“The stars are not afraid to appear like fireflies,”
The flicker of the first firefly takes me back to Virginia, 1970–to the tall grasses behind our house in New Port News where I searched for my lost tooth, with a flashlight, and left a note for the fairy explaining the absence under my pillow.
It was the same summer that I received my first kiss, from my friend Andy, who was only six–and who was missing both his front teeth–and his hair–because his mother shaved it for the heat.
I slapped Andy on the cheek, and then slammed the screen door on his smile, adding a bloody nose to his missing teeth–but still we shared his first venison and marveled at the Praying Mantis under the Willow Trees behind the houses on the other side of the cul de sac.
The smell of honeysuckle and steam rising up from the tar. I loved to pop the bubbles on a hot summer day; and after a sun shower, lie face down on the road to get closer to that sweet smell of rain –and to prove: I’m not afraid of cars.
I displayed the same courage on the railroad tracks, a block away, but I wasn’t as brave on the two-wheeler, especially after I toppled over, splitting my knee on the sidewalk, which resulted in a single stitch, sewn in the kitchen, by my father, the young medical intern.
I hardly remember that injury, but I still see the four-seater in Holly’s yard swing toward the toothy smile of my baby sister as she toddled toward my voice instead of away from it. How her blue and white striped shirt soaked red, so that the three of us sisters–in our matching Sears short sets–never matched again.
Michelle barely made a sound, but she still has a scar across her lip and chin; and I still bear the regret.
There were other regrets too: the time I walked in on Holly’s father on the toilet; the time I wet my pants in the cafeteria line beside the silverware table; the week I had to stand with my nose pressed against the brick.
I don’t remember who discovered the poison oak at the edge of the woods off the playground but we rubbed our skin with it so that summer would start sooner. I was the only one who did not break out in hives.
When I think back to our single year in Virginia, it is always summer, and the radio in my father’s Mustang plays, Proud Mary, keep on burning–and another song that delighted me more–introducing my seven-year old psyche to the angst and passion of true love.
You had to hope and pray and wait for your favorite song to be played on the radio back then. You couldn’t search for it online or download it in an instant.
The mystery of that tune teases me still, like the light of a firefly, flickering on and off in my memory–so quickly–that I’m unable to snatch it.
Other sounds remain steady, like the jingle of the Good Humor truck as it pulls into our cul-de-sac, selling ice cream sandwiches for ten cents. I would have followed those tinny tunes anywhere. Even now, they create a quickening so strong as to trump the fact that dairy and I are no longer friends.
I remember the world of grasshoppers and ant hills and–Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home–and all the small things that children bend down to know.
But it’s the flicker of the first firefly that lights my way back to the tall grasses of my childhood, where it is forever summer.