Certain times of the year mean certain things.  his time of the year – deep summer – means lightning bugs.

From the time I was able to toddle around the yard until now, I have been fascinated by what I call “nature’s fireworks.”  The bugs fly around the yard almost unnoticed, until something causes them to light up the evening sky. I once looked up what causes the light to take place, and there was some scientific explanation about gases and something else (I can’t remember), but thinking about science sort of took away the magic of the bugs that bring dusk in the backyard to a night sky filled with fireworks. I chose to stick with the magic.

I remember chasing them around Grandma and Grandpa’s yard, Mason jar in hand, holes poked in the top – after all, we wanted to catch them and not suffocate them – trying desperately to make my own table lamp. When I finally caught enough to make a difference, I sat transfixed, watching them light, out, light, out, until I took pity on their being captives and let them go.

I hoped that Emily would be as enamored with lightning bugs as I had been, and so most summer nights at 1020 South Barrett, long ago, after a day of working in the yard, pulling weeds and laying mulch, I provided her with a jar with holes poked in the top so that she could capture what lit up the night sky. An artist, she was much more interested in watching them fly about as opposed to lighting up a silly jar. And I suppose she was right. After all, I let them go in the end, and so it really made more sense just to gaze at the show instead of chasing them around, trying to see how many could be crowded into the jar at once.

I missed the best lightning bug confab, though. It happened right after my father died, now 20 years ago. After his funeral, I had to return to Sedalia to work, while my sister and my aunt, who is more like a sister than an aunt, stayed in Thayer to attend to the business of making order out of the chaos that ensues after a person’s death. They spent each day cleaning out Daddy’s house – which was, not surprisingly, a mess – and then drove a few hundred yards to Grandma and Grandma’s house, though by that time, my grandparents had long since left the Earth. 

There, they sat in the car in the driveway and looked out over a field that my grandfather had lovingly tended for years – mowing, picking up rocks, keeping order – and watched as what seemed to them like thousands of lightning bugs flitted about the expanse above the ground.  They said it took them back to the days when we were young and innocent, and a good time was running around the yard after eating watermelon, trying to catch lightning bugs.

I like to think that those lightning bugs were my father’s way of sending some kind of message to them, telling them that where he was brought back those sweet times, when life was simpler, when we did little but sit around in the hot, humid evenings, grown-ups talking, kids oblivious to anything but catching lightning bugs.

Now, Max and I sit on the back porch, the one that now looks wonderful because I insisted that we redecorate it, and look out at the back yard. We see lightning bugs as they make magic in the summer night, and on this particular weekend, we do that with Emily, who is home for a few days over the holiday. She and Max probably don’t know it, but those lightning bugs bring the past to the present for me, and tie my entire life together in some inexplicable way. While I hear firecrackers in the background and will soon see explosions of red and blue lights in the air, I would just as soon see what have always been as exciting as fireworks for me. And so I will.


Contributing Columnist

Deborah Mitchell is a local attorney.

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