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Lies, Lightning Bugs & Life Trajectories

Let there be Light(ning Bugs)

Summer is here and its time to celebrate the light. The longer hours of daylight, the slower, easier pace, and time to enjoy the now, to look forward, and to reflect back on one of the greatest lies of my life. Thanks Dad! 

The Lightning Bug Backstory

My Americana Childhood included one particularly memorable summer night with Mom, Dad, my little sister and I sitting on the front porch steps of “the farmhouse” in the heart of the Midwest, just a mile outside our little town of 600.

I only remember the family sitting together like that once in my whole life, which is probably why it’s so ingrained. The cicadas were singing in the round and there were more lightning bugs than a kid could count. The trees and yard were brimming with lights and the perfectly symmetrical rows of corn were illuminated as far as I could see.

Out of the blue Dad said, “Connie Jill… dj’you ever see a red lightning bug?”

I shook my head and confessed I’d never even heard of one.

He didn't seem surprised and he told me they are exceedingly rare. Dad explained how they’re extra hard to see because they don’t fly like a normal lightning bug; they zip across the sky just once, then they’re on their way and you won’t see that one again.

Dad had a way of talking super slowly and very deliberately. His stories were rhythmically punctuated with long, thoughtful pauses to sip coffee or take a slow drag from a Camel short. He explained that most people go a lifetime without seeing a red lightning bug and that I shouldn’t feel bad if I never did, either. After an extra long pause he added…

“But… If you’re really, really lucky… you pay close attention your whole life… you might actually see a red lightning bug zip by.” … pause… drag… pause…
“I don’t know though, honey. You’d have to be a pretty special little kid and pay awful close attention… pause... sip... pause...
You’d have to want it pretty bad to even have a half a chance.”
I can still hear those words.

I thought pretty hard about that, my eyes carefully scanning the yard and fields. I’d found more four leaf clovers than anyone I knew. I could come home with more asparagus found along the fence-row than anybody. I was also really good at spotting tiny, perfect fossils of mollusks no bigger than the head of a pin. I thought I might have the eyes to spot a red lightning bug someday, and I knew I wanted it as bad as any kid could want just about anything, but I didn’t know if I was that lucky or quite special enough. I sat there and thought about it a while. 

Sure enough, not much later that very same night I saw it. WOOSH! A red lightning bug streaked across the sky. It flew in a perfect arc through the sky into the darkness beyond the bushes. I was of course beside myself.

Dad shook his head slowly and said he never dreamed in a million years it would happen so soon, and carefully explained that it wouldn’t likely again. He said he never met a little kid quite as lucky as me, or anybody who wanted want they wanted as much as I did. He laughed and patted me on the head and I spent the rest of that night – and in fact, the rest of my life – thinking about that magical red lightning bug and what it all meant.

I’m not sure how long it took me to put two and two together that Dad had sent his lit Camel cigarette flying with a single, expert flick. But by the time I figured it out, it was too late. The seed was already well planted and by then I considered myself an incredibly lucky person and if I wanted it bad enough, I could have it.

Thank you Dad, for changing the trajectory of my life with a flick of a cigarette and the nicest and my best-ever life-changing, lie. 



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