For a couple of weeks now, I have had an evening visitor named L.B., who shows up well after darkness has fallen. At least, I see him only when it is dark outside: L.B. is a lightning bug who has been spending his evenings in my backyard.
When we were kids, the summer darkness twinkled for hours with the light of the fireflies we chased all over the yard. My dad punched holes in lots of jar lids every summer, and we caught lots of the glowing bugs – only to discover them the following morning lifeless at the bottom of their glass prison.
These days, however, I do not see the hordes of lightning bugs I remember from my childhood. We humans have paved over and polluted their habitats, I suppose, enough to cause their reduced presence. We even interfere with their communication systems by flooding the skies with our manmade lighting. I mean, what is a guy like L.B. to do when he wants to flash a romantic message to some pretty, young firefly – or two?
So, current lightning bug rarity is why I was not even sure I saw L.B. that first night. Tiny flashes of light kept catching my eye until I realized there was one, single lightning bug flitting past my window.
Gradually I came to expect L.B., anticipating his illuminating arrival each evening. He was the perfect guy to help me recollect other sweet memories of days-gone-by, when we moved at a slower pace, when we were more easily impressed by the simple things life had to offer – in those years when we took time to race through the yard in pursuit of L.B.’s forefathers.
For example, his presence one evening reminded me of the white-tailed deer regularly bounding through the field just across my backyard fence. Although the summer’s corn crop currently precludes deer sightings, at any other time of year I consider glimpses of the three adults and two youngsters a real treat – especially when they wander right up to the fence and stare at me.
Nowadays, however, seeing deer is hardly a rare experience. They seem domesticated enough to live among us here in Urbana. The other day, a friend described a doe and her baby lounging in the backyard of a house on Scioto Street. And during my McAuley rehab time, my vantage point was literally a window on the playtime of a whole herd of these graceful creatures.
And deer encounters of the automobile-accident-kind are nowadays more than routine. After my own rendezvous with a group of three one morning on my way to school, my subsequent phone call to the insurance company was directed to the “deer-strike department”!
But L.B.’s solo appearances in my yard have dredged up memories of times past when we stopped to stare at and admire an infrequent appearance of one of Bambi’s kinfolk somewhere in the woods.
A week ago as L.B. glittered his way around my yard, another friend called to describe the anniversary trip she and her husband had planned – culminating in their Fourth-of-July stay at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Although looking forward to tours of the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam, she was particularly anticipating their trips between destinations via a restored train of the vintage variety.
I realize that train transportation, especially for passengers, varies across our huge country these days. There is, however, no comparison between my single train ride – between Urbana and Bellefontaine on a class trip in 1955 – to the countless times I eventually crisscrossed Europe by train.
But trains during my childhood, albeit much more a part of the landscape then, always held an attraction for our family. Visits to Grandpa and Grandma Maurice’s house in Rosewood turned extra-special whenever freight trains rattled past their farm: we kids would rush out to wave at the man in the caboose and cheered mightily when he waved back. We were still thusly enamored when we moved to Ford Road during my senior year. Each time a train passed our “new” farm, we all crowded around the kitchen window just to watch.
I am composing this article right after watching the fireworks display on “A Capitol Fourth.” L.B. did not appear until just now to remind me that the simpler fireworks programs from Grimes Airport during my youth – when “rockets” were individually launched – were every bit as spectacular as the extravaganza timed to the music of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” that appeared tonight on my flat screen TV.
This evening’s festivities with L.B. also reminded me of other national holidays we once celebrated with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and dozens of cousins, when we eagerly and impatiently waited for the homemade ice cream to be ready.
Make no mistake, I love ice cream in all its forms: bars, cups, soft-serve, hand-dipped. But there is a texture, a taste, a melt-factor of the old-fashioned stuff that is absolutely unique. And to anticipate all that as the boy cousins took turns at the crank: nothing better, nothing sweeter, nothing more satisfying…
I hope L.B. will continue to arrive nightly, bringing more memories of a beautiful, slower pace of time when perhaps we better appreciated what we now take for granted. But somehow I am not convinced. Tonight my yard glowed twice as brightly: it seems that L.B. brought a friend. I may not be sparkly enough for him anymore…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.