Mostly, I Remember The Fireflies

More than anything else, I remember the fireflies. Except back then I called them“lightning bugs.”

In the summer, as the light dimmed into darkness, they blinked intermittently. I was fascinated by them. They were little beacons of lights, so tiny and magical.

Way back at the far end of our fenced property, there was a rooster and chickens. I would go through the gate once a day, run past the rooster chasing me, and open the door to the hen house. 

The hens blinked their big round marble-like eyes at me as I reached behind to shut the door. The old structure was faded and gray, like a quilt that becomes threadbare over time.

Sunlight darted through the cracks in the structure, drawing long lines across the inside walls and floor. 

I would gently raise each hen and gather the eggs into my container. Then I’d open the door, trying hard not to jostle the warm eggs, and dart past the mean rooster that would peck at my skinny legs. 

That’s what I remember.

There was another old structure between the chickens and the back of the house. I would often go inside and kneel before the big domed trunk. I would reach inside for the old, beginning-to-curl black and white photos. 

I would hold them and peer into the indistinct faces of people. People I didn’t know. No one smiled in these photos. 

I would ask who the photos of the people were, but my great-grandmother frowned on my questions. Mostly she wouldn’t answer.

The two grandmothers, one mother, one daughter, worked long days in the garden during the summer. They worked the rows of vegetables that fed us, hacking at the endless weeds. 

They wore bonnets to protect their faces from the bright sunshine. They wore only dresses, never pants.

They were simple people. Living simple lives.

I would sit and play, making up playmates and stories and drawing in the red dirt with a stick.

I didn’t quite understand why I was there, in the little house with the grandmothers. I called the older one mama.

I didn’t feel especially close to anyone. I was wrapped up in my stories, weaving tales and creating pretend people to play with me. I think maybe I was closer to the people in my pretend world. 

Yet I feared more that anything that mama would die and leave me to take care of my child-like grandmother. Although I didn’t know that was who she was until much later.

I worried so much that I would be left behind, not knowing who I was, with no one to take care of me. I was up in the middle of the night many nights with a stomach ache that doubled me over in pain. I think it was mere anxiety due to the uncertainty.


They are just snippets of memories, all a puzzle I’ve never quite been able to put together. Like someone took all the facts of me and put them in a jar and shook them up.
My memory has so many holes in it, like Swiss cheese. I would try to connect the dots, but they were sort of like the fireflies. Blinking out of sight just as I reached out to grab hold of them.

Mostly, it oddly feels like it happened to someone else. Who just happens to be me.
 
And what is real is like snow flakes that, when they hit the ground, may leave an imprint. But then they quickly become crystals of light that melt in the sun.

And of course, every summer like clockwork, the fireflies came blinking out of nowhere. And I would chase them.

Round and round the house I’d run, reaching out to grab hold of what was real for mere seconds.

And just when I thought I might catch one, it would blink, disappearing from sight. 

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24 Comments

  1. Thank you Brenda for stirring childhood memories. I never saw a firefly until life took me to the Midwest at age 30. I remember how intensely magical, that first sighting.

  2. Your ability to write with such detail is wonderful! You truly are a gifted writer! I was able to feel like I was right there with you. I think most of us have more vivid memories of summer only because that's when we were the happiest as children. No school and long leisure days before us. I still call fire flies lightening bugs!

  3. I used to chase the lightning bugs as well, and then my boys after me. Imagine my shock when one evening the boys and neigbor kids fed one to a frog or large toad and then showed me the bug lighting up inside. Boys!

  4. I used to chase the lightning bugs as well, and then my boys after me. Imagine my shock when one evening the boys and neigbor kids fed one to a frog or large toad and then showed me the bug lighting up inside. Boys!

  5. One of the reasons that people didn't smile back then was that there were many who didn't have teeth. There wasn't the cosmetic dentistry then and allot of people didn't have money to go to a dentist. I didn't see a dentist until I was seventeen and married. By then it was too late for many of my back teeth and the 1950s dentist just pulled them. That was the way it was done in the rural areas then. Also people in the really old photos had to sit very still for a while for the photographer to take the picture.

  6. You have a wonderful way with words Brenda. I too remember chasing Lightning Bugs in my back yard at my parents house. They don't like the modern neighborhoods with all the street lights now though. I think the reason for the lack of smiles in the old black and white photos was due to hard times and probably also during war time. The people in those pictures most likely lived on or worked on farms and were too tired to smile for the camera. Best wishes for the month of August!

  7. Brought back memories for me too. My grandmother had a red porch and a 'hot house'.
    We always ate watermelon at their house. Those are my memories.
    Thanks for sharing yours.

  8. Brenda, your beautifully written post took me on a walk down memory lane. My brothers and I always chased the lightening bugs and put them in a jar, I also had to gather eggs and hated the one hen that liked to peck at my hand when I reached underneath her for the eggs. And we had a mean rooster I stayed away from. He would flog you if he got the chance. And the old photos…I rarely see anyone smiling in them. Everyone looks so somber. Not sure why.
    Yay! I finally got this written after 3 tries today. The kittens keep messing jumping on the laptop and messing things up! lol!

  9. I remember the lightning bugs too Brenda…They were magical weren't they??..We also had the crazy rooster.that would chase us around…I remember running through the cornfield..and the ladies wearing house dresses, never pants, and the faces in the pictures with no smiles..Sometimes I can see the lightning bugs from my bedroom window at night as I lie in the dark…and remember….Thanks for giving me a nice memory…

  10. I remember running around at night catching lightning bugs too…such fun it was! Ihated it when my brothers would pull off the glow part and put on their fingers like a ring…Carol

  11. Loved this post today Brenda. You write so well. You need to write a book it would be a best seller. I was right there with you as you talked about your memories. I remember as a little girl take a mason jar to catch the lightning bugs.
    Have a wonderful new summer week ahead.
    Kris

  12. These are my favorite kind of posts from you Brenda. The kind that convince me to encourage you to write a book. Your story, and the way you tell it, needs to be heard.

  13. A note re Charlotte's comment above: "I may be able to answer your question /statement about no one smiling in your pictures…I mentioned this and my wiser than me apparently dau in law said" It's because picture taking was a special occasion back then. It didn't happen every day. " I recall personally one relative who always had a camera and took zillions of pictures at family gatherngs..thank God for Aunt Josephine..now we cousins all have so many wonderful family pictures. Late in her life she began copying and mailing pkgs of them to the nieces and nephews.

  14. I can relate to your story about the rooster and the women wearing dresses……….never pants.
    Our neighbors went away on vacation and asked me to collect any eggs that their chickens laid while they were away. I went across a stretch of soil that my Dad usually had a garden in and collected several eggs. On my way back their mean old rooster came from nowhere and started chasing me………..He was right at my heels. All I can remember is running so fast and my Mom laughing at the situation. I don't know why she thought it was funny……….I sure didn't. I don't think I ever collected any eggs after that.
    My Mom would always change the dress she had had on all day around four o'clock in the afternoon.. She'd put on a fresh dress for when my Dad came home………..she always had dinner ready at five o'clock and we went to be early……..maybe eight o'clock because my Dad had to get up early to go to work. We lived in Maryland and he had to drive to the Reagan Washington National Airport that is really in Virginia.
    No one smiles in the old pictures that I have either. I wonder why not.
    You really ought to write a book…………not necessarily about your life………but I'll bet you could write a good one about something interesting.
    Have a good week ahead………here we are in August already..
    Charlotte

  15. Beautiful writing, Brenda. You've managed to capture the essence of childhood summer memories from long ago….

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