I have already mentioned some of my childhood pastimes: stalking wildlife, playing chicken with a human-eating pig, throwing rotten fruit at people. Those were day activities. My night activities involved playing flashlight tag with my siblings during the Indian moon summers when that white orb in the sky was bright enough to see by. Our orange beams would scour the dark shadows behind trees looking for lost babes in the woods. Then low giggles filled the night as those kids not chosen to be IT would run for base - the safe haven where they couldn’t be tagged, which was usually the front stoop or the above ground pool.
My second nightly pastime: firefly catching.
Fireflies. Lightning bugs. Floating lanterns. Whatever name you want to coin the little glowing insects, we would try to catch them in our hands without squashing the poor things. Then we would dump them into mason jars with air holes punched into the metal lids. These bugs were the first introduction to the wild kingdom, the most docile creature and the only insect that everybody liked to chase. A kid could have a deathly fear of bugs, but they would still gaze out the window before bedtime watching the tiny flashes among the blades of grass or perched on shrub leaves.
I loved to chase after them, hands waving like a mad girl who shouted her freedom from the mental institution. I regret to inform you that I had squished a few bugs by accident. But I uttered a brief apology to each of them before wiping my hands across my shirt and resuming the chase. Summer after summer I enjoyed this activity, until the dark shape came swooping for my head.
At first I thought it was a bird, although I could not understand why it was out so late. Wouldn’t her baby birds be worried for their momma? Then I noticed the creature did not flap its wings like a bird. They moved too much even for the tiniest sparrow caught in a strong wind, but not enough to create the illusion of hanging in place like a humming bird (I saw three of those yesterday.)
No bird. Could it have been an oversized butterfly?
I actually debated this question, using my childhood knowledge to fathom the airborne creature. It made no sound, ever, when it nosedived toward me and disappeared around the side of the house. Because I had not raised my flashlight quick enough to brighten the dark air, I did not catch a good look at the creature. So I still had no idea what the animal was until it came shooting back around the other side of the house and right at my face.
I screamed . . . loud . . . excruciatingly loud to my own ears. I ran about the backyard, the front yard, the garden, the fields. This thing would not stop chasing me until I dodged underneath the pine trees. When it winged high into the air, I made a dash for the house.
In the livingroom, my mom looked up from the tv and asked, "Where you screaming outside?"
I nodded my head, eyes near to unleashing tears. "Some flying thing was chasing me!"
"It’s a bat," my brother replied in a bored tone. He turned the volume up higher on the television.
"It was chasing me." My fear had turned into indignation at their indifferent attitudes.
"Leave it alone and it will leave you alone." My mother shrugged her shoulders, still remembering my wasp misadventure.
"But . . . it was chasing me while I was catching fireflies." I defended my position on this issue.
My brother laughed and pointed one finger at me. "Michelle has bug boogers on her shirt and the bat wants to eat her."
"You have bug boogers for brains," I countered, sullen. I turned around and left the room. If my family was not going to help me, then I needed to take matters into my own hands.
The next night I armed myself with the broom. My brother made a snide comment about me riding on the handle and to say hello to Dorothy and the Tin Man when I get to Oz. I smacked him with the broom and got sent to my room for an early bedtime.
So the night AFTER that I went outside with a flashlight and a butterfly net. I was ready for the bat. As I went on my scavenger hunt for fireflies, I imagined myself swinging the net and scooping the flying mammal right out the air. Then I stopped, confused.
What would I do with the bat after I caught it?
I had never thought about that part of my plan. I stood there, completely stumped on the issue and failing to notice the black menace until it was right upon me.
With the butterfly net out of reach, I cowered behind the BBQ pit wondering how to turn it on and whether I could feed a roasted bat to my brother without getting into trouble. The flashlight jiggled in my nervous hands as I finally hit the switch. After a count of three, I recounted up to fifty to steady my nerves and then swung the beam at the bat.
The creature veered away and disappeared over the roof of the house. I waited for the next aerial strike. The bat rose over the treetops in its stealth fighter maneuver and swooped.
I flashed the light on it. The bat again veered away, not wanting to deal with the orange beam. It vanished into the distance, probably on the hunt for easier game. I had won.
My feet did their happy dance as I entered the house to tell everyone of my harrowing battle. Yet before I could say anything, my brother made another rude comment and I ended up placing the butterfly net over his head. Then I dented in the metal rim and tied up the loose cloth netting so he could not pull it off.
My mom went to fetch the wire cutters. Yet not before she walked behind me and lifted one hand. Then she swung her palm down toward my rump.
Big brothers can be a big pain in my butt.