I wrote this column in what seems like another lifetime, when my boys were still babies. Now as a grandmother, I get to revisit a precious childhood and savor it because I know how fleeting it is. I also know now that there aren’t nearly as many lightning bugs as there were 30 years ago, and we need to protect them. “Watch, don’t catch,” pertains to these magical insects, and as soon as my granddaughter is old enough to stay up until dark, we will make a cozy spot in the yard with a blanket and watch with wonder as fairies seem to flicker through the summer evening. Hopefully these fireflies will be around for her to do the same with her own grandchildren.
It is almost 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night and we are just finishing dinner because of an endless baseball game in 100-degree heat. I am hot, tired and worn out. The oven is on, the air conditioner is off and the kitchen is broiling. Already today I have driven roughly 80 miles delivering children to and picking them up from their various sporting events, orthodontist’s appointments, birthday parties and summer jobs. I have washed clothes I could have sworn I just washed yesterday, and I have wiped the kitchen counter about a hundred times. Still, I have not made a dent in my to-do list for the week.
Now, I stand over the sink, scraping plates in a trance of irritation. I gaze out over the yard as I mentally go over the list of before-bed chores: feed dog, take recycling to curb, fold more laundry, unload dishwasher… I mutter to my husband that my summer is looking like one long to-do list. I stop mid-sentence. I see a sudden, teeny flash of light under the hemlocks and I feel my face soften as I wait, my eyes trained on the lower branches. I am rewarded by a golden flash that is over in an instant.
I know it is late and that I am way behind as it is; we have baths, bedtime stories and chores before us. Still, I call out to my sons, “Lightning bugs!”
My middle son gasps in utter disbelief, then runs out to the yard before getting a jar. My youngest son bolts after him, knowing only that his brother is on the move. I leave the dishes and the hungry dog and sit on the front stoop, watching my boys as they reach for the magical bugs that move slowly through the summer evening air.
I take a deep breath and remember. When I was a little girl, we caught lightning bugs almost every night in the summer. We drove a nail dozens of times through a mayonnaise jar lid, then lined the bottom of the jar with leaves and a few drops of water. My grandmother would let us bathe after dark and use our jar of lightning bugs as our only light. We sat until the bath water grew tepid, watching the mass of bugs glow yellow-green for a split-second, then waited for them to flash again.
I get up from my seat on the front steps and walk to the kitchen. The dishes are piled, still not scraped, in the sink, and the milk is sitting out on the counter. Lima beans are drying in their saucepan and what is left of a salmon croquette is quickly adhering to its non-stick pan. I by-pass the remains of dinner and bend down toward the lower cabinets. I rummage through all the cabinets until I find a big mayonnaise jar. I then root through the utensil drawer until I find a lid that fits, then I put the milk in the refrigerator. I grab a hammer and nail and go out into the front yard.
My middle son has caught a lightning bug and he is carefully showing his little brother how to cup his hands and hold the creature without hurting it. My boys’ heads are bent over, almost touching at the crowns, and their eyes are filled with wonder.
I take another deep breath and think about all the many moments like this that I have missed because of my “to-do” list. Now, I don’t think about what is waiting for me in the kitchen. I know it will still be there when I leave the cool of the summer night. I watch my two sons for a long moment, not even raising the hammer to begin my next task.
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Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books, “The Queen Who Banished Bugs,” “The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds,” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator series “If Bugs Are Banished.” “Making Arrangements” is her first novel. “Dogs and Love – Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true tales about man’s best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com and you can download a free pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.