The other evening I saw a TV commercial where a mother and son were fascinated by sparks of light. I believe the mother was carrying a jar, but that may have been my memory, because I was remembering spring in Iowa many years ago when we would chase, catch, and make necklaces of fireflies. When I asked my wife of fifty years if she had similar memories I was astounded to hear that she did not.
Ray Bradbury, who lives his later years in or near Laguna Beach, and whom I heard on two separate occasions, one not that long ago, wrote lovingly about his growing up in Midwestern Illinois. He is a little older than I am, actually a lot older as he will hopefully celebrate his ninety-first birthday this summer. In addition to reading several of his short stories, which remain timelessly relevant, I was impressed greatly by his ability to involve an audience in a story as he spoke, his voice distorted by an earlier stroke.
I never heard him talk about catching fireflies, but the process, which he describes in “Dandelion Wine”, captures so well those elements of childhood and discovery: the mystery of the light and where does it come from, the power of capturing something that is free to fly (something you are unable to do), the lessons of responsibility that go with that power, and the creativity of what to do with this new found prize.
These are valuable lessons and I am sure (having lived with her these many years) that my wife found ways to learn them that were just different than mine. Or some may have been the same. There was a book several years ago titled “Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing” that marveled at how as children we learned to play evening games like Kick the Can, or I’ll Draw the Frying Pan, or in the Eastern cities, Stickball, with no adult teaching us the rules, and no umpires or referees. The process of growing up responsibly requires developing these skills.
There is an upcoming movie adaptation of a book Mary and I consider one of the best ever written: “Carrying Water for Elephants”. It will be released this summer and promises to be a “must see”. The interesting part of the book is that the reader follows two separate storylines simultaneously; the protagonist as a young college boy and as an octogenarian. So much of the dialog is spot on with memories I have of both stages of life (not quite an octogenarian, but I can see it from here), that I could almost see this as film while I was listening to the prose.
There are a few books that I think are better listened to than read. Among these are several favorites: Alexander McCall Smith’s “Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency”, which captures the Botswana dialect in a way a reader unacquainted with the region could never do, “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”, written by Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) and read by Anne Heche, and another favorite young adult book, “The Painted House” a reflection of possibly autobiographical memories of John Grisham.
I haven’t seen a firefly in years, much less captured them in a jar. I am tempted to ask some of my relatives, who have grandchildren of an age when I embarked on this twilight game, and who live in rural Wisconsin, if children still do that. Perhaps because California is California and we have few “grass and tree backyards”, and virtually no hibernating season for these nocturnal beetles to get their breeding clocks set, explains why my own grandchildren will miss this experience. Perhaps more sadly, it is because they are not allowed individual adult-free play in the evening, before the evening meal or bedtime.
I’ll have to ask my son how they are learning life’s valuable lessons.