Some of the things that kept my sisters and I entertained on long bored-out-of-our-minds summer days were insects. Show me a kid who plays with bugs, and I will show you a kid who was locked out of the house between breakfast and dinner time all summer long.
Mom gave us a choice first thing in the morning: play in or play out. And then stay there. There was always more room to spread out in the backyard, or maybe we were simply tricked into the choice, but mom was sick of the in-out-in-out-in-out slam of the screen door. Hard to blame her for that.
If we were thirsty, it was “drink out of the hose”. If we were hungry, there was a whole garden of fresh tomatoes or lettuce or other foraged snacks. If we needed the bathroom…well, I suppose she made exceptions for that one.
Ant hills were a source of fascination, but as we were not going to actually spend money on an ant farm (You’re buying dirt? And ants?) we could only see the surface superstructures. We made bridges, hurdles, tiny rivers and other obstacles for the little marching army and watched them proceed to navigate or re-route their freeway. We set down half eaten Lifesavers to see how fast the scouts could locate them and call in the troops.
These were common black ants, not the fire-breathing ones, or this would be an entirely different story.
Occasionally we held potato bug races. These tickly little sow bugs were under any rock, handy to catch and hard to direct. If your bug just ran in little circles, well, you chose a dud. Better luck next race.
A big mid-summer event was the invasion of the giant green Japanese beetles. You could hear them coming and if you didn’t run for cover, the terror was one might get caught in your hair.
You can pick up a crawly green beetle if you carefully grab them just in the middle by the sides. They can’t reach you with their scratchy hooked feet and they can’t open their wings to fly, since you have them pinned with your fingers. You have to move deliberately and calmly, but it’s perfectly acceptable to be shrieking like a little girl while you do it.
Japanese beetles have an atrocious smell. A very distinguished stink.
Our preferred method of revenge was to paint our initials on their glossy green backs in pink nail polish and then send them back in disgrace to their colony.
We watched for our marked beetles; very few returned.
When this became boring, we simply caught them, tied a string to a leg, and walked around with our own personal beetle kite.
What are your thoughts on roaches? Not the giant hissing ones from Madagascar; the tame scuttly ones that live under your floorboards.
Our tiny house was held together by a million cockroaches all holding hands: the ceiling, the walls, the floors. They held the appliances in place. They pulled the blankets up when we tucked into bed at night. They kept stray cats out of the yard.
If we had a girlfriend come for a rare sleep-over, we played a game where we stood in the middle of the kitchen and turned out the lights. Holding very still, you heard the sound of a million cockroaches darting across the room to trade places with each other. A cucaracha Chinese fire drill.
When you flipped the lights back on, you could just catch the last one disappearing behind the table that your friend had naively scrambled up onto while emitting a piercing war whoop.
Which is better? Standing very still while the little buggers run over your bare feet? Or squishing one between your toes as you race for the nearest exit?
We apologized to the flattened roach while our speechless friend clung table-top, eyes wide.
He accepted our remarks and dragged himself home. He was probably over 100 years old. He was probably older than the dinosaurs.
It wasn’t his first time being squashed by a little girl, and it wouldn’t be his last.
But it was very likely to be our last sleep-over.