Friday, July 3, 2009

No.38: Summer Nights

Step outside after dark this time of year in the deep South and you will be greeted by a wall of heat and humidity. I walked out of the air conditioned comfort of the house the other night and my bifocals fogged over, blinding me enough that I paid attention to the sounds of a Mississippi summer night. On a low and nearby level, I heard crickets rubbing their hind legs together or whatever it is that they do to make that chirping sound. On a high and not so nearby level, I heard communities of noisy locusts competing in the tops of various trees. When my glasses cleared the scene was completed with a visual element – the faint yellow lights that blinked on and off across the yard. These sights and sounds carried me back to a time when central air conditioning was unheard of, when our house was cooled by open windows and an attic fan, and when children found the outdoors a much more inviting playground than today’s children can imagine.

Sometimes we gazed heavenward, picking out the one or two most familiar constellations and trying to distinguish between the blinking lights of stars and constant lights of planets. Sometimes we played hide-and-seek (or hide-and-go-seek). In the dark that was a much more challenging game. And often we chased those faint little yellow lights that much of the world calls fireflies. We called them lightning bugs, or more exactly, lightnin’ bugs. The only equipment you needed was a jar with holes punched in the lid. The first lightning bug was easy to catch. You looked for one silhouetted against the night sky or you simply waited for one to express himself with light, scooped him into the jar, and clamped the lid on. Thereafter, the challenge was much greater – trying to catch another one or two or three without losing your earlier captives. A jarful of bugs became a dim lantern of light. These hunts might continue long into the night, sometimes ending with a retreat into the house when a mosquito truck rounded the corner and started down the street, leaving behind a foul-smelling toxic cloud. I’ve heard of kids who chased after the mosquito truck on foot or on bicycles, but I was never that adventurous, or that crazy.

Later, in bed, you realized the price you paid for such an evening of bliss – mosquito bites.


  1. great post, john. i enjoy your writing style.
    and yes, those crazy kids living on Magnolia Drive and Jackson Street would chase the mosquito truck. why? i don't know... but maybe daniel or stan may have an idea. beacuse it's there????
    our neighborhood would usu. gather at bobby giles' house for kick the can, hide and seek, swinging statues, and other outdoor games.
    i remember keeping the lightnin' bugs overnight in my room as a night light. they usu. didn't blink for long and i would let them go the next day.
    do you remember seeing sputnik?

  2. Caye, I always thought it was "slinging statues"-you know because someone would sling you around!

  3. I think we called it "sling statue." That reminds me of another game we played. Do you remember "freeze tag"?

  4. Lots of mosquito truck memories.
    Strongest (if not the most pleasant) was the time West Jackson Street Baptist promised us kids a hay ride -- and something happened at the last minute that the guy with the wagon canceled. Rather than disappoint us - someone came up with a bobtail truck - threw some hay in the back - and took us for a ride - and - you guessed -- about halfway out our path brought us up right behind the mosquito truck.
    Needless to say -- the driver changed course fore the church parking lot immediately.