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Green energy nightlights

Rick Ryckeley's picture

If we’re lucky, some fond childhood memories are carried with us the rest of our lives: pieces of childhood hidden safely away in the darkness that we can, from time to time, bring forth into the light, look at, and smile. I truly believe it’s a way we all can stay young.

This story is about just such a memory — a memory that has followed me into the very house we now live, but The Wife knows nothing of it. It started where a lot of my memories start – in a backyard that bellied out into a swamp just behind 110 Flamingo Street.

They come every spring, when baby leaves cover the giant oak trees. Mostly ignored by adults, their arrival is eagerly anticipated by anyone under the age of 10. My three brothers and I were no different.

Armed with Mason jars and lids that had holes punched in them by a nail and hammer borrowed from Dad’s workroom, we waited for dusk. That’s when they came up out of the swamp.

Nope, not monsters – every kid knows they live under your bed. That’s why you stuff dirty clothes under there. Stuff enough dirty clothes and the smell keeps them from coming out.

When the blanket of night covered the yard, they came. The little lights winked as they neared until suddenly they filled the night sky.

We had to hurry; lightning bugs only stayed for a short while. Four boys ran in the backyard, laughing, giggling, and counting to 10. Nine were all that we needed to capture along with one yellow and black caterpillar. He was added to keep the others company. I just assumed he was a him; back then didn’t really know how one checks to see for sure. Don’t know now either.

Seems we were way ahead of our time. At 110 Flamingo Street, lightning bugs in Mason jars were our own green energy nightlights.

Even though we asked her to come, The Sister, she never did. She didn’t care much for catching lightning bugs nor yellow and black caterpillars. Her loss – training a caterpillar to crawl up one finger and down to the next — is endless fun for a kid.

Actually, if I’m honest, there was no training. They do that all by themselves, but to my brothers and me, we were the best caterpillar trainers who ever lived on Flamingo Street.

I never found a girl who would chase lightning bugs with me – nor one who’d let a yellow and black stripped caterpillar crawl up her arm. Alas, some boyhood dreams are just that. Back then, as now, a girl who likes bugs is indeed a rare find.

This is how the story ended. That is, until I told The Wife what I had written.

When I finished, she smiled and gave me an odd look I hadn’t seen before. Then said she’d be right back. I didn’t think much of it and figured she was getting something out of her car. Even though the sun had just set, she had a big day in the morning and still need to prepare. Sometimes being an adult isn’t much fun.

Life was much simpler when we all were chasing lightning bugs.

On the phone, I didn’t hear the door close as she came back in. I didn’t hear her footfalls behind me. All I heard were giggles.

Turning around, The Wife was standing there. Her lips were parted in a smile and blue eyes twinkling – watching as a yellow and black striped caterpillar slowly crawl up her arm. It seems when they crawl, they tickle.

I finally found that girl who likes bugs.

If you hold onto them long enough, some childhood dreams actually can come true.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His book is available at]

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