Thursday, September 20, 2012

Summer Part 11 - The End of Summer

The Appointment - Conclusion

If the word “hospital” was ever spoken, I don’t remember hearing it. Dad went to work each day, still weakened from his own recent health ordeal, while my grandparents moved in to care for us during the early mornings and late afternoons. Their retirement and our school schedule led logistically to this solution—disrupt as little as possible.

We eventually went to visit Mom at a very big place, at the end of a long car ride. The back seat of my grandparents' sedan had a leather bench with no safety belts. Smoke from my grandfather's cigarettes fogged the large rollup windows and our view of the passing world outside. The building we entered had long dark halls with shiny hard floors. We spoke in hushed tones and headed into a small room that smelled of antiseptic and sterilized linen. Mom was not there.

I was excited and energized by the reunion. It had been a strange week, though school was familiar and took up the majority of my days. I bounced back and forth from the room’s window to the hallway, being careful to keep my body in the room and only peek out around the wooden doorframe. My summer haircut was still fresh, buzzed close to my scalp for easy maintenance and temperature control.

My mother later told me that as she returned from a trip to the bathroom down the hall, shuffling slowly back to her room, she saw me before I spotted her. My head, seemingly disembodied and looking like a fuzzy grape from a distance, searched the opposite way for some sign of her approach.

I ran toward her when she called my name, wanting nothing more than a much-needed hug. She cautioned me to slow and told me her stomach was sore, but embraced me like the dawn of a new day. We were reunited, and although things at home would operate at a slower pace for a while, a return to normal was underway. We would have at least several years to relish the love and comfort that only family brings. Good times were ahead, and the crisp chill of Autumn was in the air and underfoot.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Summer Part 10 - Cold Fire

 Cold Fire

Sparkling windswept gold illuminates the night from mid June to early September in the Midwest. When I was a kid, a cold fire that blinked just out of reach kept us running and leaping with old pickle jars, slapping metal lids onto glass containers as we collected and examined our flying treasure.

And there was cruelty. Driven to unfeeling madness by seemingly magical fireflies, some kids crushed the back end of the hapless bugs to paint luminescent yellow/green rings around their fingers. Others spelled words on the sidewalk, crushing bug after bug underfoot and dragging crude letters along the rough concrete. The glow faded long after we were called inside for the night. Poor creatures.

But never was there a more methodical, industrious killing machine, threat to the firefly kingdom, than the summer I responded to an ad in the local newspaper.

“Collect fireflies for science. Research study will pay one cent for each insect collected. Minimum of 500 needed. Will pick up.”

Further instructions were given via the phone number provided. The insects were to be kept frozen until the appointed pickup date. A scientist would retrieve the bugs and make payment. A scientist! I pictured Albert Einstein or Mister Wizard visiting my house.

I began with the traditional method in my back yard – hands and a glass jar. It was slow work. According to my calculations, I would spend three summers achieving my goal at that rate. In need of a more plentiful hunting ground, I decided to head down the street to the nearby forest preserve with a butterfly net and a covered plastic bucket.

Among the most memorable natural things I’ve seen in my life, including the Northern Lights, shooting stars, the green flash and an active volcano, the sight that greeted me when I parted a dense green barricade of branches and entered the woods that night ranks very high.

Several steps beyond the trees along a trail I knew by day, the numbers of fireflies exceeded anything I had imagined. They blinked with a rapidity and intensity lacking among the more sluggish back yard variety. The forest seemed to be decorated with glittering Italian lights for al fresco dining in every direction. I paused to enjoy and comprehend what I was witnessing and muttered, “I’m rich!”

Then the mosquitoes found me. Ferocious, aggressive and numerous. About ten of them for each firefly if I had to guess. In the spasm that ensued, I managed to hold onto my net and bucket, stumbling, choking and running out of the woods past the tree-line toward home to find a bottle of bug spray. They entered my mouth, buzzed in my ears and bounced off my eyeballs. My arms had a brown and fur-like coating of living pumps, nose down and drilling for blood.

It took me only a few nights to collect the requisite number of bugs. A swelling plastic lunch bag became the source of comments from my mother and sister. Bugs in the freezer near our frozen food! Disgusting! I eagerly awaited my visit from a scientist, and of course, five dollars, the next day.

“But you’re a girl,” I blurted out when I answered the door.

The young lab technician laughed and said, “Girls can be scientists too,” as she handed me a five-dollar bill, examined the baggie of bugs and proceeded to explain that she was doing research on bioluminescence. She wasn’t allowed to comment on the eventual purpose of the experiments, but thanked me and told me to call again when I collected more. She held up the baggie and just said, “Hmm” as if perhaps mine was the first supply she had seen.

But that was the end of my bug-collecting job, with the exception of one instance when I tried to boost my back yard population with a seeding supply of captured living bugs. I realized the futility of my attempt and also decided that a penny each added up too slowly. It was time-consuming work. Time that could be better spent mowing lawns. And a nagging guilt affected my productivity with each bug I sent to an early death. Was I any different than the heartless squashers that lived on my street?

I still enjoy the time of year when fireflies appear. They are as much a part of summer as warm weather, the ice cream man and swimming pools. They fill me with a feeling of awe that’s hard to explain. And now if I see evidence of child-on-firefly crime, I try to intervene and make sure the firefly goes blinking safely on its way.