One of our favorite books from childhood was P. D. Eastman’s Sam the Firefly (published in 1958). The mischievous firefly writes misleading messages in the sky with his light, so he must be confined to a jar. But in the end, he is released to write STOP to prevent a train from hitting a stalled vehicle on the tracks and saves the day.
The fireflies in the Midwest are the most magical part of summer. We would catch them and put them in a jar or do much worse things to them. I remember removing the light from the tail of a firefly and placing it on my ring finger like a sparkling diamond in the night. Even after we were supposed to be in bed, I would watch them from the window of my room until I could not stay awake.
We did not know why fireflies lit up or how our innocent pastimes affected the lives of the insect kingdom.
One afternoon, we decided to make a clover chain that was long enough to go around the house. The youngest children were sent out to harvest the clover and instructed to leave as much stem as possible on the flower. The older children, each working on their own segment, assembled the chain by tying the stem around the head of a second piece of clover. When no more clover was left in the yard, we all took up a position along the clover chain and gently carried it to the house’s perimeter to see if would stretch.
By now, the neighborhood children had joined us in the project. It did not quite reach around the house, so we sent out foraging parties to the neighbors’ yards to bring more clover. “More clover, more clover!” we shouted.
Somehow, the project took on great urgency, as if it had to be finished by dinner time or the house would be swirled away like Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz. When the last clover was tied, we celebrated our accomplishment with cheering, dancing, and rounds of cartwheels.
This is why there are no butterflies or bees in my story.
We also did not know the fragility of insect life.
I remember sitting on the porch with my brothers, chewing on mint leaves that we pulled off the overgrown spearmint plant that grew by the steps. I had an idea. We would catch grasshoppers and put them in the mailbox. Then when mom opened the lid of the mailbox, they would jump out and surprise her.
We collected quite a few and managed to get them into the mailbox. But, when mom opened the mailbox, all that she found was a bunch of dead grasshoppers. She was not happy about this! She brought out a dust cloth and told me to remove them.
As it happened, mom’s dust cloths were actually her old high-waist, white underpants. For the life of me, I could never figure out why she thought that dusting every surface in the house with a pair of underpants made it clean.
I cried as I removed the dead grasshoppers. Of course, I did not intend for them to die, but their death was my fault and I felt very sad about that.
To this day, I follow a catch-and-release method when I find insects that need to be removed from the house, and I admire the flashing brilliance of the fireflies pressed against the porch screens with the knowledge that they will not fry themselves on the porchlights.
I even decided not to mow the lawn for three years, but that’s another story!
About the author: Lynn Deanne Childress
Lynn Deanne Childress is a freelance editor and unpublished writer (with a few exceptions). I wrote a fairy tale called The Box of Captured Things for my daughter Helyn Gulley that she illustrated at age 15. Not a single copy of the book has been sold since it was published in 2005. However, Helyn went on to get a degree in graphic design and now does hand-painted signs.