Back in a time when life was simpler.
The waning day offered little in the way of relief from the heat for the three children’s day to one filled with efforts to keep cool. For Angie, Roy and Tommy, there would be none of their usual hijinks that entertained them for hours on any other day.
The day started out with a visit down to the creek, traveling through the dense woods that claimed the western border of the small town of Trimbull. The threesome followed a trail that was only noticeable to youngsters that visited the woods on a regular basis. Adults usually tramped through, making their own path, spoiling the natural lay of the land with their thoughtlessness.
A woodpecker hammered out a rapid staccato, harmonized by the warbling of red-breasted finches and the raucous cawing of crows in the distance. It was nature’s own symphony that accompanied the children on their journey. The musty smell of decaying leaves, a provisional compost to feed the foliage and protect the roots of young saplings, rose to make youthful noses crinkle up before becoming attuned to the odor. The forest floor was a dappled mosaic from the sun penetrating past the leafy bowers above.
The twenty-five-minute trek left them feeling sticky, t-shirts clinging to thin and yet to be developed bodies. Dirt rings forming around their necks like black necklaces or around the tops of Ked tennis shoes, for which their mothers would warrant them with baths before supper or bed. Noisome gnats hovered around the three, buzzing into ears, eyes or noses, not to be deterred by any amount of swatting.
They were rewarded with disappointment at the end of their trek. The creek had dried up to nothing more than a mud bed. This summer proved to be more than it could even handle in spite of the thick canopy of ancient elms, oaks, and beeches that shaded it from the relentless sun. The heat had sucked the moisture right out of the narrow creek.
Angie and Roy sat on the bank, faces long with a mixed air of sadness and disbelief to find the state of affairs for the woods so dismal. Tommy, a long stick in hand, poked at the rocks of the creek bed, hoping to scare out a frog, gecko or small snake that would have taken shelter in the moist mud.
Having no luck with his quest, Tommy tossed the stick aside and joined his companions.
“Well, I guess this idea is shot. What’ll we do now?” Tommy spoke, kicking some rocks with the toe of his well-worn sneaker; his little toe peeked out through the black fabric of the right shoe.
Roy dug into the pocket of his cut-off dungarees, pulling out a pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum and doled out the silver sticks to Angie and Tommy. Peeling his own stick, he carefully rolled the gum up before popping it into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. “I guess we head back. We can stop by the big blackberry patch on the way. Ma gave me a sawbuck for weeding the garden and picking veggies. The tomatoes were especially tasty this year. We sold a passel of them this week. Maybe we can go to the community pool. I’ll spring for you two; even get us each an ice-cold Nehi.”
Angie turned her head to look at Roy. Dark brown eyes peering out from beneath a fringe of darker brown bangs, sparkled along with the large smile on her face, “Roy, you’re too kind to Tommy and me.”
“Yeah!” quipped Tommy, his head bobbing emphatically in agreement and sucked back saliva that threatened to drool down his chin. The Juicy Fruit was doing its job.
The older boy, by one year, puffed out his chest with pride. He knew that the other two weren’t as lucky as he was. Angie’s mom was doing laundry for the rich folk of Trimbull to offset the measly welfare check she got each week. The check didn’t go far to support the widow and her three children.
As for Tommy, almost every penny his father earned went to feeding his alcoholic cravings. His mom had to work like a dog to get enough money just to feed her and Tommy. Most time, Tommy ate over at Roy’s or he would go hungry. Though Roy’s family wasn’t all that well to do, they did not lack for anything like Tommy and Angie’s families were.
For all that the creek had failed them, the blackberry patch panned out the bounty. Large berries hung heavily amid the thorns that were totally ignored by the threesome. Sweet, tangy juices squirted when bitten down on the fruit; staining fingers, mouth and lips a blue-black. They ate their fill before heading home to get swimsuits and Roy’s money. The rest of the day was spent at the community pool; splashing and frolicking in the refreshing waters till their skin wrinkled up and eyes were red from the chlorinated water
Later that evening, they had supper at Roy’s. A feast of roasted corn-on-the-cob, potato salad, barbecued chicken, baking soda biscuits and tall glasses of iced tea. Watermelon was the delightful dessert that came with a contest to see who could spit the black seeds the furthest. All the vegetables and the watermelon came fresh from the garden.
With bellies full, Roy, Angie and Tommy laid out on the lush grass of the backyard. Arms behind their heads, they watched the encroaching night turn the sky into a multitude of vibrant gold, red, and orange before taking on the darker colors of blues and black. Stars winked into existence one at a time. Wishes were made on the first star each child spied from their reclined positions. Tree frogs chirped their rhapsody in time to the cricket chirps, filling the night with their lulling song.
The three children might have just fallen asleep where they were had Angie not let out a cry of delight, “Oooh! Fireflies! Roy! Get the jars! We can make nightlights!”
Roy was off in a flash. When he returned, he carried three canning jars with holes poked in the lids with a nail. Angie and Tommy were leaping and whooping, taking great care not to smash the tiny creatures in their hands. Roy joined them, snatching one of the bugs in its flight. Together, they chased and captured fireflies, depositing the captives in the jars.
From the darkened porch, Roy’s parents swung on the porch swing, shoulders touching and holding hands. Whimsical smiles and misty eyes watched the children cavort and dance in their youthful exuberance. Memories replayed in their minds of their own nights when they too danced with the fireflies.