Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bats and Bees

Somehow we got to talking about pets this morning. It started, actually, with Junebugs.  No, it started with the hummingbirds.

The birds were darting and quarreling back and forth between the feeders so thickly that it would have been hazardous to try to walk off of the porch this morning. We were content to sit in our rockers and watch the birds. The scene reminded me of a summer about 25 years ago when we were inundated with Junebugs. For two weeks they were everywhere, and it was a miserable to walk from the car to the house. I don’t know why they were so bad that particular year, but we never had them like that again.

“We used to catch Junebugs and tie a string to their leg,” said Larry. “They were as good as kites. They’d fly up and dart around but once they got so far, we’d pull in on the string so they couldn’t go any higher.”

“Wasn’t that kind of mean to the Junebugs?” I asked.

“Oh no, we’d let ‘em go when we were done.”

“Yeah, but how did you let them go?”

“Well, I’d cut the string and they’d fly off.” We pondered that for a minute, and then Larry said maybe that wasn’t so good because the string could get tangled up. And that made us think about how we don’t mind killing a bug in our garden but to hurt one in play seemed like a not-so-good thing.

We must have been up to something. Everyone looks guilty.
This is Judy, Theresa, Maggie, me in the back and Stephen, probably
around 1961-62. That was my favorite dress at the time.
 And that reminded me of the pet bat I once had. He wasn’t really a pet; my sister Judy and I found him in a construction ditch. His wing was broken and he (I suppose it was a he, but who knows?) couldn’t fly. I carried him home in my shirt and was so excited when I showed him to my brothers and sisters. Then my mother came in the room.

“A bat!” she yelled. “Get that thing out of here now!”

“But his wing is broken,” I explained.  “We’re going to…”

She didn’t listen to my plans to splint the wing. Instead I was marched out the back door and told to take the bat out of our yard. Forlornly I put him in the ditch at the edge of the back road; I thought my mother was being remarkably heartless. We hung out around the ditch for a while but the bat didn’t do anything interesting so we ran off to play. The next morning when I checked on him, the poor thing was dead. We had a proper funeral for him, as children do.

Not long after that I had a pet wasp. He also had something wrong with his wing because he couldn’t fly. We put him in a shoebox with something over the top to keep him in (I can’t remember what it was) and we put grass and twigs and flowers and a bottle cap of water in there. We puzzled over what wasps might eat so we put bits of food in the box too. We named him Buzzy, and I would take him out and let him walk on my arm. Mom either never knew about this pet or didn’t care. She probably figured I’d wise up when I got stung. But Buzzy never stung me and one day he walked up my arm and then flew away. We were thrilled—we thought we’d healed him.

Living in town limited our access to wild animal pets and I suppose that was just as well. We did the best we could with what we had to work with. Which is why we always built a turtle house in the summer. We’d catch box turtles and put them in the house, which was really just a two-cinderblock-high pen, and spend hours watching them, feeding them, or taking them out to race or whatever. A turtle race can take a long time, by the way.

One summer we had over 30 turtles so we painted numbers on their backs so we could tell them apart. They had names too, but the only ones I can remember are Judge Black (he was unusual, a long, low, solid black turtle), Slow Joe who was missing part of one foot, and Whitey, so named because his shell was had white places on it.
Cookout time! I don't see a turtle house in this photo, but it was usually somewhere near here. Maybe by this time--1965--we'd grown out of catching turtles. That's our English Granny on the left; this was taken during her last visit to the States. I'm in the red shorts. Our fancy cookout grill worked great--and you can see the Radio Flyer served many purposes, here hauling material for the fire.
We wanted to keep our turtles when summer was over but Dad said they needed to hibernate. We had an idea, though. We’d put some of them in the dug-out-dirt part of our basement and let them hibernate there. We put seven turtles in the basement, I think. But in Spring we could find none of them—except for the empty, bone-rattling shell of Whitey. That made us sad, and we felt like murderers.

Another funeral was held for the departed Whitey. We got pretty good at funerals growing up, even though none of us ever attended a real one. We always had a preacher, usually Tom or Joe, and the rest of us were the mourners. Our Radio Flyer wagon served as a hearse. Shoe boxes made pretty good caskets. We’d weave through the back yard to the selected burial site, the preacher would say a few words about the departed, and we’d make a cross of popsicle sticks and strew dandelions or other wildflowers on the new grave.

Then we were off again. Such sad events didn’t keep us down for long. 

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Dustin Fife said...

Ahhhhh this is delightful. Brings back such vivid memories of my own childhood (and we too had many-a funeral). It's fun watching my own kids incarcerate frogs, turtles, and ladybugs. (And mom and dad discreetly let them out the back yard when the lil' ones are sleeping :)

Rowan said...

You and your siblings sound as though you had a lot of fun growing up:)

storytellermary said...

My parents were also indulgent about "found" pets, and there were some little graves also. Organizers of the storytelling in Cape Girardeau set up a little tent for recording stories, my first time recording . . . and I told about those pets https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XMQQxL4Pdo

annie said...

kids! :)
sounds like things some of today's youngsters ought to be doing, instead of strapped to electronic devices.
a great read, everything was familiar except for the basement and poor whitey!

Susan Anderson said...

Really enjoyed these pet stories. I once had a pet pigeon whose wing was broken, and he become fond enough of us to stay once it had healed. Eventually, we took him to a place with lots of pigeons and turned him loose. Oddly, he had come to the desert where we lived, and after a while he wasn't doing so well in the heat.

We also had a pet lizard which my little sister named Timicky. We kept him in the shower, if you can believe it. Can't believe my mom put up with us!


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