the palm of my hand.
“Do it again!” she whispered.
For hours, we ran around their backyard catching fireflies and letting them go until the two little ones were exhausted.
Although I’m not certain the little girl even remembers our game of catch-and-release, I just hope that when she sees a lightning bug firefly now she will at least notice their flicker. I know I won’t ever forget the evening I briefly held magic in my hands for two little toddlers.


Chip Wood said...

Great story, I remember doing the same with my brother & sister across the street at our grandparents. After catching them, oooh the smell of your hands!

I can't wait to do the same with my 3 daughters.

Thanks for the story.

Natalie said...

I vividly remember using the ice pick to poke air hole into the top of the Mayo lid.. Ours had a wooden handle. My kids love, love to catch the lightning bugs. thanks for the blog.. love reading your comments