The official start of Summer is very close now and a lot of blogs are focusing on the season. One that I read regularly has published a long list of Summer-related songs, including several different renditions of Gershwin’s classic composition, “Summertime.” (Although in my opinion they left off one of the best versions, that by the Zombies.)
As for me, hearing the opening line of that song – ‘Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…’ – inevitably turns my thoughts to memories of a time when it did seem that life was a little easier, or at least simpler. The Summers of my childhood were filled with experiences that seem ordinary in retrospect but they still occupy a valued place in my memory. Included among them is the time I learned to make a pet out of a junebug.
(I should take a moment here to warn PETA members that they might not like some of what follows, but if you choose to proceed, remember that all of this happened a long time ago and no actual bugs were injured in the writing of this article.)
During my early childhood, my mother’s much-younger brother was just a kid himself, still living with his parents — my grandparents. He was a good bit older than me, but he was a lot closer to my age than any other uncle and whenever we’d go to the country to visit I’d naturally gravitate toward him. He was a good-hearted guy who had to cope with a limp and a weakened left arm; the aftermath of having polio as a very young child. He did a good job with the coping thing though — his strong right arm more than made up for the weaker one, especially when we’d wrestle and he’d use it to grind my face into the dirt.
He and I often wandered around in the fields near their house, and in early Summer much of the area would be filled with wild growth that created a fertile hunting ground for junebugs. The big green critters were slow-flying and easy to catch in your hand, sort of like a bumblebee without a stinger. In fact, I remember that my uncle once took a swipe at a bumblebee, diverting his hand at the last second when he realized what it was. The bee wasn’t the forgiving type though — it chased him across the field and nailed him on the back.
Once we’d caught a junebug (official name Green June Beetle) he showed me how to take a length of thread, make a loop, and draw it tight around the front part of its carapace. The result was like a little leash, and when the bug flew it was sort of like a tiny helicopter hovering at the end of the thread. We would sometimes tie the other end to a shirt button and then walk down to the general store, hoping we’d see some other kids. Unfortunately, the bug didn’t last too long, and swinging a dead bug on the end of a thread has a much lower cool factor.
Although it has nothing to do with bugs, one other memory of my young uncle always comes to mind. He and I had our share of scuffles, but nothing too serious. He was generally good-natured and he also knew that since he was older and bigger than me, the adults would be all over him if he was too mean. My other advantage was that I could always outrun him because of his limp, and that came into play one day.
He’d done something to make me mad – I don’t remember what – and I wanted to get even. I got a small ball-peen hammer out of the shed and then dragged an old wooden chair off the front porch and over to the side of the house, where there was a screen door that led into the kitchen. I climbed onto the chair and stood outside the door until he finally came out, bopped him on the head, then jumped down and began running.
He yelled and began chasing me around the house with murder in his eye. I knew that I could outrun him for a while and I also knew that if I could just get through that door and into the kitchen, the adults would protect me. Unfortunately, as I completed my run around the house I realized that he was too close behind for me to be able to stop and open the door, so I did the next best thing — I screamed for grandma to open the door.
She didn’t hear me and I had to start another circuit around the house, with him huffing along behind. I began yelling for grandma a little sooner this time and she heard me but not in time to open the door, so I had to go around a third time. When I came around the corner the next time, she was holding the door open and I was saved — but I did have a lot of explaining to do.