“The stars are not afraid to appear like fireflies,”
The flicker of the first firefly takes me back to New Port News, Virginia, 1970–to the tall grasses behind our home where I searched for my lost tooth with a flashlight, and defeated left a note for the fairy under my pillow explaining its absence.
It was that 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 goofy 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 our 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, I’d lie face down on the road to get closer to the sweet smell of rain, and to prove that: I’m not afraid of cars.
I did the same on the railroad tracks, a block away, but I wasn’t as brave on the two-wheeler after my father removed the training wheels, 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 surgical intern.
I hardly remember that injury, but I still see the four-seater in Holly’s backyard swing toward the toothy smile of my baby sister as she toddles toward my holler instead of away from it. How her blue and white striped shirt soaked red, so that the three of us girls–in our matching Sears short sets–never matched again.
Michelle barely made a sound, but she still has a scar across her lip and her chin, and I still bear that 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 on account of not being allergic to poison oak.
I don’t remember who discovered it at the edge of the woods off the playground but we rubbed it on our skin so that summer vacation would start a week early. Alas, I was the only one who did not break out in hives.
When I think back to that 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–initiating me into the mystery of grownup 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 capture 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 cause a quickening inside despite the fact that I really don’t eat ice cream anymore.
That year in Virginia was a 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, no matter my age, that lights my way back to the tall grasses of my childhood, where it is forever summer.