Last night I stepped out onto the deck because I had seen a flash outside the big picture window overlooking the woods. As it had been raining off and on all day, I assumed it was just another thunderstorm rolling in. But as I settled into the wicker settee I noticed it was just a case of summer lightning. I really shouldn’t say “just” as that is quite possibly the best kind. As I was enjoying how it would ribbon across the sky I noticed the trees were full of lights as well.
High in the tops of the branches a twinkle would come on, here, there and nature’s light show ended up being the first visit of lightning bugs this summer. I hadn’t seen them in what seemed like years and for a moment I sat there in amazement of how these little tiny creatures kept appearing out of nowhere and were higher up in the sky than I ever remember them being.
The evening twinkled like some kind of midsummer Pink Floyd laser light show but way less predictable and suddenly the wicker settee beneath me was turned into the warm concrete of my front porch as a little girl. My Mom and I used to sit out on the front porch on hot summer evenings and watch summer lightning together. I remember her telling me not to be scared of it, that it was kind of the universe’s way of dabbling a bit in theatrics. I thought it was fabulous and if we were lucky the lightning bugs would start swooping in and we could take in a show.
Then I remembered that just last week I told someone I didn’t have a childhood. Well, not a traditional one anyway. As the last of 4 children with 19 years difference between my oldest brother and I, I grew up around adults. I didn’t play games, there were no kids my age left in the neighborhood and tv was mostly Dialing for Dollars, old 1950’s movies, and PBS miniseries. Needless to say this probably explains my penchant for 1950’s wiggle dresses , pillbox hats with little net visors and the fact that I can quote lines from the movie “Rebecca”. Books? The first one I remember reading is a leather bound book on the life and death of Socrates. I remember my Mom explaining how he died from his feet up. So if you ever wonder where I get my pithiness from there you have it.
My fun as I have remembered it during the summers was drama classes or art schools and programs and one failed attempt to get me to learn to swim at the YWCA. To this day, I still see that wretched swim teacher in her cream swim cap…I am quite sure they imported her from a Russian village near the sea.
Then my mind turned back to that hot concrete porch we used to sit on and I remembered other things as well. The smell of our road when they would spread new tar on it in the summers. The thrill and delight of being allowed to go to the candy store up the road by myself and spend less than a dollar and get a bag of sweets. How the water in my wading pool felt when Dad would stand over me and fill it up with the garden hose and I would laugh and scream that it was too cold. The shear craziness that we had one window air conditioner in our dining room that made that room 27 degrees but the rest of the house 125. Seriously what were my parents thinking? Let’s cool the one room in the house we spend the least amount of time in?
I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night because it was so hot so I’d get up, run to the air conditioner put my pillow in front of it and then run back as quickly as I could and lay my head on it for some relief from the heat that seem to hang over you…I don’t think that tactic ever worked and I am pretty sure for 10 summers or so I just had a heat stroke every night which then knocked me out.
As my mind continued to wander through the fields of memories, gathering one by one, I was then transported to the days when my Dad who loved to garden would start planting and eventually picking vegetables. My Mom would send me down in the backyard to help him and I’d get there– pull three or four green beans and claim it was hot and too hard and Dad would wink at me and say I could go. Of course I had to pass by my Mom’s scowl on the way to the front yard.
I remember how the sound of an ice cream truck would cause me to practically have a grand mal Good Humor attack and I’d run all the way down to our back yard beg my Dad for fifty cents, tears welling in my eyes at the thought I might miss the truck and then running as fast as I could to the front curb just in time to catch the ice cream guy. Dad and I favored “push ups” back then, orange flavored ice cream in a convenient “sherbet in a tube” packaging.
Last but not least I remember summer foods. Around June of every year my Mom who was practically a gourmet chef would switch out our menu. Ripe tomatoes were sliced and served with salt and pepper. Cucumber wedges were put in Italian dressing , the kind you made with oil and vinegar, a pouch of dry seasonings and a mixing jar thingy. And our real vegetables came straight from the garden just 30 or 40 feet outside of our back door. You didn’t eat a lot of meat, just a hamburger patty, salmon cake or maybe fried chicken.
My childhood such as it was officially ended when my Mom decided to go back and get her college degree and with no one to watch a 12 year old for hours a day I sat in class with her. I never got a grade but I aced that Botany class and then my 6th grade teacher had me teach it to my fellow students. My geek badge was dipped in gold that year.
That same summer I learned how to lay out brochures with my Dad when he forged out into the family business of printing and publishing. Funny how those things come full circle isn’t it?
Suddenly, I was back on my own porch and as the wind whipped around me and the night continued to light up I felt a sort of contentment. The door opened and Jon and Jackson came out to join me. Jon asked, “What are you doing”? My answer was really far too simple. I replied, “Oh just watching the summer lightning”.
But what I really said was, “oh just realizing that maybe I had some kind of childhood after all..granted I missed out on birthday parties, theme parks, sleepovers, Disney and children’s books..but I did get to discover the Socratic method which in conversation and debates has served me well over the years, I can name almost every movie to come out of the film noir period, I know who Edith Head was, I may never be able to use it in a job interview but I have a fairly decent understanding of plant systematics and taxonomy and I have a deep appreciation for a perfectly ripe tomato.”
I won’t kid you (pun intended) I do sometimes wax poetic that I went from infancy to adult in a nano second but as I learned last night, our childhoods are measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason envelops you.
I guess that’s why lightning bugs were invented