There were swarms of lightning bugs that summer. That’s what I remember most: the lightning bugs. I always found them entrancing, but most summers I was lucky to only see a handful at any one time. That summer, though, anywhere you looked you could count at least 50. Some said it was the unusually hot, humid Oklahoma summer. Some said it was the small town, that the noise and bustle of the city drove them here. Whatever the reason, they were beautiful in the twilight.
Every night my childhood friend Jeff and I would lay on our backs in ours or a neighbors grassy lawn, side by side, and just watch them twinkle around us while the sun set. This was usually when we had our deep philosophical conversations.
“D’ya thank der hawt?” Jeff asked, in that voice most of us kids used when we were simply pondering life. I still had hearing then, even if I needed the assistance of two hearing aids.
“Of course they’re hot, dummy, anything alive would be in this heat!” I shot back with all of my 11-year old acerbic wit. It’d been a long stressful day of chasing the pigs in the 4H barn, terrorizing the neighborhood on our four-wheelers, and swimming in my grandparent’s pool. I was hot, tired and hungry; I certainly wasn’t in the mood for more of Jeff’s stupid hick questions. Of course, my own southern accent was pretty strong too. Most everybody in town’s was. That was small town life for ya. But sometimes I wished Jeff didn’t sound quite so… dumb.
“Ah wuz justassin’, geez loo weez. N’ I mint, hawt like a lightbulb, like d’ya think iffin’ we’s caught one, it’d burn ah hands?”
I turned my head to stare at him. Was he serious? Of course I knew they didn’t actually burn your hand, but I wasn’t sure if he was just screwing around with me like he was wont to do. Fine, I’ll play. “I dunno. Why don’t you catch one and find out?”
I sat up on my elbows while he jumped around in the air, swiping at lightning bugs. “You look like a big ol’ dumb cat!” I hollered after him.
“Shuddup! I’mma gon’ ketch one, you just wait ‘n see.” Not one second after he said that, he tripped on a garden hose and executed the most spectacular face plant.
Naturally, my raucous laughter filled the night air as I rolled around, slamming the ground with my fists in glee. A minute later Jeff’s red face loomed over me and before I knew it, we were “having words”. With our fists. And feet. I won that fight, as I often did. Jeff was strong, but I was scrappy. I’d always appreciated that he didn’t treat me any different just because I was a girl. And to his credit, he took losing fights to a girl quite well.
He just didn’t like being laughed at.
He found out if lightning were hot or not though. Once he realized he was losing the fight he fled. I was right on his heels and it was all he could do to stay out of my reach. We must have run halfway across town, which was easy in a town that size. The crickets and locusts seem to cheer us on. He was gasping for air after about 15 minutes of running, and inhaled not one, not two, but three lightning bugs. In his panic he somehow chewed them as well.
And that is the story of the night Jeff’s tongue glowed in the dark.