Lightbugs and Childhood on the Panhandle
As I took an early evening walk in the Emory forest, to reflect on the week, I saw my first lightbugs of this season. Seeing them took me back to my youth, when my family would go to visit Aunt Easter and Uncle Frank. They were actually my great aunt and uncle and lived out in, what was at that time, the woods…the deep woods. Lightbugs abounded. Even though they were childless, I recall my Aunt Easter always being the center of a large family energy and all of our family traditions.
I remember her, extremely gregarious and verbal, always laughing and having the time of her life, and eager to include everyone in all of that fun, with great love and affection. Rarely did we ever just “visit” her and Uncle Frank. Even when living way out in the deep woods, her home was always full of other aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and “neighbors” visiting too. She was just utterly loving, generous and magnetic–and a fabulous cook in true southern style.
The women would sit in the living room which would be full of simultaneous conversations and screams of laughter, while the men sat shoulder to shoulder in aluminum-framed, nylon-banded folding chairs out on the very small front porch. The men often sat in darkness, lit only by the frequent red glow of the end of a cigarette and the light trickling out from the frosted glass blinds of the front door. You know the type of door I’m talking about–4 inch wide glass panels like horizontal blinds that would crank open or closed to provide ventilation.
Much of the time the men sat in silence. On occasion, about every 5 or 10 minutes, a world problem would be discussed in depth and then definitively solved. Except for the time when the men got all excited about the snake that innocently wandered up on the porch and promptly met its maker, the men tended to talk in a monotonous “unitone” without any real excitement beyond the frequent pepperings of “yeah,” “um hum,” and “that’s right”s that permeated the amiable conversations– few and short though they were.
I myself tended to prefer the exciting adventures of the lightbugs in the yard. When I tired of them, I would often visit the remains of the huge pine tree, in the backyard, that had been blown to bits by an errant streak of lightning. You can only dimly imagine Aunt Easter’s excited, animated, and dramatic retellings of the story. She was an extraordinary story teller. In fact, she couldn’t begin to sit still as she told of “this sudden streak of white sizzling lightning that just came out of no where. I could feel it. I could actually feel it. It made the little tiny hairs on my arms stand straight up!” She spoke with the widest eyes you have ever seen and enormous hand gestures full of rapidly wiggling fingers that completely captivated her audience in the horror of the telling.
I recall standing at the edge of the backyard, where the deep dark woods began, just beyond the beams from the flood light at the back of the house, wondering what dangerous beasts lurked just beyond in the darkness of the forest, peering back at me without my even knowing. I would stand there working myself up into a state of utter terror, until I could stand it no more and would then run back as fast as my little childhood legs would carry me to hear, “um hum, yeah, that’s right.”
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